In The Land of Toolahatchee
By Derek L. Hastings
On a bright squinty day in the land of Toolahatchee, just perfect for asking questions, Tinker Clown asked her mother a very important question. The kind of question that parents everywhere wonder about, the kind that seem to be scripted by someone other than your child. So when Tinker asked Topsy why there were bad clowns in the Big Tent, Topsy had a hard time coming up with an answer. But, like all loving clown parents, she gave it her best.
“Well, my little juggling ball, it’s a long story and I’m not the storyteller in the Booby Hatch, let’s get your father to tell it.”
So Topsy and Tinker went to find the papa clown, Turvy. They found him next to the Scarecrow, cultivating the family garden and trying (not too successfully) to keep from getting his white clown gloves dirty.
After Tinker finished explaining the question, and after a few more seconds of nose scratching and foot shuffling, Turvy said, “Good question Tinker! I don’t suppose you would allow yer ol’ Dad about a year to come up with a really funny reason, now would ya?”
Tinker just looked at the smiley face of her father and good naturedly shook her head no. “Dad, I really want to know! I don’t understand why there are bad clowns under the Big Tent. You’ve always told me that clowns are made special. That the Great Ringmaster created clowns to bring joy and happiness to the Big Tent. So how come, Papa?!?”
Turvy could hear the gears in Topsy’s brain whirling as he gave Turvy the “What do I do now?” look. Turvy just smiled as if to say, “It’s in your court cream pie face!”
So, Turvy crossed his eyes, grabbed Tinker up in his dirty gardening arms, and with a giant ”Uh-Hyuk” said, “Well, then I guess it’s history class time!” and, pulling his huge shoes out of the mud, bounded off to the utility room with Tinker on his shoulders, to clean up before going into the house.
When they were all settled, Turvy began the lesson. He picked up his ClownPad, stretched a clean pair of polka-dot juggling gloves tightly onto his fingers, and with a flourish (and a bit of hippity hop) honked the Clown Nose App on the screen. “BOING!!”, instantly, the west wall of the family room flipped over like a two-sided chalkboard, and exploded to life. Pulling a cotton candy colored tele-set out of a receptacle in the cabinet next to his unicycle recliner, Turvy began the lesson on the history of the Big Tent. Turvy was known Tent-wide for his Tele-story skills and kiddy clowns from all over the neighborhood, stampeded to Tinker’s house to watch Turvy weave his thought plots on the screen.
“Thousands of years ago the Ringmaster thought the most amazing thought. His thoughts are always huge and filled with joy. But, this thought was so much more so huge that anything He had thought before! This thought painted a world! And, then kept on going painting, building, hatching, and finally illuminating everything the thought created. The Ringmaster had decided to create a complete and glorious universe, with so many planets in it that no one would ever be able count them all, (even if you used all of your toes and all of your friends toes). One of those planets was The Big Tent. A world where he knew that everybody would be happy and love each other, and a place where others could share in His creativity. So He filled this glorious world with many animals, all kinds of plants, and then He created the first two clowns . . . .”
“Daaaad!” Tinker complained. “Do we have to go all the way back to kindergarten to get the answer to a simple question like this? I learned all about Raggedy Ann and Andy a long time ago.”
“Ah yes,” chortled Turvy. “But, not like this, ya haven’t.”
Turvy continued, “After correcting Raggedy Andy’s urge to paint clown faces on all the animals, the Ringmaster gave the job of naming the animals to him. Life became joyfully full and busy for Andy and Ann as they tended the animals and listened to the Rigmaster tell them funny and fascinating stories. The Ringmaster began teaching them to be the greatest clowns of all time (which really wasn’t very long considering the Ringmaster had just created time). Andy and Ann quickly mastered the art of juggling, pie throwing, stilt walking, prat falling, face painting, balloon blowing, and best of all, creating magic tricks.
Most of all, though, they loved to watch the Ringmaster juggle. He could juggle anything and knew every trick in the book. One day while the Ringmaster juggled with His golden juggling balls, and Andy and Ann watched with their mouths hanging open almost to their toes, the Ringmaster stopped His routine and set His golden juggling balls on the forest floor. Before He danced away, He turned to Andy and Ann and warned them, “My children, whatever you do , do not touch my juggling balls. I am coming right back with some hot dogs and curly fries for dinner.”
As the Ringmaster waltzed away, Andy and Ann could taste the hot dogs and curly fries and knew they were the happiest people in the Big Tent to have a Ringmaster such as theirs.”
