It was spring of 1924, when John and Josie got married. Theirs had been a long courtship, as he’d lived a few states away. She knew what getting married to him would mean. She would have to leave her mother and her hometown of Dassel, Minnesota and move all the way to Iowa. She dreamed about what it would be like and one day, finally, she was ready. She wrote her love a letter and they made plans to ride the railroad to Iowa, where they would start their new life together. A few months later, when John arrived in Dassel, they became newlyweds.
As planned, Union Pacific took them as far as Waterloo where they spent a night, or perhaps two, at the town Inn. Surprised by a knock on the door the morning after their arrival, they opened it to a raggedy boy who told them there was a new group of gypsies in town. “It is till it ain’t,” the boy said grinning, then darted away to tell the next household. Wondering what he meant by that, John smiled at Josie, “What do you say Mrs. Roberts? Shall we go see what’s going on?” Blushing, Josie playfully replied, “Why Mr. Roberts, I’d love to,” grabbed her shawl and the two of them set out to discover a scene that became louder and louder the closer they got. Children were dashing about; men and women alike were all heading beyond the town square, a few blocks away. Word was spreading like wildfire! Everyone was frantic with excitement! They’d never seen anything like it!
The townsfolk hadn’t heard the group arrive in the dead of night as they’d been cozy dreaming in their beds. They hadn’t heard strange and unusual animals sounding off as make-shift fire-pits crackled to provide light. They hadn’t heard bolts of red and white striped fabric being unfolded by burly boys or the clank-clank-clank of steel stakes being pounded into the ground by mighty men. They hadn’t heard tents being erected until almost dawn or women scurrying to cook food for the well-traveled group. No one had heard a thing.
Approaching the scene, they began to smell boiling peanuts and buttery popcorn as mimes pranced around them with wide grins on their white and black painted faces. Signs with arrows pointed toward an odd little man sitting inside a rickety booth. The man had a huge beehive of red hair, full beard and tattoo’s running up and down both arms. Reaching deep into their pockets, John and Josie laid down some money to have the opportunity to see what was inside the canvas castle. As the man handed them paper tickets, his voice sounded as sweet as her sister, Ella. Pulling each other through the draped entrance doors they stepped into another world. Elephants, giraffes and tigers like they’d only seen in picture books. Music being played by a monkey. Jugglers tossing as many as five batons. A man who had been carrying an umbrella earlier now climbed a rope ladder and used it for balance as he walked across a wire way up high. The Ringmaster, wearing a red-tailed tuxedo, announced events through a megaphone, keeping them completely captivated. Stunt artists flipped frontwards and back, costumed dogs jumped through hoops of fire and colorful, floppy shoe’d clowns walked around the ring making them laugh like they’d never laughed before. It was a most memorable day.
The next morning, boarding the train to travel to their final destination, they were surprised to see the group already packing to head out. Moving on to the next town. “Life is fleeting, John,” Josie said, as they sat down in their seats. “So many wonders.”
“Let’s enjoy it while we can, Josie.” John replied as he touched her cheek and pointed out the window at the departing group, “Because, like the boy told us, it is till it ain’t.”