First I had to find the Elephant Man.
In the summer of 1978, the Moolah Shriner Circus came to Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The whole parking lot surrounding the stadium was a jungle of trailers and equipment, cages and trucks. I figured if I could wander the lot and find the elephant trainer during off hours, I could at least ask about fulfilling my dream, of riding an elephant.
I was in luck. I came upon a number of elephants being hosed down in preparation for the evening show. Nearby was a curly haired man named Pat Anthony, who appeared to be in charge. He seemed good humored and likable, although he claimed he got into animal training because he preferred animals to people. When I told him my dream was to ride an elephant. He pondered a moment, and then replied "Well...the circus will head to Poplar Bluff tomorrow. Come on out and we'll see what we can do."
Mom in 1978
This photo has nothing to do with my elephant adventure, but it shows Mom in 1978. It shows what a good sport she was... with my silly brother. As it turns out, my mom was the only friend willing to make the 3 hour drive to Poplar Bluff the next day. Mom always loved an adventure!
When we arrived at the town's Junior High football field, Mom parked the car as I took off in search of Pat. I passed by a few Shriners in their festive hats selling tickets. I wandered back through the trailers, eyeing performers warming up on various pieces of equipment. Then I heard it, that wonderful sound of snorting-rumbling elephants!
Pre-Circus in Poplar Bluff
I followed the sound and stopped to ask a young boy if he knew Pat Anthony. I told the boy that Pat said I could ride an elephant. He laughed, "Pat doesn't have anything to do with the elephants!" A sluggish, shirtless man nearby chimed in, "Pat was pullin' your leg. You can't ride an elephant. Joe owns the elephants!" I calmly explained to the boy and man that I'd just driven 3 hours to ride an elephant. Suddenly, the sluggish laughed and pointed with new energy. "Well here Pat comes."
I turned to face Pat who was walking towards me with a grin. I could hear Sluggish Man under his breath, "I can't wait to hear this. She better chew him out." I firmly told Pat I had come to ride. "Of course you can." he answered, as he moved towards a weathered trailer. He knocked on the door and we waited. Eventually, a scowling man with jet black hair and tattooed arms answered. He mumbled about being woken from a nap. It took some convincing, but Joe finally agreed to get me up on an elephant.
I rushed to get Mom from the car. She snapped photos as I giddily approached the giant beast. I grinned to watch the elephant bend her front legs, so that her head dropped lower to the ground. Joe instructed me to step on the bent leg and reach for the strap. I swung my right leg up and over to straddle the neck. In my younger years I'd done a lot of bareback riding on horses, but this just felt comical. The thickness of this dear animal's neck! The feel of those lively ears, flapping at my legs! And then the awkward lift, as the body moved to stand upright again! Oh how I wanted to throw my head back and howl with joy... but Joe's irritated expression kept me slightly under control.
So Pat Anthony kept his word, that he'd get me on that elephant. I'm not sure I can ever claim that I "rode" this sweet beast. As you can see Joe didn't bother to unchain her poor ankle. Those chains still make me sad.
But as captive elephants do, this one swayed and moved forward and back and forward and back and I wobbled and laughed and loved every moment. I think what I loved most of all was how irritated Joe was when he made the command for the elephant to lower... and my sweet elephant friend refused. I hoped she would never bend down again!
I chose to believe my dream had been fulfilled! After climbing down, Mom and I walked away chuckling at the silliness of the whole event. Before long we were seated in the flimsy stands to watch the circus. The Poplar Bluff scene was a bit different than the St. Louis version. As my diary reads, "Pudgy girls wobbled over the soggy grass in their sparkly costumes...their spiked heels sinking with each step... Local high school students
squeaked out on instruments and struggled to keep the beat as a bored ring master sang dated circus favorites, into a microphone..."
I remember how the timing was off, with everything from music to stunts. Even the audience seemed disinterested. Before long, it rained and the circus was called off, before the elephants or the canon. But my mother and I huddled under an umbrella and watched as they "struck" the show. We saw "Miss Lydia" of the rope act. There she was, suddenly part of the crew, wearing her stretch shorts and no wig.
We chatted with some trapeze men from Sarasota who claimed to know some friends of ours from Florida. As odd as the show had seemed, I was still sad to see it end. And luckily the negative mood that seemed to surround Mom and me, had no effect on us at all. So off to dinner we went, glowing with the memories of our funny circus adventure!
My Circus Kids
Years later my own kids had made their own circus and elephant memories. They rode Flora, a beautiful young African elephant. She was the star of St. Louis based, "Circus Flora". A few years later, they took classes from some of the performers... members of the famous Flying Wallendas family!
But over the years most of us have learned a lot about the treatment of circus animals. I'm glad to know that abuse is no longer accepted in training. I'm especially glad to know that although Flora was never abused, she now lives in an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.
Later... a Different Kind of Encounter
My kids are grown and married now. All of our elephant riding days are over.
In 2017, our family traveled to Thailand and had a very different Elephant Encounter. My daughter-in-law arranged for us to visit a sanctuary where we were invited to feed and bathe elephants.
Mom would have so enjoyed this adventure!
BARBIE BUCKET LIST
I was 8 years old when I got this embarrassing Barbie diary ... about 2 years before my real DIARY YEARS. (12 years of never missing a day) I was more into Trolls than Barbie, so I stashed it in a drawer and forgot about it.
Over the years my family moved numerous times and this super mod diary ended up burried in boxes over and over. For at least 12 years, whenever I ran across it, I would grab a pencil and jot down something ridiculous on the corresponding day. It was like a never ending doodle pad, fillled with more nonsense than reflection. The penmanship and horrendous spelling makes it difficult to read today, but the best discovery is a Bucket List that began on April 27, 1974!
Click on THE BEGINNING to see the LIST and how it evolved.