What Do I Do Besides Write?

I was a guest speaker at a Women’s Book Club in Berkeley recently, a group that has been meeting for thirty plus years. They honored me by reading my noir mystery novel, Death of a Clown and wanted to discuss the novel with me. I brought pictures of my mother (and a couple of me as a baby) during my parents’ stint in the circus. Also a costume Mom wore back in the early 40s! See photo right. If I could have gotten into it, I might have worn it to the event. Well, maybe. It was a lot of fun, sharing with this charming group of readers an insider’s view of circus life, although I was so young I don’t remember much. But I had Mom’s mountainous notes to guide me.  By the way, I’m the kid sitting on the elephant’s head.

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Ringling Brothers Circus, Mom and Me

So long, Ringling Brothers. You were a large part of my life from since I can remember. I even used the every day life of the circus, fueled by stories told me by my mother, as the subject for a standalone mystery noir, Death of a Clown. But more on that later. Judy Garland used to sing the song, “I Was Born In A Trunk At The Princess Theater.” I often sing “I Was Born ON A Trunk At Ringling Brothers Circus.” That’s because my parents met and married at Ringling Brothers during the early forties. She started out as a First of May, he an elephant handler. Her professional name was Jerull Deane. His was Whitey Haven. Within a couple of years, Mom worked her way up to a specialty act with the elephants. My father worked his way up to being head elephant trainer. They both loved working with these large but sweet-natured animals. My mother used to say one of the reasons she fell in love with my father was because he didn’t use the eye hook, or let any of his men use them, either. He was kind and loving to his charges, and she adored the man all the more for it. Topsy was one of the elephants Mom worked with and she liked to tell stories about her beloved pachyderm. As a married couple, they had a little more privacy than other people, and lived in a small trailer on the back lot next to the animals. One of her favorite stories was about the time she took up baking. She would bake a fruit pie – apple, peach, berry, depending on what you could get right after the war – and put them on the windowsill in front of a partially opened window to cool.…

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