It’s the summer of 1964 and the circus has come to town. Seventeen year old Pat Fournier joins his older brother Johnny for a night he won’t soon forget in The Pasties, the thirty-third installment of his memoir, Memories of a Boy Growing Up in Blackville.
The following story contains mature subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.
Written by Pat Fournier
August 1955, eight years old, as introduction to August 1964, seventeen years old
We called them “The Logs”.
They were just a pile of unused telephone poles that were stored in the ditch just past where the Howard Road branched off from the Main Road, which was just a little ways up the road from our house. The power company had set two short lengths of poles across the deep ditch, then laid about a dozen full-length logs on top of them, to keep them out of the ditch and dry and accessible for later use. But the logs laid there unused for years, and were now weathered and grayed with age.
The logs became a popular place where kids who lived on the hill could sit and maybe play some kind of guessing game, run up and down the uneven logs in a risky game of ‘Tag’, or just talk and while away the time. After a while, they became a capital-letter proper-noun place, where we’d say, “Let’s go up to ‘The Logs’”, and we all knew where that was.
School was out for the summer, and Johnny and I were bored. Since Johnny had failed grade two a year earlier, I ‘caught up to him’, and we both just passed grade three together in June, and would be going into grade four together in September. We were out of school for the summer, and it was too hot to run around and play, so we walked up to The Logs and just sat and watched the cars go by.
We were in our summer short pants, swatting the odd mosquito that lighted on our bare legs or arms. One landed on Johnny’s arm, and I watched in amazement as he sat there without slapping it, and let it fill up its semi-transparent body with blood. It was incredible that he was able to do that – to let the mosquito bite him without killing it! And the bite was sure to itch afterwards! The mosquito actually became so full that it couldn’t fly off! Then Johnny picked it off his arm, and dropped it in the dirt.
I couldn’t have done that! But as I was finding out, there were lots of things that my one-year older brother would do that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do. And he was the type to laugh and just dare someone to do something, or to follow him and do what he was doing.
“There go the bumper cars!” I shouted, as a big truck towing a flat bed trailer with the circus ride cars and equipment on it sped by.
Circus posters were already tacked up on telephone poles around Blackville, proclaiming the news that the Bill Lynch circus was coming to Newcastle. The eye-catching bright posters showed pictures of clowns, the Ferris wheel and other rides, striped tents topped with waving pennant flags, and balloons flying in the air. So we already knew the circus was coming, but we were too young to go by ourselves the twenty miles to a circus that was too big and busy for eight and nine year olds anyway. And it was unlikely that our parents could afford to take us and our two older sisters too. So it was fun just sitting and watching for the circus trucks to drive by, and imagine what it would be like to go on all those rides!
Now, eight years later, the circus returned to Newcastle, just as it did every year. And once again the posters had been tacked up on telephone poles and inserted in store windows in Blackville, advertising the dates for the week the circus would be in town. And we watched again as the trucks came rolling through with their cargo of rides, including the bumper cars, the Ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Bullet.
Johnny wasn’t good at school learning, and had to repeat a few grades, until he decided a few years ago that enough was enough, and didn’t bother going back to school into grade nine. So he quit school and left home and moved to Fredericton, where he found a steady job, and moved into an apartment with our older sister Marjorie, who had graduated earlier and was also working in Fredericton. And sometimes he’d come back home for a weekend for a visit.
I remember the one weekend when he came home that he was wearing a nice new fedora hat, and looking all grown up. I think he was trying to emulate Dad, who always looked nice in his dress up fedora hat. And while Dad said that Johnny’s hat didn’t fit him right, I think he was proud and secretly pleased with him. Because while he was disappointed that Johnny didn’t finish school, he was happy to see that he had secured a full time job and was learning a trade at the Chestnut Canoe Factory in Fredericton, and making his own way in the world.
