Savoring the greatest showman

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

A few years ago, we were preparing for a birthday party. I was tired of buying trinkets and baubles for birthday parties — things that might be appreciated, then forgotten within a few days.

Instead, I had another idea.

On the day of the party, Taryn opened all her gifts. She was happy. She had some really nice things.

Once all the wrapping paper was picked up, I asked her if she saw what I had gotten her.

She said, “No. What did you get me?”

I said, “Nothing. But, here’s the deal. You pick a movie, any movie and just the two of us will go. I’ll buy you popcorn, soda and candy. We’ll watch your special birthday movie and then we’ll go get some ice cream on the way home. How’s that sound?”

“What movie?” she asked.

“Any movie you want,” I told her. “We can go to any theater you want. We can wait for a special movie to come out or we can go this weekend. It’s all up to you. Just let me know.”

A week later, I received a call from my daughter. Jessi told me that Taryn had made up her mind. We were going on our special movie date the following weekend. Jessi told me that Taryn was excited. She had been talking about this special birthday present ever since her party.

I showed up with a single rose. Both of us were thrilled. We took just enough time to put the rose in a small vase of water and off we went. It was a magical afternoon. On the way home… we stopped for ice cream.

It was so much fun. The other grandchildren heard about it and loved the idea. Now, everyone knows that a birthday means a special Pappy-Movie-Date. No one loves it more than me.

Earlier this year, Danni Grace and I went to see “The Greatest Showman.” It was great fun. We left the theater singing and laughing.

P.T. Barnum would have been proud. We decided that we both wanted to see it again. I told Debbie about it and she wanted to see it too. The whole family wanted to see it.

The DVD was coming out in a few months, so I ordered it. As soon as we knew when the movie was going to be delivered, we scheduled a special movie-night at Memaw and Pappy’s house.

All the kids and grandkids were excited. Josh brought three huge bags of real movie-theater popcorn. We had nachos and cheese, lots of candy and about anything you could find in a theater lobby – including pizza.

We rearranged furniture, darkened the room, brought down a mattress for the kids to lay on and started the show. We had 16 people scattered around the living room, ranging from age two to 67 years old.

We laughed. We cried. Those who knew the words sang the songs.

Since it was a show about P.T. Barnum and his circus, I also provided big, red clown noses for everyone to wear. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

In the closing scenes of the movie, Phineas T. Barnum rode on a mammoth elephant into town.

Jessi laughed and said it reminded her of one of her special childhood memories. She was right, because it was also one of my favorite memories from her childhood. It happened about thirty years ago.

Kent Vandervort and I were leaders of the old Wilmington Optimist Club. As a fundraiser, we arranged for the Carson and Barnes Circus to come to Wilmington.

At that time, Carson and Barnes was billed as the largest traveling circus that still operated a three-ring circus under a big top. They also owned the largest herd of elephants of any circus in the world.

As the circus’s main evening show was about to start, the show-boss came up to Kent and me and asked if we would like to ride the lead elephants in the opening parade. Obviously, we jumped at the chance.

As we sat atop our elephants, the big beast swayed while their handlers chatted.

The man holding onto my elephants was complaining about the behavior of the elephants that day. He said, “Suzi is driving me crazy. She’s about to get into big trouble if she doesn’t shape up.”

I leaned forward to look at the nameplate on my elephant’s forehead. Even reading it upside down, it was clear: “Suzi.”

Immediately, the music inside the big-top started playing and our elephants started walking. There we were, inside the tent. We were surrounded by boys and girls of all ages, cheering and clapping.

As the circus parade started, Kent and I smiled and waved at the crowd. Suddenly, I heard the shout of, “Daddy?”

There in the stands, with a look of amazement of on her face, sat my beautiful daughter. I had not expected to see Jessi there and she certainly had not expected to see her Daddy riding into the circus on an elephant. It was great. P.T. Barnum would have been proud.

All of this has verified what I have always thought.

Life is not about doodads, trinkets and baubles.

It’s about sharing experiences and building memories.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist