Nora Swango Stanger: Summer circus memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2019

Sometimes, flashes of a long ago memory come into my mind. These moments have no rhyme or reason, they just pop in. They always touch on some emotion, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

I try to hang on to the sweet ones and tell the difficult memories that they no longer have a claim on me.

This morning, I had a glimpse of myself as a little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old.

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Our family was driving the winding lane by Lake Vesuvius. I remember our car had no air conditioning and it was terribly hot packed into the back seat with my siblings.

I saw the telephone pole-type stakes meant to act as a protective guard for drivers. They reached about three feet high and held the lacing of strong heavy rope every few feet apart.

As we drove down the lane, I got a peak of the lake as we listened to Nat King Cole singing ‘Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer’ on the radio.

My little girl heart was full of excitement for the exploits we were about to have.
I have many childhood summer memories in my mom’s car. She drove some of the most convoluted contraptions she called cars.

We almost always had to cross our fingers and pray that we would make it to our destination.

She took us to every activity and event she possibly could, if it didn’t cost a fee.

For years, after we were grown, Mom continued to have the instinctual reflex of throwing her right arm across the passenger side of the car when she stepped on the break.

This was a habit learned from always having at least one toddler with its arm around her neck, standing next to her in the days before car seats.

There was a mechanic in Pedro who sometimes worked on her cars.

I remember the white cinder block building that served as his garage downstairs and their apartment upstairs.

This man and his wife took a liking to Mom. They had no children and were perhaps sympathetic to Mom’s plight of raising so many children on her own.

When the mechanic and his wife learned that a small circus was coming to Pedro for a short stint, they gave Mom free tickets for us to attend.

We were so very excited! We had never done anything so exotic before!

But the day of the event Mom’s car broke down. Mrs. Smith, Granny’s best friend, came to our rescue and volunteered to drive us, drop us off at the circus and come back for us later in the night.

What a dream-like experience it was! There were clowns doing funny tricks, acrobats daring to gamble against gravity and even elephants that walked so close to us we could see their eye lashes.

The music, the cheering crowd, the lights and colors were breathtaking to my little girl self.

Once the circus show was over, Mom huddled us together as we waited for our ride home.

Watching the circus people tear down the tents using the elephants to pull on the heavy poles, and the same men who had just been acrobats load huge trunks on to a truck, was nearly as interesting as the show itself.

After a while, the circus people were completely finished loading, but our ride still wasn’t there.

Mom had estimated a much later time for a pick up than she realized. Typical of my mom, she had us all pick up our things and follow her like a line of ducks. We were going to walk toward home and meet our ride on the way.

The roads in Lawrence County weren’t heavily traveled, especially late at night, but it was still kind of a scary thrill to walk alongside State Route 93 in the pitch black air.

We followed Mom, all the while talking about our adventure. Every now and then, someone would shout, “Car,” and everyone would move deeper into the grass until the car had passed.

Eventually, Mrs. Smith pulled up next to us. She apologized profusely, while at the same time fussing at Mom for walking to meet her.

We really didn’t mind, though. We had an escapade. Kids who had parents with reliable cars and practical attitudes would never get to experience.

Our mother was anything but traditional. Her greatest gift is the ability to deny all of reality.

Probably this trait of hers is what has made me the strong woman I am today and it’s definitely the reason I can lay claim to memories like this.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at