So this weekend Johnny came back home for a visit, and had already hitched a ride down to Newcastle to go to the circus. I had earlier declined his invitation to go with him, but I regretted it later, because it was early Saturday evening, and I was bored. And I had some spending money from the wages that I earned as a member of the crew that got the job of repainting Blackville’s old two story school house.
So I got washed up and put on some good clothes, said ‘Bye’ to Mom, and went and stood out at the side of the Main Road by the house, just as Johnny had done, and stuck out my thumb to each approaching car that was headed in the direction of town. It didn’t take long before a car came out of the Howard Road with four people who were going down to the circus too, and they stopped and gave me a ride.
The circus was set up in a large paved parking lot at the outskirts of Newcastle. Large electric cables snaked across the asphalt between the rides and the tents, so you always had to watch where you were walking, and not trip over them. Moths flitted around the bright lights that shone down from the power poles by the tents and rides. Empty popcorn bags, candy apple sticks, and cotton candy wrappers littered the ground. The circus lot was crowded with the boisterous Saturday night crowd, and loud with the sounds of the rides and the shouts and shrieks of the riders as they were spun and turned around and upside down in their seats.
Game tents and sideshow tents were arranged around the perimeter of the lot, with the tents anchored in place by thick ropes tied to steel anchor posts that were hammered at an angle into the asphalt. Large painted banners were strung up by the sideshow tents, showing pictures of the ape man, fat lady, snake charmer, and other ‘Amazing freaks of nature!’ that you could go in and see after paying the price of admission. But I was skeptical of there being anything as ‘remarkable’ or ‘astonishing’ as what was pictured or advertised!
I stood with the crowd in front of the raised stage at one tent, and listened to the barker bragging that the man and woman knife-throwing act that would be performing inside had actually performed on the Jack Parr television show! Yeah, sure! Not believing his claims, I mimicked him and loudly echoed every word he said, until he shouted: “HEY! You want to do this, kid?” Well, I guess I was being a smartass, so I slunk away into the crowd. But I still didn’t believe that people in the circus in the little town of Newcastle had been on the popular Jack Parr TV show! Ha!
There were many circus rides scattered throughout the lot, but it was quickly evident by the lineup of people waiting to get on the bumper cars that that was probably one of the most popular. The bumper car ride had about a dozen small single-person cars contained within a strong heavy fence enclosure, where both the smooth metal floor and the wire mesh ceiling were electrically charged. Each car was surrounded at the bottom by a thick rubber bumper, and a metal pole that was attached to the rear of the car reached up and contacted the electrified ceiling, which completed an electric circuit. So a push on the pedal made each rider’s car accelerate, with the idea being to bump into other cars while avoiding being bumped yourself. Of course, that was virtually impossible, and the riders hooted with laughter as they bumped into each other and into the wire fence enclosure!
The riders, although held secure in their seats by a seat belt, got quite forcefully jostled about when the cars bumped together. But I figured the ride must be safe enough for anyone, because I looked over and saw Bart Brennan, who was totally blind, standing in the lineup with a group of friends.
Although he was blind, Bart did quite well for himself at operating a small store inside his house up at Howard Settlement, not far from Blackville. Bart visited our home a number of times, and I was always amazed at how he dealt with his blindness, like slipping a finger over the rim into his cup of tea to test the tea’s temperature and the fullness of the cup. And now here he was going to go on the bumper rides, and not be able to see where he was driving, or see the other cars come to bump into him. But the lineup for the bumper cars was quite long, and it would be a while until Bart got to go on, so I didn’t bother to stay and see him get on the ride. I hoped his friends would take care of him, and that Bart had a nice time.
And there were all kinds of things you could buy to snack on. The air was thick with the smell of buttered popcorn, cotton candy and hot dogs. And then there was the smell of cheap cigars. Cheap cigars! Now there was a familiar circus smell!
And sure enough, there it was – the ‘ring the gong’ game! With the backboard painted with thermometer-like markings, just like the one I used to see at the St. Raphael’s Church summer picnic. And you could hear the familiar ‘whump’, ‘ssssss’, ‘clack-clack’ sounds, as some guy tried to send the metal weight up the shaft to ring the bell at the top of the pole.
