The circus-it's a place of glitz, glamour, and wonder. For the Koso family from Czechoslovakia, living the circus life means always hearing the audience's applause, a sound sweeter than cotton candy. As part of the Wills & Waterson Royal Three Ring Circus, the family performs bareback riding shows that fascinate and amaze their audiences.
Katiya and her husband, Maxim, teach their son, Jerry, the family business, and he eagerly practices to perfect his routine. Like his parents, Jerry thrives on the applause and enjoys the world of the circus and all that it encompasses. But for his father, those heady days may be dwindling.
Maxim's knee, damaged long ago when he took a nasty fall, has become arthritic and increasingly more painful. The prospect of retirement looms in front of him, but he doesn't know how he will ever leave it behind. Yet the next generation wants to take the stage. Jerry and his new wife, Carla, are ready to step into Maxim's shoes.
Katiya also has to make a decision: continue to perform or stay with Maxim at the family homestead. Will they get a second chance to hear the applause, or will the lights go dark?
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Read an Excerpt
ApplauseA Second Chance
By Gayle Wilson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Gayle Wilson
All right reserved.
Man and elephant walked slowly, majestically out of the ring. The man's stance was upright with shoulders squared and a prideful smile upon his lips as the elephant gently laid her trunk into his hand.
* * *
It all starts with Jerzy in the ring. No matter how many times he performed his routine in the family bareback riding act he gets a rush. The applause enthusiastically builds when he took his final bow. Jerzy, known as Jerry to one and all on the circus, is a handsome young boy, tall and gangly for his age. Jerry felt exuberant as he came out of the tent with a bounce in his step and went back to the trailer to change out of his blue and gold leotard with the matching bolero jacket fastened with gold frogs and golf fringe on the epaulets. He neatly hung it up for the next show. His mother has taught him well to take care of his belongings.
It is 1945 in Ocala, Florida. Jerry's parents, Maxim and Katiya, who are of Czechoslovakian decent, have been training their son to take over more and more of the bareback riding act for the past few years. "Our boy is doing well don't you think?" said Maxim and Katiya replied "He's showing great promise I think. Remember he is only fifteen Max." Smiling Max turned on his heel and exited the tent with Fritz and Desi in tow. Rex leads Zoyi and Dansey right behind him back to the horse corral in the backyard. Katiya walks the short distance to the trailer where she gets out of wardrobe and dresses in her comfy muumuu.
Coming out of his bedroom into the living room he finds his mother is already at the sewing machine working on the newly designed wardrobe for the act. She quickly takes her old worn tape measure from around her neck to check for the proper inseam length for the slacks she is sewing for her son. "Honestly Jerry when will you stop growing so tall? Again your pants need lengthening. My, oh my son" his mother said as she lovingly caressed his cheek. "Now go help your father."
Grabbing an apple from the tray in the kitchen he goes to the small tent attached to the back of their trailer to help groom the six ponies his dad, Maxim, is preparing for the show. The apple core is a treat for the pony. He will braid blue ribbons into their manes to get them ready for show time. Maxim walks with some effort leading two of the ponies to the back door while Jerry tethers the remaining four and follows.
Katiya stands at the back door dressed in her light blue evening gown waiting for the ringmaster to blow his whistle and announce her act. Even after all these years she feels a wave of excitement and anticipation to be stepping in the ring to entertain the townspeople. She always says a silent little prayer that this show will be pleasing to all in the audience.
"Ladies and gentleman and all animal lovers ... it is my great pleasure to introduce this next act from Czechoslovakia, the matron of the internationally acclaimed Koso Family, winners of awards both here in America and abroad, the charming and talented Miss Katiya." The crowd pleasing ponies prance, dance, waltz and go through their paces to the delight of the audience. It is always emotional for Jerry to watch his mother in the ring. She moves so gracefully she seems to be floating on air in her billowing blue gown. He observes her closely to see if he can carry himself as effortlessly as his mother. Being born into a family of circus performers he feels he has much to learn.
His parents were brought over to America as a headliner bareback riding act by Welford Bros. Circus back in 1940. Initially the Koso Family Troupe consisted of nine members of rosin back riders who were delighted to get out of the country after the German Occupation started in 1938 changed their life so much. There was a split in the family when conflicts ensued over the division of money the whole troupe collected. Part of the troupe stayed with Welford Bros. Circus while Maxim, Katiya and Jerry went their separate way. Maxim and Katiya began training their son to perform some of the pyramid work when he was merely twelve. They had to start over with some newer horses to add to the two they took with then from the breakup and build their act anew. Maxim told his wife and son, "It will be tough to make it to the coveted center ring, but we shall do it." When Wills and Waterson Royal Three Ring Circus gave them a contract with center ring position years later it was a blessed second chance for them. Second chances come far and few between.
