from Milking the Kickers, A Living History of Southwest Oklahoma
By Marie Hulin Black of Burns Flat, Oklahoma
One of my most vivid memories was when I was about five years old and the Ringling Bros. Circus came to Clinton. It was a rest stop for the animals on their annual tour of the United States. The circus was the height of entertainment for us all and it was a real treat to get to see it. Papa wanted us to see them raise the tent because it was the best part to him. We had to go before daylight to see that and it seemed to me that the tent was big enough to cover acres of land. It was an amazing site because I can remember all of the men seemed really big and strong and they chanted together as they drove the stakes into the ground. Then the elephants were hooked to the ropes and as they pulled the huge tent up, we were amazed how wonderful it all was.
After the acrobats, clowns, and all of the animals performed, we headed home to Dill City, but my sister Mavis and I decided that our calling was to become acrobats and join the circus. We decided then and there that we would start training! When we got home, we made our costumes and installed swings in the top of our new chicken house that had a cement floor with a covering of hay that we thought would soften our landings! Papa hadn’t moved the chickens in yet, so we thought it was the exact place to perfect our “art”.
The first day that we started our training—and I think it must have been my first act—I missed the swing and fell on my face on the cement and the not-too-soft hay floor. Mavis said we should not tell the folks what happened or they would make us take the swings down and so I didn’t tell. However, they noticed right away that my mouth was “turned wrong side out” and was swollen out past my nose. Well, that ended our career as beautiful acrobats and the swings came down, the chickens were moved into their new home, and we returned to the mundane things like making shoes out of inner tubes.
If it hadn’t been for that accident, we might now be—at ages 92 and 96—the oldest flying trapeze artists alive.