And as I stood in the crowd of spectators and looked around, I spotted Johnny over there at the edge of the crowd. I was glad to see him, because all the while I was walking through the circus grounds I kept an eye out for him. And he was excited to see that I had decided to come down to the circus too, so he had someone to go on the rides with, and we could have some fun and laughs together.
We had a great laugh as we went for rides on the Tilt-a-Whirl and The Octopus, and wandered around and watched people try to win prizes at the game tents. And we watched as the barkers shouted encouragement to get people to pay their admission to the sideshows. But like me, Johnny wasn’t impressed with the sideshow tent exhibits either, and had no interest in paying good money to go in and see some person who was maybe made up in a costume and makeup.
But what did surprise me was his dare to go with him into the striptease show!
There was little doubt that Johnny could get in, because he was eighteen anyway, and he looked old enough to be easily admitted to the adults-only show. But I was only seventeen, and if I was challenged by the barker to prove my age, I know I’d get turned away.
We stood with the crowd – mostly men of course – in front of the raised stage in front of the strip show tent, and listened as the barker made his pitch to the men about how they’d enjoy seeing the beautiful young ladies remove their clothes. He raved on, using words like “nubile”, “youthful”, “attractive”, and “bare skin” to entice the men to buy tickets to the show.
Then, to help those men who were hesitant about making up their minds, he called on the bouncer who stood at the curtained door at the end of the stage to send a couple of girls out. Johnny and I craned our necks and looked up to the stage as three young girls came out, and stood there eyeing the men in the crowd, and swinging their hips and gyrating in a little flirtatious dance. And although all three of them were dressed in satiny lingerie, it was obvious that they would be showing off some good figures when they removed those garments. After a few minutes, they were motioned back inside, as the barker shouted that the show was “going to start in just a few minutes, so get your tickets now!”
“Come on, Patty” Johnny laughed, “Let’s go in!”
Now here was a dare that Johnny was really enjoying! Encouraging his little brother – who had years ago thought seriously about being a priest! – to go into a strip show! And he continued to laugh hilariously, and push me toward the steps of the stage.
“Come on”, he continued, with a big smile on his face, and getting a kick out of daring me to go in with him. “You might not get another chance like this again! Come on, let’s go in! Come on, Patty! Come on!”
So here I was, seventeen years old, being taunted to go to a strip show and see naked girls. I’d never seen a naked girl before! Heck, I’d never even been kissed! Well, actually, I was kissed by a girl not long ago. But I didn’t like it!
My grade eleven class was having a Junior Prom, and my friend Paul told me that Alice Moonie had a crush on me, and would really like it if I asked her to be my date for the prom. I remembered Alice from years ago, when she sang on stage at the St. Raphael’s Church St. Patrick’s Day concert. And she left the stage in tears when the audience laughed when they saw that she used a calendar page as a prop to help her with her nervousness as she sang her song.
Alice was one year behind me in school now, in grade ten. And I guess she was too shy to approach me, so she sent Paul to find out if I’d take her to the dance.
I didn’t even have any plans to go to the prom, as I explained to Paul that I didn’t have a way to take a date to the dance. But he was prepared for that, and said that Alice and I could go with him and his date, and that they were getting a drive with Terry Underhill and his girlfriend in Terry’s car. And while I said that six of us in the one car would be uncomfortable, Paul argued that we’d be ok, and it would be fun, so I relented, and went and asked Alice to go to the prom with me.
Well, after the prom dance in the school auditorium, we all piled into Terry’s car. He and his girlfriend sat in the front, and Paul and his date and Alice and I squeezed into the back seat. And despite being squashed against the door handles, Paul and I managed to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, sitting a bit sideways with one arm around our girls.
