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Clowns – Not all Bad

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-7-10-38-amI’m sad about what’s happened to the image of clowns. I like clowns – those happy, smiling, white faced, bright red-mouthed clowns. Clowns that make people laugh and clowns that touch the heart’s soft spot.

            I know that sinister, evil clowns have appeared throughout history. All the way back to ancient Egypt to the Joker, the archenemy of Batman, and characters in Stephen King’s bestsellers. I avoid scary, evil clowns. Don’t read the books or see the movies.

During the Middle Ages, clowns, known as court jesters, performed for royalty. In the 19th century, three ring circuses travelled around the country, and sad, hobo clowns became popular. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bozo and other silly clowns entertained children. And that’s when I grew up.

Maybe it was Red Skelton that first made me like clowns. My family didn’t miss his weekly television show that began in the early 1950s, and we especially liked when Skelton took on one of his comical characters. Clem Kadiddlehopper, a big-hearted, singing country cabdriver who was a bit slow witted. Sheriff Deadeye with his thick bushy mustache and eyebrows and wearing a fringed western vest.

Freddie the Freeloader, a tramp with a blackened chin, white mouth, crushed top hat and who chewed on a cigar was my Dad’s favorite. He laughed as soon as he saw Freddie and by the end of the skit, Dad had bent double, slapped his knees, and laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I laughed as Dad did this week when I googled Red Skelton and watched Freddie on YouTube. And Skelton ended each show saying, “Good night and may God bless.”

Before her birth, I decorated our firstborn’s nursery with clowns and bright primary colors. I sewed curtains from fabric printed with circus clowns riding bicycles, balancing balls on their noses, rolling huge hoops. Husband painted a wooden rocking chair bright blue and the crib yellow. There was even a clown lamp and a matching light switch cover.

When our children were young school age, Husband, Son, and Daughter marched as clowns in Cookeville’s Christmas parade. They smeared Zauder’s superior Clown White on their faces and necks and painted huge red mouths. Husband wore a multi-colored wig and blue jean overalls. The kids wore traditional one piece, long sleeve, and two-colored clown outfits.

That was about the time I started a clown collection. One of my favorites is a Norman Rockwell porcelain figurine entitled The Runaway. A clown wraps his arm around a young boy’s shoulder, holds him close with one hand, and wipes his eye with the other. A black dog sits at the clown’s knees. It’s a feel-good piece. A runaway child cared for by a stranger.

Because family and friends gave me almost every clown that sits among the books on our bookshelves, I like them all. The Emmett Kelly, the traditional sad faced hobo who became one of the world’s most famous clowns, is a reminder of the depression years. I treasure a two-inch unpainted clay clown that Daughter created and the tall blue and white one blowing a horn and the cow clown. After only a few years, I announced my collection was complete. Twenty-five was enough.

The current clown panic means there probably won’t be any kids wearing clown outfits thrown together at the last minute and shouting, “Treat or Treat!” this Halloween. I agree with Stephen King’s recent tweet as reported in The Week magazine, “Time to cool the clown hysteria – most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

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