However their hot dog and fries dream came to an abrupt stop when a song they had never heard before drifted into their ears — A musical sound like the music that came from the Ringmaster’s giant calliope — but different. It was “I-can’t-stop-my-feet-from-moving” music. So, being the curious types they were, Andy and Ann climbed through the marshmallow bushes and apple trees to where the sound was coming from. There, under a giant chocolate apple tree stood a curiously colored creature juggling at least 10 chocolate apples. Boy, oh boy could he juggle! His clown face glowed and flashed with some kind of light that danced as his purple clown nose pulsed. He wore a fancy rainbow colored tux with tails and silvery pointed shoes. And, his clown hair had to be 3 feet wide, glittering bright blue, red, and yellow. He was so much more wonderful than Andy and Ann that they marveled that the Ringmaster had ever created them. The creature shined so gloriously he was hard to look at.. Then he spoke to them with all the charm of a master car salesman.”
“Andy and Ann! My goodness it is so nice to see you. I have heard so much about your skills as a juggling team, I just had to come and meet you. I’m somewhat of an accomplished juggler myself and thought that if , just IF, you were good enough, you could join my traveling circus. Allow me introduce myself to you. I am the Ringleader. My circus is the grandest circus in the Big Tent! All of the best performers work for my circus, and if you come to work in my circus I can promise you that you will be stars!!”
Andy and Ann had forgotten all about hot dogs and curly fries, and just stood there frozen by the Ringleaders suggestion. This beautiful creature wanted them to join his circus and he said they could be stars. Instantly, Andy wondered why he had never seen the ringleader’s circus. In fact he had thought that the Ringmaster’s circus was the only circus in the Big Tent. “Could this be true?” thought Ann. “Could we be stars in a circus?” And, both Andy and Ann spoke up at once.
“Do you really think we could be stars in a circus???”
“Well now, I do indeed my young proteges. But, first you must prove yourselves worthy of my circus. You must bring me the Ringmaster’s golden juggling balls!” crooned the ringleader.
Andy and Ann backed away with a look of fear etched across their faces and hesitantly said, “But, the Ringmaster said not to touch the golden juggling balls. We can’t disobey our Ringmaster!”
The ringleader laughed and said, “Oh dear me, you silly children! Don’t you know that if the Ringmaster can create all of this magnificence that He can surely create new golden juggling balls for Himself? Surely, if He has given you all of this, He won’t mind letting you have the golden juggling balls! Besides, He just doesn’t want you to the know the secret!”
Andy and Ann were caught. “What secret?” they chimed.
“That if you touch the golden juggling balls then you will be just as good of a juggler as the Ringmaster,” lied the ringleader.
“Us, just as good as the Ringmaster?” they wondered.
“That’s right,” the ringleader smiled. “The moment you touch the balls you will know just as much about juggling as He does, and He doesn’t want you to know that, because He’s jealous of how good you are already!” The ringleader enjoyed creating lies. Because the ringleader hated anything The Ringmaster created. He had been The Ringmaster’s favorite long before the first clowns were created. But, he had become vain and tried to take The Ringmaster’s place in the center ring. This hurt The Ringmaster badly and forced Him to banish the ringleader forever from the forest. ”
Tinker jumped up and shook her fist at the screen, and shouted. “Oh you mean, bad, horrible ringleader! How I wish you had never been created!” This brought the story to a halt, as Tinker expressed her dislike for the ringleader.
Turvy looked at Topsy, and smiled. But, Topsy looked back at Turvy with her, “Let’s move this along there mr. storyteller look, and gave the smallest of small nudges with her head as if to say, “Turn around and look behind you, pie-in-the-face.”
So Turvy, took his tele-set off and turned to look around. It had happened again. The room was filled with the neighbor kids, all with their tele-sets and bowls of rainbow colored yummy popcorn. Around the room, propped up against the walls, were their parents. There were the next door neighbors Rufus the Strongman and his wife Tinkerbell the midget ballerina; there next to the front door was Talleron the Wildman tamer of animals and Turvy’s favorite pet Percy the Lion King.
The neighbor smiled at him as if to say, “Get with it Clown Boy! The Footy Ball game starts in an hour!” Yep, it had happened again, instant extended family.
“I should charge admission.” thought Turvy, “I’d never run out of Cotton Candy!”
Then Turvy looked down at Tinker and saw the look of pride on her face. Tinker had the best dad, the best storyteller on the street.
Stuffing a giant handful of popcorn into the mouth of the most famous clown face in the big tent, Turvy signaled the end of the impromptu intermission and began again. “When the Ringmaster found that Andy and Ann and the golden juggling balls were gone, He called their names. Not getting an answer, He took the hot dogs and curly fries and went looking for them. He found them in a part of the forest that they had never been in before. And as He approached them, they hid something behind their backs.
“What do you have behind your backs children?” the Ringmaster asked.
