Read on Minnesota Public Radio, Wednesday
March 10, 2004
By Nanci Olesen
When I was 22, I lived in a
truck with a bear, and a monkey, two dogs,
and four men. We were the world’s
smallest circus, the Royal Liechtenstein
Quarter Ring Sidewalk Circus. I was a juggler,
a flautist, the bear trainer, the calliope
starter, and the first woman ever to join
that little troupe. The men I worked with
became brothers to me.
We ate well every day. Nick, our ringmaster,
was on a tight budget. The truck’s
kitchen was outfitted with frying pans,
saute pans, a stock pot and a great tea
kettle. Every five days or so, Nick would
take one of us into the grocery aisles with
him. We all knew the list: chicken breasts,
fresh vegetables, pasta, an occasional roast,
tortillas, red beans, and lots of rice.
At night, in a parking lot behind a student
union or in a snowstorm outside of Whitefish,
Montana-- we always kept enough propane
for all three burners on the stove-- Nick
would cook us a great meal. We would be
milling around outside, mending things that
were broken, feeding the animals. Then Nick
would call us in. Three people sat on a
bunk, then the table was folded out of the
wall. Two people sat in folding chairs.
Nick would swing the potatoes or chicken
platter onto the table, as one person reached
behind him into the cupboard to pull out
the stack of plates, the silver and the
napkins. Nick would seat himself at the
head of the table and we would begin passing.
We were family, so sometimes we had stuff
to tease each other about, and we shared
the kind of laughter where the water you
are drinking spurts out of your nose. Other
days we chewed in silence, fretting that
the rain would cancel the show or knowing
that someone owed someone else an apology
for some mishap in the ring. Sometimes a
long winded political discussion would leave
us all divided and hurt.
But we were always satisfied by the food.
Our precarious existence was fortified by
the simple methods of sauteing and simmering
at the end of another day on the road.
Now I’m twice as old as I was when
I lived in that truck with a bunch of men
and a bunch of animals. I live in a house
with one man and three kids and a guinea
pig. And everyday at 5 p.m. I start to saute
and simmer to keep MY little circus troupe
on track. And I thank Nick, my old ringmaster,
for teaching me the simple fact that good
food, well cooked, and eaten together, can
ground you at the end of another long day.
producer and host, MOMbo: 1990-2007