Chapter 8 – Clarence the Clown

Maybe you would like to read how this bedtime story began. You could check here –

Those Small Knitty Gritty Kids (or how it all came about) (click here)

Bimbo and Clarence

Clarence was not even tinily funny when I first met him. To be honest, he was filthy and had some raggedy spots. Even worse, he smelled awful. He was in a shopping trolley amongst a stack of other rejects of the toy variety. How my heart ached to see all those needy and worthy small people. How I wished I could rescue them all. I’m sure each one was a truly worthy character. But I could take just one this time—and I chose Clarence the Clown.

Poor fellow, he needed a strong wash cycle in my washing machine to even begin to get his act together. Mostly I can hand wash my rescued treasures, and my Knitty Gritty Kids were all extremely grateful for the tender loving care I lavished upon them. Clarence had needs far greater than the worst of my small lost souls—with dirt deeply ingrained; there was just no choice but a sturdy mechanical wash cycle for him. And yet… his sense of humour is such that I swear I heard him shout ‘WHEE-EE-EE’ and ‘YIPPEE-EE-EE’ as he whirled around at great speed in the Spin cycle. His comic spirit and eternal quest for new adventures are simply irrepressible.

Clarence tells me a poem inspired his name, one written by Archie Langford. He says he fell in love with it when he read the first rhyme –

I remember when I joined the circus
A circus of great renown,
I wore baggy clothes and a little red nose
And they called me Clarence the clown.

And when he heard the ‘other’ Clarence’s first job was following elephants and horses with a bucket and spade, it all came rushing back to him. NOT the happiest of memories! Especially when he heard the last job the ‘other’ Clarence had was the same one the Ringmaster threatened him with right before he left. Even talking about it caused him to shake so hard he nearly lost his bright pink pompom on his hat. He absolutely refused to be the cannonball clown, to be shot out of the mighty barrel. His balloons would NEVER survive… and he feared, nor would he.

Clarence overcame his sadness about all the things he couldn’t do well, like juggling and sawing ladies in half and trapezing up in the great heights of the Big Top. He tried his hardest to fold balloons into clever look-alike animals, but they looked more like tornadoes-turned-twisters, and usually he got his hands tied up in knots instead. That was when he began to use his balloons to hit people. Gets rid of a heap of crossness, Clarence told me. 

Interesting, that crossness bit, because I often wonder about him having a dark side—a slightly ‘off’ type humour. It was those eyebrows made me suspicious at first… and it is my imagination, or do I see an overly mischievous glint in his eyes? Hmm… when you consider one of his pet loves is to bounce his balloons on the other Knitty Gritty Kids’ heads, you have to wonder! See poor Bimbo’s face? He looks as if he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry; looks like he’s thinking, That’s enough, Clarence. Enough! STOP IT!

Strange thing, this… You wouldn’t think Clarence would be guilty of any bullying-type behaviour, after having been a victim himself – way, way back in Clown Technical High School. He told me about it one stormy night long ago, cuddled up tightly to me because he was still a newbie then, afraid we’d send him on his way just like others had before. Sometimes he would act up badly, just like he was ‘testing the waters’ – trying to see if we still loved him when he was naughty. Took a while to learn we would love him always – BUT – he had to learn to live by our house rules.

I guess it’s no wonder Clarence is a bit of a rebel—often a bit too cheeky for his own good. When I found him, he looked as though he’d had a pretty rough time of Life already. Must be hard to be funny if someone has broken your heart and not wanted you anymore… must take a lot of pretending you don’t care. It’s taking some time, but Clarence IS learning a lot about the healing power of love and togetherness from the rest of the Knitty Gritty Kids. They understand. Each one of them has been through their own particular stresses and trials.

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Beside me in bed there’s been a bit of squirming and scrunching up of small knees, jabbing themselves into my leg. Now Jonjon tightens his mouth and in a wobbly voice, says, “I was bullied, too.” And he ducks his head and sniffs loudly, although there are only crocodile tears and no true runny nose problems. I stretch my neck to look up under his down-turned face and see he’s peeking out below his eyebrows to see how Mum or Dad are looking, hearing this news. Will they say anything? 

Dad turns his head to one side, and his face looks doubtful. You can see he wants to believe Jonjon, but this is the first he’s heard about any problems of the bullying kind. Mum nods. She suspected something the other day when Jonjon came home from school; she says. Now she asks if I knew anything. Happened this time I didn’t, but I’d been feeling a tad confused by a difference in his attitude, too. He was a little quieter, maybe. A few unexplained deep frowns crunkled his brow… stuff like that. But he never confided in me and just brushed me off like a pesky mozzie when I asked if he was OK.

