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Jen’s World: Who needs a big top when a haymow will do?

March 14, 2019 GMT

It has been entirely too long since we’ve had a Donna story.

You remember Donna, don’t you? Donna Anderson, a lifelong southern Minnesotan who’ll celebrate her 100th birthday this year, has allowed me to share her stories in this column several times during the last year.

Recently, Donna said to me, “Did I ever tell you about the circuses we East Dover kids used to perform every summer?”

She had not. But that certainly seemed like a story I’d want to hear. And I suspect you might, too. So, in her own words, here’s our latest installment of Donna Stories.

My uncle, Frank Ketchum, took all the big kids to the circus in Rochester every summer. He didn’t take the young ones, those of us who were 7, 8 years old. So we decided to have a circus of our own.

It was us, Della Thompson, the preacher’s son, a couple others, and the Colgan kids — Margaret, Jim, John, Bill, Blanche, Cdell, and Ruthie. They lived right across Highway 14 from us in town.

Their dad was gone. He’d been in Rochester and there was a terrible snowstorm. On his way home, he had car trouble right at the viaduct where you go under the railroad just west of Eyota. He got out in this snowstorm to do something to his car and a car came from the other direction and hit him and killed him. So his wife (her name was Blanche also) had to raise all these kids.

We had so much fun with them. There were so many of them, and there weren’t too many of the rest of us! We all played together — and we were so disappointed that we couldn’t go to that circus in Rochester that we decided to have a circus for ourselves.

There was a big old barn behind the Colgan kids’ house. It had a big haymow that didn’t have any hay in it. Since it wasn’t being used, we went up there to play a lot. It was the perfect place to have a circus. We gathered sheets to put up, and we had booths, and wild animals, and acrobats.

Della was our main acrobat because she could do cartwheels and she did all sorts of things on a ladder. And then, of course, our wild animals were our dogs! We trained them to do tricks, like roll over and speak. We taught them all kinds of really, really intricate maneuvers! We charged two cents to get into the circus and we used to have big crowds because all of our parents would come and a lot of people in Dover would come.

We found out we could make more money by having fortune-telling booths — because we could charge one cent apiece for every fortune told! We had collected basketballs and put a cover over them and pretended that they were crystal balls.

The first year we only had one, but when we saw how lucrative it was, we set up several the next year! That turned out to be really a fun time.

At the end of the circus (or, in retrospect, I guess it should’ve been called a carnival), we ended up with a great big bag of money — I called it “loot.” Of course, we had to find out who was going to be the financier. One of the guys thought I got the best marks in math, so I should be the financier. I was pretty proud of that.

I took this big bag of loot back to my house and my mother put it away. The next morning she helped me count it all and we put it in bags for these wonderful circus performers. They were all there the next morning waiting with their hands out for their parts!

We dispersed the funds and that afternoon we all got together and went down to the Dover dump and played in the old cars people had pulled in there.

I treasure the fun we used to have as children, so free. Our parents never worried about us. We didn’t have to worry about getting kidnapped. We didn’t lock our doors. Kids would run in and out. We’d go to the Colgans’ kids at night and play hide-and-seek and ante-ante-over. When it started getting dark, we’d just go home.

I am so blessed that I can remember those times. Sometimes I wish things were back the way they were.