My favorite circus memory, after meeting my wife, Nini, happened in Chicago in October, 1976 at the old iron and glass arena near the old stockyards.
We'd played there some weeks already - the weather usually cloudy, chilly, and damp.
It was a Saturday morning show - too early in the morning that day. I wasn't feeling well - tired, lonesome, a little sad... just feeling down.
I dry shaved that morning, and my skin reminded me of its objection to that as I applied my clown makeup. I had a bit of a headache from trying to rinse out the blues the night before. Even pie car coffee couldn't wash the bad taste out of my mouth. Brother, I was feeling sorry for myself!
I was doing meet and greet on the track floor as our guests came filing in along the rope fence by the track as they made their way to their seats.
I was doing my best to put my heart into it, but my heart just wasn't cooperating.
Then I heard a small, clear little voice calling out, "Clown! Clown!", with the rise and fall tone of one trying to get my attention.
I turned to my left, and saw running down the track toward me a little cherub of a girl no more than five years old - running with just a remnant of 'toddle' in her gait. She looked like a little doll - little chubby legs with white ankle socks and black patent shoes, frilly dress, navy coat that gathered at the waist, a beaming round face with the biggest of toothy smiles and such bright eyes and big ringlets of auburn curly hair.
Following at a trot several paces behind her was her mother, a well dressed, handsome, willowy woman with a flustered and embarrassed look on her face.
As the little girl got close, she raised up both her arms signaling she wanted me to catch her and pick her up in my arms - which I did without even thinking about it.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and squeeeeeezed with a big hug, and then leaned back with her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes and said, "I love you, clown!".
I was stunned and I could just get out the words,
"I love you, too, sweetheart."
She kissed my cheek and then got down - and she skipped stepped over to her mother and took her hand, walking away to find their seats.
As she went with her mother, I saw her looking up at her with a thoroughly happy expression, and telling her, "I talked with the clown, mama! I talked with the clown!"
Up the bleacher stairs they went, and I just stood there, arms at my sides, just watching them until I couldn't see them any more.
I heard a collective and soft, "Awwwwwwwwww....." from my right, from the folks I'd just been greeting when the little angel jumped into my arms and into my heart. They all had eyes as moist as mine.
That little girl, that little angel would be in her late thirties by now.
Wherever she is, I just want her to know that on that morning, with her expression of pure affection, joy, and a child's simple love, she reminded me that I am loved and changed my outlook for good.
God indeed sent me an angel.