He’s kept it all dammed up for too long. His puckered up face clearly shows he wants to tell us now. I like that about Granny’s stories. The magical way they help kids open up about their own problems.

“It was Janie Walker. She started calling me names about being the butcher’s kid and saying mean stuff about you, Dad!” Jonjon’s face reddens and glowers with anger, remembering the hated words. “And… and… she shoved me, and then I shoved her back. And we did that a few times, but you know how big and solid she is – suddenly she was doing all the shoving, with each rude word she said, and I didn’t see what was right behind me, what we were getting closer to with each shove!”

“What?” I can’t help interrupting, trying to picture the fight scene and two ‘gangs’ of kids cheering these two on.

“The row of rubbish bins, that’s what!” Jonjon’s voice is indignant now he has the full attention of his audience. “She gave one humongous shove and sat me kerplunk right inside one of them. And… AND… she’s a GIRL!!!” I steal a quick glance at Mum and Dad. Their faces reflect the same horror my face feels like it’s showing. At the same time they seem to be tightly hiding a smirk at the picture his words draw, just as I am.

Once again, he grabs my chin and turns my face to be almost nose-to-nose with him. “But even that’s not the WORST, Sarah! I couldn’t get out again. My bottom had stuck tight DOWN and my legs were right UP in the air.” I have to fake a sneeze and a cough… there’s no other way to get through this moment. I notice Mum and Dad seem to be in the self-same predicament.
I can’t stop myself from saying, “Just like that little teapot, short and stout, your gang had to tip you over and pour you out!” I can’t help it. I explode into gales of laughter. And once again, Mum and Dad share the same problem. Luckily, the humour of the story has hit Jonjon too, and before you know it, we’re all rolling about the bed like a pocketful of monkeys.

Mum’s the first one to recover… sort of. She sucks in her cheeks. The twinkle in her eyes shows she’s not tinily fooled by Jonjon’s ploy to stretch out his bedtime. His story is correct – he doesn’t lie – but he IS playing it out to its utmost. “We’ll talk more tomorrow night about bullying and ways to handle it, OK? But for now it’s time for sleep because you’ve shared your worries – and you know the old saying?” And she waits for Jonjon and I to chant together – ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved’.
“EXACTLY!” she says in her best ‘no-nonsense-you’re-going-to-sleep-RIGHT-now’ voice. As I head off to my bed and Dad yawns and stretches his arms wide, Mum smoothes Jonjon’s ruffled hair and kisses each pink cheek – one to chase away bad dreams and the other to welcome only good ones. A firm tuck-in, a kiss from Dad, and it’s lights-out… and a repeat performance in my room.

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Next: Chapter 9 – Sally and Sammy, the Badly Challenged Kids (click here)


Chapter 9 – Sally and Sammy, the Disabled Kids

Sally and Sammy

This night Mum brings another pillow and sets it up at the head of the bed with Jonjon and me.

“You’re going to be right here with us, Mum? Really?”

“How come, Mum?” Always love Jonjon’s curious face – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ever eager for an answer.

“Well-ll-ll, I thought Ted Bear was overdue for a kiss atop his head. And as I straightened up, his eyes twinkled again.” And so did Mum’s. They always do when she mentions Ted. She loves him exactly like Granny did, she always says. Made a promise to Granny, she told us… to always care for him.

“… and that twinkle spoke to me and I just found myself drifting towards your bedroom.” Now a little chuckle escapes. This is not the first time Ted Bear has had that effect on his beloved family. I see it takes quite an effort for Mum to pull her face straight and serious.

“Now back to this bullying conversation I promised. OK?”

Jonjon’s face puckers. “But where’s Dad? Isn’t he going to be here, too?” He relaxes again when Mum tells him Dad will be in to kiss us all goodnight on his way to an important meeting he must attend.

“Ohh…OK!” His reluctance to accept this is obvious, but then Mum puts her arm around Jonjon and talks lovely to him about laughing at him last night.

“We weren’t laughing at you being stuck in a rubbish bin,” she says, with a kiss on his forehead, where she continues to stroke his fringe off his face.