Andy and Ann were caught. They had been juggling with the golden juggling balls and found that they were indeed much much much better with the golden juggling balls than with the ones that the Ringmaster had made for them. In fact the golden juggling balls just seemed to juggle themselves. It was effortless and easy to do all the same tricks that the Ringmaster had done. They had come to the conclusion that the ringleader was right: the Ringmaster WAS jealous of them.
But, now they were caught. And fear rose up in them and shame crushed their spirits. They held out the golden juggling balls to the Ringmaster. But, all they wanted to do was hide from the look on His face. Andy and Ann would discover this was only the beginning of their pain.
The Ringmaster sent them away from the forest and stationed security guards at the entrances so they could never come back to the Ringmaster’s forest. Andy and Ann wandered around in the Big Tent for a very long time looking for the ringleader’s circus. But, sadness followed them everywhere they went, because they knew that they had disappointed the Ringmaster by disobeying Him. Now all they had were their normal red, blue, and yellow bouncy balls. And, it seemed that they knew a little more about juggling, but not enough to make their sadness go away. Andy and Ann were two very miserable Clowns.
Andy and Ann never did find the ringleader’s circus, but went to live in the land of the Toolahatchee River where they began their own circus. They vowed that they would never be fooled again and hoping the Ringmaster could hear them, they called out to the Ringmaster for forgiveness. Barely had the, “. . . forgive us,” passed Andy and Ann’s lips when there was the Ringmaster, arms open wide with footlong hot dogs and lemonade.
With the help of the Ringmaster they wrote down what had happened to them and instructions on how to live a happy life in the world the Ringmaster had created. Although the Ringmaster had sent them away from the forest as punishment for their disobedience, He still loved them and wanted to be with them.
The years went by and Andy and Ann learned to love each other. Soon a tribe of kiddie-clowns swarmed over the land The Ringmaster gave them. These kiddie-clowns grew up and had lots of kiddie-clowns who grew up and had their own Kiddie-Clowns. Soon the land of the Toolahatchee was teeming with Clowns. And, the Ringmaster’s Circus land was more fun than watching clown dogs eat peanut butter.
As more time went by, some of the kiddie-clowns found that they didn’t want to be Clowns anymore. Some wanted to be Acrobats, or Lion Tamers, or Elephant Masters, Clown Cannon Balls, Strongmen, Magicians, or Ballerinas. So eventually the land was filled with very talented circus performers of all kinds. Each group grew and filled the land of the Toolahatchee until they moved away to distant parts of the Land of Toolahatchee and formed their own lands.”
Right at that moment, Topsy popped up in the middle of the picture Turvy was in middle of describing.
“WHOA!” Turvy exclaimed. “Now that’s the most beautiful piece of flotsam I ever laid peepers on!” Andy, let out a Whoop Whoop Whoop, followed by a Curly Shuffle just to emphasize the moment.
Taking the tele-set off one more time (accompanied by the groans of the “extended family” and a pelting with hundreds of pieces of caramel corn), Topsy gently wiped the sweat from Turvy’s meticulously applied paint job. She handed him a lemonade and a kiss and said, “You’re doing great dear, but I’m Jetsam, you’re Flotsam.”
With a lost look on his face Turvy quaffed a large portion of the lemonade, resisted wiping his face on his smock, and began again.
“Well now the first Clowns, Andy and Ann, became legends in the Land of Toolahatchee and many of the Clowns, most of the Acrobats, and other circus tribes had completely forgotten about them, not to mention about the Ringmaster Himself. The circus had grown so big and so amazing that it ran all day and all night with each type of performing group trying to outdo the other with the new skills they mastered. Sometimes the competition grew so fierce that tempers would flare and fights would break out. The Clowns would use laughter to defuse these situations and remind the performers about the Ringmaster’s instructions. But, with each fight became the clowns found it harder and harder to bring peace back to the circus.
One day the ringleader sneaked back into the Land of the Toolahatchee. Being a big liar, he found it a very simple task to disillusion a young acrobat named The Amazing Gilbert. Gilbert lived in the far southern land of the Toolahatchee where the various clans of the Acrobats had migrated. As a young apprentice trapeze artist, Gilbert was required to practice his art every day until the Trapeze Master was satisfied that Gilbert had grasped each skill. Gilbert hated practice, but loved to wander the banks of the Toolahatchee dreaming up stories. Gilbert was a storyteller but he was afraid to tell anyone. So not surprisingly Gilbert was not as amazing as his name suggested. His practice times began to dwindle as his desire for the trapeze disappeared. So one grey morning Gilbert played hooky on the river bank. The ringleader followed him and made friends with him by telling fantastic adventurous stories (that were completely bald faced lies). The ringleader could tell Gilbert was hooked. So he suggested to him that he could be anything he wanted and he didn’t have to be an Acrobat or follow any of the rules that the circus people in Toolahatchee followed. This made Gilbert feel better about playing hooky. He wanted to believe the ringleader and began to think of running away.