While it was close to midnight, none of us wanted to go home yet, so Terry drove down to Newcastle, where we went to the Big Spot take-out restaurant for a hamburger and Coke. On the way back, Terry stopped off first at Alice’s house so she could be let off before they drove further up home to let me off. Well, when I walked Alice to her door, she pressed close against me to give me a kiss goodnight, and she stuck her tongue in my mouth! Yuck! What did she do that for! Startled, I pulled back from her, told her good night, and climbed back in the car. My first kiss, and I didn’t like it at all!
Well, I finally gave in to Johnny’s prompting, and followed him as he climbed up the few stairs to the outer stage area. Perhaps it was the rush of the men charging up the steps, or the greed of the barker interested more in taking money than checking legal ages, but either way, I was not stopped as I passed him my money and entered the curtained entrance.
Once inside, we walked down a few metal steps, then skirted around a semi-circular stage and found a good spot over towards the other end of the raised platform. A number of men were already standing around and talking and joking with each other. And a few of them were jostling for better positions and nudging closer to the stage. While most of the men figured that the best spot to watch was right up close to the center of the stage, and elbowed their way to that position, Johnny and I figured we had a pretty good spot where we were. We weren’t being bothered with being pushed and crowded, and got to stand right up at the lip of the stage, all eager to see the sights.
The stage was about chest high to me. I stood there expectantly, not moving, not wanting to lose my spot. This was the first time I’d be seeing a naked girl!
While the barker outside had said that the show was “going to start in just a few minutes”, it seemed like we were waiting quite a little while in the semi-darkness of the tent. It became obvious that he was still out there encouraging more ticket sales for a ‘packed house’, as more men straggled in, either alone or in groups of two or three at a time.
Finally, some music started playing, and a girl – she looked to be maybe around twenty or so – came out of the side curtain and started slowly dancing to the music. And she was really cute, too! She had short dark brown hair, a pretty face, and a nice figure. She slowly, teasingly, gyrated and strutted around the small stage, as she took her clothes off piece by piece, until all that was left was her brief little panties, and a ‘pasty’ stuck over the nipple of each firm breast. There was a little tassel hanging from each pasty, and they jiggled and spun as she danced. I stood there looking up at her from my spot in front of the stage, thoroughly mesmerized with the very pretty girl with the very sexy body!
Then when she danced over to my side of the stage, I boldly looked up to her and asked her if I could take her pasties off! She looked over at the manager, who was a real big guy, standing there by the curtained entrance with his arms crossed in front of his chest. And to my surprise, he nodded very slightly to her, giving his permission! She smiled at me, then bent down, and I reached up and plucked the pasties off each of her breasts – and got to touch a bit of her breast while doing so – leaving her dark nipples bared for all to see!
The men in the crowd behind me hooted and hollered and cheered! Johnny was standing right beside me, and he laughed hilariously. He couldn’t believe it! And neither could I! I reached up and gave her back her pasties, and after dancing around a little bit more – bare breasted but without taking off her panties – she left the stage.
After the strip show, we walked around some more and enjoyed the sights, and went on a couple more rides, and then hitchhiked back home together. But Johnny, being the rascal that he was, went and told Mom that we had gone to the circus striptease show! And since he was working and living in Fredericton now, he knew that he didn’t have to stay around and put up with any of Mom’s nagging after he left and went back to his place. And he laughed too, knowing that shed’ be giving me old heck while he was gone!
The next day Harold MacKenzie happened to come over for a visit. And I could hear him trying to placate Mom, who was so disappointed by the fact that we had gone to the striptease show.
“Thelma”, he said, “it’s nothing to get all upset about. All boys do it sometime. They didn’t do any harm now, did they? No, they didn’t! Don’t worry about it. They’re good lads, right?”
But I don’t think it mattered to her what Harold or anyone else said. She was just horrified that Johnny and I went to a striptease show, and that’s all there was to it!
But while I felt a bit badly that Mom was disappointed in us – in me in particular – that feeling was overpowered by my being elated at finally – at seventeen years old and going into grade twelve – finally, for the first time in my life – actually getting to see – and touch! – a girl’s bare breasts!
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