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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Twenty

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                                         "My Day at the Barnum and Bailey Circus"

 

During quiet moments I often find myself smiling.  In my mind’s eye I relive the day in 1928 when my father
arrived home, happily waving three tickets in the air. They had my birthday stamped on them.

When the Big Day arrived I was seven years old and wearing my prettiest dress. After we brought my baby brother
to Grandma Lucia who was waiting for him with open arms, off we went, my parents and I, in the direction of
New York City to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

We arrived at Madison Square Garden and were soon engulfed by the crowd trailing into the Side Show.  The Bearded
Lady strutted around in a blue satin gown. The Fat Lady took up all the space on the love seat she was sitting on. I
silently said a little prayer that she would lose her sweet tooth. I became frightened and clutched my parents’ hands
tightly when I saw a bare-chested man wearing a turban, sliding a long sword down his throat. We moved on and
suddenly we were face to face with a man licking flames on a torch. We turned around and found ourselves next to
the man walking on sharp nails and glistening cut glass. I tugged on my parents’ sleeves and pulled them towards
the caged animals; cute monkeys and the most beautiful lions, tigers and zebras that I had ever seen.

An announcement came over the loud speaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Barnum and Bailey Circus is about to
begin.” We quickly found our seats.  Drums rolled, trumpets blared, gigantic elephants hobbled out, their backs
covered with tasseled colorful tapestries. It was a tremendous three ring circus with something exciting going on
simultaneously in each ring. The elephants stepped gracefully in waltz time, a small yellow car rode around,
it stopped and about fifteen clowns tumbled out of it.  Breathlessly I watched the Ladies and Men on the Flying
Trapeze. Why, Peter Pan was nothing compared to this.

Girls wearing brief sequined costumes stood tall on the backs of beautiful white horses and raced around the huge
circle doing somersaults on the backs of the horses. Other girls in glittering costumes performed amazing stunts
on their bicycles.  When I saw them pedal their bikes sideways I visualized myself riding my little bike the same way.

My daydream ended when drums rolled and the young Zacchini Brothers were about to be shot out of a cannon.
Excitement was at a high pitch. There was a loud explosion; the boys were fired out at the same instant from the
mouth of a monster cannon, high across the vast arena of the circus. The show was over and little did I know that
fifty years later I would meet one of the Zacchini Brothers at a Senior Center in Tampa, Florida, and actually dance with him.

Not only was our trip to the Circus an exciting event but proved to be inspirational as well. We had enjoyed the
highly entertaining circus acts and being in good spirits we laughed as we were jostled and bumped into by the
moving crowd leaving Madison Square Garden. With the happy sound of children’s laughter ringing in our
ears we stepped out onto the sidewalks of the Big City and into a flurry of people hustling and bustling in every
direction. Being in New York City was a rare experience for us. We looked up at skyscrapers that were lit up by the
glow of a red setting sun. We gazed open-mouthed into windows of exclusive department stores and marveled
at expensive jewelry and luxurious clothing affordable only to the rich. My mother, a fine seamstress who made
all my clothes, stared at the beautiful dresses, tipping her head this way and that way, memorizing the styles of
the designer dresses and was inspired to make exact copies of them. Of course the fabrics she’d buy would be less
expensive than those shown by Saks Fifth Avenue. I remember the compliments I received while growing up and
wearing the stylish dresses my mother had sewn for me. More vividly I recall her look of pride when I first
tried on a dress and it fit me perfectly.

As my parents and I strolled along taking in the sights of the city, my father, “John The Entrepreneur” who
still dabbled in real estate, occasionally looked up at the skyscrapers. With a look of amusement he compared the
massive concrete buildings with his first property, a “Handyman’s Special,” and recalled how grateful he had
been for the small profit it brought him. He stuck out his chin and made an inspired resolution—he would scan the
newspapers for bigger and better “Handy Man’s Specials.”    As for me, my greatest inspiration at that moment
was to ride my bicycle sideways. If the glamour girls at the Circus could do it, so could I!

It was dusk and the city lights had started to glimmer. New York City had a certain magical aura—crowds meeting
in hotel lobbies, rushing to restaurants and to the theatre districts. It all seemed so exciting, romantic and hypnotic.
There was so much more to see; the museums, the library, and Central Park. My father promised that one day
he would take us to see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, and of course we’d eat at the Automat Restaurant. 
At that point we realized that we were hungry. It was late and we needed to pick up my baby brother at my
grandparents’ house. When we arrived, Baby Tony was happily playing with his building blocks, and a familiar
aroma of Mamma Lucia’s good cooking was streaming out of her kitchen. Soon we were enjoying the delicious
lasagna that she had prepared for us.

It had been a truly wonderful day; from the moment we arrived at the Circus until I took my last bite of Grandma’s
lasagna. Even my dreams were happy that night. With my head snuggled against my pillow I merrily rode over
and under pink billowy clouds on my little bicycle—sideways of course!

My seventh birthday will always be part of my treasured memories. Oh yes, I spent many hours trying to ride my
bike sideways. I used up a whole box of Band-Aids before I actually succeeded
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