Jonjon’s bottom lip juts out like a gutter on a house. “Maybe you weren’t,” and he turns to me. “Sarah? You were laughing. What were YOU laughing at?”

I have to give him a little peck on that smooth cheek – just have to – it’s flushed with his crossness and just a touch of embarrassment too. “I was laughing at my mind picture of a little boy falling out of a teapot spout.” And I can’t help it, I start giggling.

“SARAH!” Mum warns, but I see the twinkle in her eyes. “Jonjon was just lucky there was no really mean intent behind his ‘bullying’ episode. Sounded to me it was a bit of push and shove that accidentally went bad.” She raises one eyebrow and Jonjon reluctantly nods his head as he says, “BIT of a push? But…—”

“I know. BUT – it could have ended up much worse. You could have hit your head badly on the wall behind those bins. I remember that tall brick wall. That could have been really bad.”

Jonjon nods enthusiastically. “I could’ve needed stitches – lots and lots of them. Doctor would prob’ly need a sewing machine. My head could’ve split right down the back,” and he rubs his head as if to make sure there’s no crack there.

Mum sucks in her cheeks for a moment, takes a couple of deep breaths, and continues, “Exactly! People don’t always think about how easily a harmless prank can turn serious. I was thinking of damage to your little spine too, precious.” And she snuggles him tighter and smiles lovingly over his head at me.

“But tonight, if Sarah would like, I’d love to read to you about one of Granny’s best-ever rescues – a brother and sister this time!” She pauses [and raises her eyebrows questioningly as I nod back vigorously]. Her voice ramps up several levels on the excitement scale, and so does Jonjon’s enthusiasm. Yesterday’s bullying is all but forgotten.

“A brother and sister, Mum? Like me and Sarah?”

“Well-ll, sort of. But these two look as if they’re actually twins, and their names sound like it too.” As Jonjon draws breath, she hurries on. “They are Sally and Sammy – and they were not only deserted and lost when Granny found them, they both also had a terrible disability.” She wasn’t quick enough this time to avoid Jonjon’s question.

“A dissa… uhrr disha… erm – dishwasher?Huh Mum?”

“DIS-A-BIL-ITY. It’s when someone doesn’t have one of the abilities most of us have – like walking and talking, seeing and hearing… all kinds of things like that.” And she holds her hand up to stop Jonjon. “Sally and Sammy have no eyes and they were bullied terribly because they are blind.” Jonjon’s eyes are huge and his jaw has dropped wide open. Have to admit, so has mine.

“Mum? You mean deliberately bullied? Someone was THAT cruel?” I can’t believe Mum is nodding her head. She tells us things Sally and Sammy shared secretly with Granny sometimes when no-one else was around.

“One time, some of Sally’s so-called ‘friends’ told her they’d make her pretty, and pretended to put makeup on her face. But instead they made her cheeks and nose bright red as a clown and smeared lipstick so her lips looked huge and horrible. Then they wrote STUPID on her forehead, and smeared cream all through her hair, telling her it was hair-setting-gel to make her hair pretty and curly, and not to touch it until it was dry.”

I hardly know whether to cry or be really, really angry. I can see Jonjon’s face showing the same, and then he says, “… and Sammy? What did they do to Sammy?”

Mum looks even sadder and says, “They stole his hat and tossed it to each other, turning him every which way until he was so giddy he fell down. And it seemed there was at least one mean person every day to stick out a foot as he passed, to trip him over.”

Jonjon’s bottom lip is trembling and a tear or three hover on the lower rims of his eyes. Right in the nick of time Dad walks in to say his goodnights and encourage Mum to get on with reading the story before it gets too much later. When he leaves the room, she raises a finger at Jonjon and says, “See? It’s more than time for the story now.”

# # # # #

Of all my rescues of kids and critters, there were two small characters who have to take top place on the ‘true grit’ list – Sally and Sammy.

It was an ordinary kind of a day and I was just killing some time really, having a half-hearted wander around a not too clean charity shop (that also smelled disgustingly stale and full of old unwashed clothesy sort of odours). I had already decided there was nothing I wanted from this place. It really just wasn’t nice at all.

As I walked by, I glanced idly into a large old chrome shopping trolley full of dime a dozen soft toys in quite nasty states of disrepair. It was so icky, I didn’t even feel like rummaging through them – until I spied a couple of brighter ‘knitted’ arms or legs or something. So I bravely took a plunge and a grip and came up with… Sally!

