Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Amazing Gary

I have a cousin who ran off with the circus when he was in eighth grade. And we're talking in the mid sixties, not 1934 when people seemed to do such things.

Barnum and Bailey's had come to visit a Wisconsin "city" (read town in any other part of the world) about one hour from his home. My aunt took her four children to see The Greatest Show on Earth and returned one child short. There were weeks of waiting (can you believe the woman never called the police?!) and finally a phone call from the little fugitive stating he had run away with the circus and was never coming back. Aside from raising the obvious question of how rotten life must have been with my aunt that the circus became a viable option (although I guess her failure to notify the authorities pretty much answers that), it has always seemed like a Huck Finn-esque story to me -- as unrealistic as Huck's finding $6,000 in gold in a cave (or was it $3,000? Whatever.) or his staged death by violent cabin invaders and subsequent flight down the slow Mississippi with an escaped slave. But Gary is real. A real kid who ran away with a real circus.

He became an elephant trainer and remained with the circus, aside from a two year hiatus when he purchased his own elephant and gave rides to kids at state fairs in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. What a bleak existence that must have been. He has been back with Barnum's for six years now. He's in charge of elephant "acquisitions." I don't know what this involves but I do know he travels to India every six months or so. I imagine horrible, under-the-table dealings for baby elephants and the exchange of wads of Barnum cotton-candy sticky cash. I know there are supposed to be humane laws protecting elephants, but sending them away to join circuses doesn't seem like it should be legal.

Gary used to be the black sheep in our family; now he's the family hero. Maybe because he had the audacity to run away with the circus, but more likely because, true to his word, he really never did go back home and we love a stubborn personality. His status in the family peaked when he was trampled by a bull elephant during a training session in the mid-80's and had to spend the next year in the hospital and in rehab. We love a dumb shit, too.


Eva said...

OMG! What a story!... I can't imagine how your aunt must have been but the fact that your cousin joined the circus and that your aunt never alerted the authorities really says it all!...

Beverly Hamilton Wenham said...

I myself will never forget Gary. Pun intended. I LOVE this story. How old was he when he did this! I picture a six year old in my head. Hobo stick and all. For me it has to happen in Wisconsin. Which because of you has become a magical place to me. It would have to have ended this way. That or he was eaten by circus folk.