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 likeable, 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 met 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. 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 elephants. I followed the sound and stopped to ask a young boy if he knew Pat Anthony. When I told the boy Pat had 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...when the sluggish man pointed and laughed, "Well here Pat comes."
I turned to face Pat who was walking towards me with a grin. I could hear the 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 and knocked on the door. A frowning man with jet black hair and tattooed arms finally answered, griping about being woken from a nap. It took some convincing, but Joe finally agreed to get me up on an elephant.
I grinned as I watched the elephant bend his front legs, so his 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 fellow's neck and his ears
flapping at my legs and then the awkward lift as his body moved to stand upright again! I wanted to throw my head back and laugh out loud, but Joe's irritated expression kept me under control.
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 his poor ankle. 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 he refused. I hoped he would never bend down again.
I chose to believe my dream had been fulfilled! After climbing down, my 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 along the soggy grass in their sparkly costumes, 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.
The timing was off, with everything from music to stunts and 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 my mother and me had no effect on us at all. So off to dinner we went, glowing with the memories of this funny circus adventure!
My Circus Kids
Years later my own kids had a much longer ride on an elephant. Flora was a circus and movie star, of "Circus Flora" and "Pee Wee's Big Top".
I actually have learned a lot through the years, about the circus world. Animals are no longer the main focus of the show. 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.
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.