You’ve probably noticed in the picture, she has a basket on her arm. A basket full of mushrooms. Well-ll-ll… that was IT for me. I’m a mushroom gatherer from forever ago – when I was just a little girl and would head off over the paddocks with Mum and Dad and other family and friends. Oowhaa… mushies in gravy on toast… yummo! So I just HAD to rescue Sally.

And then, as I headed towards the door, I happened to glance up at a high shelf, and there was her brother… and surely he was her twin? Same coloured blouse on her as the shirt on him; same floppy farmer-type hat with a red band, but most importantly (and worst) of all – they were disabled kids. Blind from birth, it would appear. See – no eyes.

What sort of small Mother could have abandoned children with such huge needs of love and support? Bad enough to live in a big, black world – but one with no loving comfort of warm arms, sweet whispers into their ears, lots of little kissies and stuff like that? And they’d been separated from each other – dirty, despairing, down-trodden and destitute. Simply heart-breaking.

After their cleanup, I seriously considered Surgery – eye implants, maybe. But alas, I’m no Fred Hollows (the world renown eye surgeon who restored the eyesight to hundreds of thousands and trained a number of teams to carry on his work when he no longer could). I must say, I’m thinking even he may have had to put this case in the too hard basket. But for another, much more important reason (or so I felt) . . . I needed to respect their dignified acceptance of their condition, and do nothing more than heap kisses and cuddles on them.

As time has passed, I’ve been satisfied with this decision. Sally and Sammy have taught the other Knitty Gritty Kinds SO many lessons about respect, and appreciation of the type of courage and determination these two demonstrate – every single day. And there’s stuff like tolerance and understanding – but most of all about love and caring and trying to help Sally and Sammy live their best possible Life.

I understand they had a chat with one of Ted Bear’s mates, Wilfrid Wabbit about the possible value of a carrot diet improving their eyesight. Wilfrid can’t say for sure. He was born with weak eyes and already has to wear specs, although he’s only a youngster yet. BUT, he has his carrot a day and believes his vision will be 20:20 before he gets to his ‘terrible teens’.

Although their favourite food in the world is bananas, as you see in the photo above, and they raid the bowl often, they are giving thought to the question of carrots. For now, their major problem is they sometimes they find themselves in unusual places, like this time – in the fruit basket! (And they love to say they don’t know HOW on Earth they arrived there!) I guess I should tell them off for sitting in and on the fruit, but look at their smiley faces. They are having such a good time – I don’t have the heart to stop them. And they do love bananas SO much.

When all their sprucing up was done I was able to more clearly see what was peeking out of Sammy’s hat. (Oh… how I love the sound of their names together.) Yes… so Sammy has a small mouse who’s chewed a little hole in his hat and is checking out the world around him. Sammy is such a sweetheart, he has no hassles about being the chauffeur for mousey – nor – the little Red Robin who lives on his shoulder. She makes him feel like singing that old song –

When the Red, Red Robin,

Comes bob, bob, bobbing along…

And Sally has a small buzzy-bee on her hat. She doesn’t mind him either. I understand they’re the best of pals.

In this photo, you see them sitting in their Dad's chair

In this photo, you see them sitting in their Dad’s chair. They just love that it’s really, truly OLD – like about 180 years! They love to sit there and see if they can absorb the memories of nearly two centuries. It makes them feel quite young again. We feel exactly the same whenever we have a few quiet moments sitting in it.

Some years ago, an old friend restored this chair to a beautiful state, telling us that it was now up to us to give it the patina (or warm, welcoming glow) that only daily sitting in it can produce. Having been rescued and restored themselves, Sally and Sammy REALLY take any opportunity they can to help with this chore – always ready to just hang out and chat to each other in the special chair.

They tend to bumble about quite a lot because they never managed the white stick business – and a seeing-eye dog is out of the question so far, as they haven’t yet found a dog small enough (or trained for this special job).

What’s a Mother to do with a pair like this?

Just love them, I say.

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“Just ONE more, you ask?”

“Ohh pur-l-e-a-s-e Mummy lovey, lovely Mummy.” Have to chuckle. He’s such a terrible little crawler when he REALLY wants something. But Mum’s not fooled. Happens she’s nice and warm and cosy and enjoying the stories just as much as we are. And of course, where do you suppose I learned to do all the cutesy voices?? Well-ll-ll…

“Sarah?” she asks. No pressure… I’m ready as can be to read the next chapter. SO many funny names. I loved this one.

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