by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
June 8, 2002
UNLIKELY NOMADS OF THE MIDWAY
SAN DIEGO -- "I met you on a midway at a fair last year and you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear." It's one of singer, songwriter Joni Mitchell's best lines and I find myself singing it in the car on my way to the various midways called life. Songs from Blue. Rivers to skate away on. Or, this one: "The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68/ and he told me, all romantics make the same mistake/ cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café."
Not if they join the circus.
I've always liked midways, and bazaars; mercados with their chilies and mangos and sides of beef. Unsterile. Chorizo. Toothless Mayans. Jugo de Zanhoria y Queso Frito. Love the colors, textures, smells, the flies, the comedy, and the chaos. I love the circus in general but I would be one of those who'd sneak around and set the animals free. Or try to. Then end up being a sideshow spectacle myself. Maybe the bearded lady or the human bubble-blowing machine.
One of the most extraordinary bunch of women I have ever met were with the circus.
One day I was sitting alone in church watching candles flicker and enjoying the semi-darkness when the door at the back of the sanctuary opened and three robed women came in on sanded feet. Two were young and one was old and slightly bent but still agile. I watched them move down the aisle toward the red flickering votive candle by the tabernacle and file into the pew. They all kneeled and bowed their veiled heads.
The habits were rough; light brown and extremely simple. I was used to Franciscans and Sisters of Notre Dame who, though austere in habit still had quite a get up, what with the starch and beads and white cardboard boxed things on at the top of their heads and white throat closers that pinched their faces up into a squeeze like orange sherbet coming out of those push up ice creams from the Good Humor Man
These nuns had no black crocodile shoes and certainly no orange squeeze. They were just simple women. But I recognized them. They were Little Sisters of Jesus, the order started by the Frenchman, Charles de Foucald.
And wonder of wonders, they had come to me. To me, sitting by myself, in a darkening church somewhere in Southern California.
Leaving the introductions and initial conversation they took me with them to their small trailer home parked in a dirt lot, surrounded by trucks, other trailers and rigs of various kinds. To my complete amazement and delight, they were traveling with the circus.
The thing that had attracted me to this particular order, both the Little Sisters and Little Brothers, and which stirred interest keen enough to write for information on the novitiate, was that they were given to the peoples they considered most marginal in whatever culture they found themselves to be: Hmong. Gypsy. Aborigine. Bedouin and in this case, American circus workers.
They didn't preach or teach; cook or nurse. They befriended the circus people and simply lived with them wherever they went. Following the "carnies," in their little airstream trailer. Three quiet women who knew how to love. Pitching tents and pulling up stakes several times a week, they roamed the country with their circus family; one of the most peculiar blend of transient romantics and cast aways that can be assembled.
I think about the older nun alot lately. It's been over twenty years since that day we sat together in silence before the holy bread on the altar of their makeshift table. I don't even remember her name but I can still see her peaceful grey eyes, neither afraid of the future or longing for the past but fully in the present.
I wonder how she died. I know she died happy, maybe surrounded by tearful clowns and bearded ladies; a few runaways and drug addicts.
The two other little sisters must be getting along in age now too. Maybe they are sitting in a nursing home somewhere singing "Ave Maria," and eating fish on Fridays but I hope not. I really hope not. No, they must still be out there, where the buffaloes roam and airstreams follow the circus all day.
Like rubies in the black-and-blue velvet of an eternal midway.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com.