Coming out of the tent Jerry automatically scans the sky. The sky looks ominous with large big black clouds on the horizon. A blustery wind begins to pick up. The ponies need brushing down and the manes need unbraiding and brushes out as well. Water to be freshened up, feed added to their buckets, stalls cleaned out and new shavings are added for their comfort. The sidewall is laced up for the impending rain storm. Even at a young age Jerry has been taught that the livestock is the base of the family income. The better you take care of the animals the better for all.
The horse and pony groom, Rex Harmond, comes over to discuss the preparations for what looks like an impending storm. Speaking with Jerry about the rosin back horses' stalls they walk back to the next tent where those horses are stabled. Jerry lends a hand to Rex tying off a canvas flap that had let go with the sudden wind. After checking things out to be sure nothing else was seriously wrong Jerry said to Rex "I hope this storm passes. Remember the last bad storm when Fritz spooked and kicked the gate in? I thought we would never get him back into his stall. Man, he was really spooked." Being satisfied that all is ready for the possible storm he leaves Rex to finish and hurries back and finishes his work with the ponies. Working quickly he makes it to the trailer just as the rain starts to pelt the grassy lot. Taking off his clogs and leaving them by the doorway he locates the umbrellas for his folks and one for him and puts them by the door.
As soon as the circus performance is completed and props, animals and wardrobe put away the prop crew, performers and management make their way to the cookhouse. Jerry enjoys the food plus the companionship of friends he has made. The bonus of seeing the pretty young girl with the strawberry blonde hair at her table excites him.
Carla Hunter is the niece of one of the owners of the Wills & Waterson Royal Three Ring Circus and spends her summer vacations from school on the show. Since she has been around circus life many seasons she has picked up lots of abilities of different acts. She naturally adapted to learning Spanish Web routine. The Spanish Web is long, fabric covered, rope that is suspended from the apex of the tent with foot and ankle loops close to the top which you use to create various shapes and forms up in the air to the music. The WWR Circus has three or four web girls in its show and the girls synchronize their performance to create an aerial ballet. The men stationed at the bottom swings the web ropes in a large arc throughout the routine.
Carla found aerial work to her liking and quickly convinced her uncle that she should do the ladder routine also. The ladder is a shortened ladder with three or four rungs on it and it has foot and ankle loops on it which facilitates the performer to form arcs, butterfly holds and hold outs, ankle holds with the free leg pushing out from a rung on the ladder in unison with the other girls and in sync with the music. The men below assist the girls to ascend to the ladder and their return to the floor of the rings. In addition to working the web and ladder Carla is working on perfecting a new aerial trapeze act. Carla feels a sense of freedom when she is up in the air she never feels anywhere else.
Jerry knows Carla well as circus people are like one big family. Working, traveling, eating meals together and performing day after day you get to know people. Petite, poised and pretty Carla would melt any young man's heart.
Looking across the grassy lot he sees the flag is up at the cookhouse tent and heads over for the meal. Jerry spots Ivan trying to catch his eye. Ivan is a heavy-set, strongly chiseled man of about thirty. He is the elephant trainer and a good friend to Jerry. His herd of five elephants keeps him and his right hand man busy but Ivan has always been close to Jerry's parents and has had the time and patience to be Jerry's friend throughout the years as he was growing up. It is a deep and trusting friendship built upon the love of animals.
Making his way over to Ivan he takes the longer route to go past Carla and toss a quick 'Hi' her way. It never hurts to keep her aware of his presence he thinks. Carla and Jerry are friendly, but Jerry is working to make it even more than just a friendship. If he weren't so busy with the animals, the act and practices he would probably watch every single one of her routines high up in the air at every show. He takes every opportunity he can think of to be near her. Walking over to speak with Ivan, Jerry thinks what a jerk he is to just say hi to Carla. Certainly next time he'd be a little more inventive with some conversation. Why is it that whenever he gets near her he clams up? Would Ivan give him some pointers, he wonders. He is about thirty years old and no girlfriend in sight so probably not Jerry thinks.
The circus travels about every other day along the Eastern seaboard and rain or shine the show must go on. The tent crew lugs, tugs and pulls up the tent, breathing heavily, to erect the little city that is the circus.
Performers go about their daily routine improving where they can. In the tradition of the circus they maintain a unique combination of modern theatrics and death-defying extravaganza for the public to enjoy. The Kosos feel a special magic as they perform their acts. "My son, be proud that you are able to perform your tricks day after day and year after year. I know I ask a lot of you but this life you were born into is difficult at best and I ask of you the best you can give to it. Never give less that the best. At every show remember these people have not seen you perform before so you must give the same enthusiastically high energy performance as the one before," his father reminded him.
