Saturday, November 5, 2016

Life is full of banana peels and circus peanuts



I picked up a round plastic container of Circus Peanuts at the grocery store two weeks in a row. Both times I placed it right back on the display shelf. My husband questioned what I was doing and when I told him that I was “writing” in my mind, he let it go. He knows it is best to ask no further. 
In case your head has been buried in the sand, let me describe a Circus Peanut. It is a peanut-shaped marshmallow candy that dates to the 19th century, when it was one of a large variety of unwrapped “penny candy” sold in such retail outlets as five-and-dime stores.


Funny thing. There was a memory along with Circus Peanuts and I was trying desperately to pull it to the surface. Snippets of a hazy remembrance slowly came about. An employee at my uncle’s machine shop fascinated me – he was a giant of a man and extremely handsome in the eyes of this gawky girl – and better still, he was a former grunt for the Ringling Brothers Circus. He was not very talkative about his former life, and I was too shy to ask questions about the circus. I was in awe, though. 
“You lost your chance,” my mother would tell me in the car. I bungled my opportunity and should have known better.
That wasn’t the memory, though. 
I tried putting out a post on Facebook and found all sorts of friends that love those fondants to the point that they got so excited even writing about them that I would bet they went to the store to buy a container shortly afterward. (FYI: Wegmans had a sale near the bulk food section going on). I am glad I asked. One person wrote, “That inexplicable texture that was more fondant than marshmallow. The excruciatingly sweet, cloyingly artificial flavor. The slightly gritty texture as it disintegrates in your mouth. I think I have some stuck in my teeth from 1968.” Another person said that she would share with me, and several people “liked” that idea. 
When the traveling circus would come to town on the train, my friends and I would walk down a couple blocks to the train station to watch the workers unloading. The one or two elephants would be paraded up to the fairgrounds about a mile away. The performers never showed their faces and probably were still sleeping. It was just another day in another town to them. Overnight the tent would rise and by morning the flags would be waving. One time when I was high school and the circus came by truck, I did get up in the wee hours to observe the coordination falling into place. Every worker had his job and it was a feat to witness. That afternoon the bareback horsemanship, the salty peanuts and the overly made-up trapeze artists mesmerized me under the big top. There was a “circus smell” — stale air and old wooden bleacher boards — that was like no other in my daily humdrum life. The glamour of it all was intriguing.
One year I dreamt of running off with the circus, and honestly, the only thing holding me back was missing my mother’s home cooking. Maybe there were other reasons that I don’t recall. It was one of those changeable years when I was growing up too fast for my own good. The grass was always greener somewhere else and to live with the circus performers would be a vast improvement, I thought, to my own small bedroom on a street in the village. 
That wasn’t the memory either I realized. Certainly, it brought back fond thoughts of those innocent days where dreaming big didn’t cost a cent.
“Oh boy.... Hide them from me!!! My true weakness.... Hahahahah Love them & yes, a lot of it is because of the memories that come flooding back. We all need to take a trip back every now and then,” replied another Facebook reader to my post. 
It wasn’t until someone posted on Facebook in capital letters…”and they are BANANA flavored, too,” that what I had been searching for came spilling out of me. Yup. That was it. Bananas. And a letter ‘B’ word, too. Banana cream pie was the dessert I made for the boyfriend who would never become my husband in my new apartment using my mother’s award-winning recipe, and it was a whopping failure. Soupy. Mushy. Very embarrassing. 
On so many, many occasions I had enjoyed my mom’s. Over her lifetime, she had won every pie contest in the county, although I do think that she fretted over the filling’s consistency every time. There is no explanation as to why I chose to make such a tricky pie. Probably, my ego got the best of me and figured I was infallible. 
I couldn’t eat a banana for a long time after that — they have always been a top favorite of mine — as the smell of them reminded me of that cooking failure. Now I have had cooking mishaps since then. However, there’s nothing like the one trying to impress the boyfriend who wouldn’t become my husband. I don’t think that the relationship broke up over the pie fiasco. It was heading down a slippery slope before that. 
It is time to tell you the truth. I don’t like Circus Peanuts. Never have. Not going to change my mind. I do like finding a topic that you, gentle readers, have enormous affection and write from there. 
Kay Thomas lives in the Genesee Valley. After a successful teaching career, she is pursuing her lifelong love of writing. Check out her blog on remarkable people and places in the Finger Lakes at overaroundhills.blogspot.com.