Chapter TwoOff—Season in Arcadia
The term 'off-season' is really a misnomer for members of a circus family. The Kosos family may be off the road from the traveling circus circuit and its daily routines but winter quarters are certainly not a time for mere relaxation and pleasure. "Ah home" said Katiya. Maxim replied crisply, "Yes and please don't think of some special project this year." "Max there will always be projects to do around here. I don't find them. They find us." his wife assured him. "I think I want to sleep till noon" he said with a sigh. "Oh right. You'll be up at the crack of dawn and you know it." "And you my sweet will be up early baking something sweet to take with you on your pilgrimage to St. Anne's." "That same sweet something will be sitting on the table in the dinette for you to enjoy with the hot pot of coffee to go with it on the back burner of the stove as it has always been my love" said Katiya. The small banter between the couple is easy to listen to.
Home is a sprawling piece of land in Arcadia, Florida with a main house, some smaller quarters for the help, barns for storing gear, trucks, props, a wardrobe building with racks and racks of costumes, a workshop for repairing equipment, a round barn with a high roof for practicing high acts or any type act and ring curbs for the riding act to practice in. There are acres and acres of pastures for the animals to graze in with paddocks, white washed fences that seem to the eye to go on for miles. Its' location is set in a quiet neighborhood with a brook running along one side of the pasture and a small pond about middle of one of the large enclosed pastures. Jerry pulls the truck and pony wagon around to the barns and as soon as the door opens the family dog, Snoopy jumps out. "Go" commanded Jerry and the Dalmatian runs across the field to the pond for a quick swim. Returning wet Snoopy wanders over to the pony stalls and finds a pile of hay and lays down for a snooze.
There's a lot to do around the winter quarters yet it is a different pace for man and animal. The animals need their every day care, the Veterinarian visits for up-dated immunizations and shots required by the State and regular check-ups. Maxim keeps on top of the requirements from the various states for his animals to alleviate any problems while they are traveling the following season. Katiya examines the tack gear and orders anything needed to supplement the equipment they have on hand. She makes sure Rex repairs and polishes all the tack.
The animal blankets for 'spec' are inspected by her and some she takes over to the wardrobe department for repair or upgrading. Katiya hires a couple of young girls to sew sequins and run up seams for a couple of weeks to get a head start on the many sewing projects. Wardrobe is repaired or made new. Katiya rummages through the wardrobe to see if anything from the previous seasons can be utilized in a different way to create a totally new look. When Katiya and her husband had to start over after the split with the rest of the Koso troupe she had told Max, "No matter what the circumstances we will have colorful wardrobe to showcase our acts with."
Dampness from the weather caused many of the floorboards to have to be replaced each year, fences needed mending and barns were begging for a fresh coat of paint. There's always a lot to do. Home has its own routine.
The horses and ponies are free to graze out in their pastures during the day. The animals frolic and cavort to their hearts' content under the clear blue Florida skies. Each day Rex fetches the animals to be put through their paces by Katiya and Maxim for the next seasons' run in the practice barn. Each animal has an individual quality and Katiya knows her ponies well. She speaks softly and uses her crop only to change their direction. Maxim knows what his horses will do. He knows the rise and fall as they circle the ring again and again. Both of them feel you have to know your animals. All the practice keeps them alert, active and in good condition for the road. At night the stables are clean and cozy for the occupants.
The Arcadia homestead is also where the traveling home trailers get a yearly overhaul. They are conditioned, repaired, cleaned and polished. Clothes bars almost always need repairing and reinforcing as going over the road day after day puts so much stress on the fixtures, dingy carpets are shampooed. Jerry is assigned the job this year under the watchful eyes of his mother and father. Jerry is not too sure this is where he is best suited. He likes driving around the acreage looking for a break in a fence or one of the outbuildings that needed something. This business of sweating while cleaning the rug or reinforcing the walls for a stronger purchase for the clothes bars is not his idea of fun, he thinks. His folks told him, "Now that you are older we want you to learn all there is about this business and rug cleaning or scrubbing the shower is all a part of circus life. It may be called off-season but you are not off duty. The time for fun is when the work is done." Jerry knows better than to say anything. He goes back to check how the portion of the rug he's already worked on looks. His mother comes with some of her lemonade. "Here have some lemonade, son." "Sure does hit the spot" he told his mother. "While you're here do you think this looks clean enough?" Katiya leans into the trailer and removes her sunglasses to take a closer look. She shakes her head and Jerry knows without her saying another word he will have to do it over again. He walks to the spigot and fills the pail with some fresh water then turns and walks dejectedly back to his task. His father has told him more times that he can ever remember, "If you're going to do a job, do it right." Picking up the stiff brush he kneels and starts again in the corner of the living room wondering if he'll ever have a day at the beach or take a cool ride on his four wheeler. Taking his empty glass back to the main house Jerry calls to his mother and getting no response wanders out to the wardrobe barn. He knows she loves the kitchen and the sewing room. He only finds tow girls from town busy with needle and sequins. Interesting he thinks. I've got to bring that up in conversation at suppertime.
Excerpted from Applause by Gayle Wilson Copyright © 2012 by Gayle Wilson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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