Eventually, Gilbert did run away and with his vivid imagination, and a lot of help from the ringleader, he dreamed up his own instruction book. Although Gilbert was alone he was supremely happy because now he could do anything that he wanted. He felt his instruction book was much better than the Ringmaster’s instruction book. His book said, “If it feels right it must be right”. He did whatever his instruction book said, and as long as it made him happy, it seemed right to him. If something came along that wasn’t in the book, he wrote a rule that made it ok to do, especially if it was something fun! So Gilbert’s book was full of rules that let him do whatever his heart desired. Occasionally however, Gilbert did something that he knew was wrong. A small quiet friendly voice would speak up with a warning and a reminder of what the Ringmaster had taught long ago. This made him feel guilty. Gilbert didn’t like feeling guilty, so he wrote another rule. This rule said that if anything made you feel bad it was wrong, no matter what! So Gilbert continued to write rules ignoring the little voice inside him that kept getting quieter and quieter and quieter, until Gilbert could not hear the little voice any more.
After the voice went away, Gilbert had tons of fun! No matter what he did he never felt guilty.
The ringleader brought many other people from all over the Toolahatchee to see Gilbert, all of them running from who The Ringmaster had made them to be. All of them wanting to live by Gilberts’ rules. They wanted to do whatever they wanted and not have someone telling them all the time what to do, what was right or what was wrong. Everyone had believed the lies that the ringleader had told them. They were happy to find an instruction book that said that there were no absolute rights or wrongs. Gilbert’s rule book taught, “The only person that mattered is you and no one can tell you what to do or not to do.” So Gilbert’s part of the river was soon full of people all trying to do what they felt was right.
At first, Gilbert’s Land (as it became known) began to prosper and his circus performers became known for their marvelous innovations in circus skills. Gilbert started bringing storytellers into the center ring holding people’s attention for hours with the wild tales his storytellers would weave. So, the Gilbertians began to believe the wild stories and then ignore the little voice inside that was calling to them.
Years went by the and Gilbertian’s began to change. Their acts became more and more different and strange. The changes were so profound that anyone who was not a Gilbertian could not understand the acts taking place in the Center Ring. People crowded the bleachers cheering and whooping it up but, cheering for crazy stories and ideas being shown in the Center Ring. In the place of understanding there was confusion; in place of inspiration, there was a strange unsettling fear. The lies grew and the Gilbertians lost the ability to tell good from bad, truth from lies, joy from sorrow. Their hearts were shrinking and shriveling.
More and more the Gilbertians happiness changed to dissatisfaction and they began to complain. Happiness disappeared in Gilberts Land. Then the ringleader created another lie. He explained to one of Gilberts’ rising star storytellers that the unhappiness was because the rest of the world was different, and thought that the Gilbertians were bad. The ringleader told him The Gilbertians were better than the rest of the Toolahatchians and should be in charge of the big tent. So the first war erupted in the Land of the Toolahatchee.”
Turvy stopped and looked at Tinker surrounded by the colorful menagerie of kiddie-clowns. He took off the tele-set, knelt down to look his little juggling ball in the eyes and said, “So the reason there are bad clowns in the big tent is that they cannot hear the Ringmasters’ instructions and are listening to the lies of the ringleader. They believe if they get all the things want, then they will be happy. So they spend their lives getting things and taking from others what can never make them happy. Someone needs to tell the Gilbertians the truth about Love of the Ringmaster, so they won’t be lost anymore. They need to know that The Ringmaster would gladly give them all they would ever need. Happiness can only be found in the Greatest Show of All times: The Circus of the Ringmaster. Trust Him to lead you into the Center Ring and you will never be left out of the show”.
Tinker looked at her Papa and her Mama and with a big Clown hug said, “Thanks, Papa. I will pray that someday the bad Clowns can find their way back to the Ringmaster’s circus. It must be real sad to be so lost!”
Topsy looked at her daughter with tears in her eyes and just sighed, “Yes, Honey it must be. Maybe someday you will help some of them to find their way back home.”
No one noticed the face of the ringleader disguised as the Mail Man watching from the window near the front door. He was not happy with what he had heard. He thought to himself, “I will make sure you never ever tell the truth to my Gilbertians. You silly little clown girl!” Then he turned and walked swiftly down the street as the neighbors began to leave Topsy and Turvy’s home. No one ever knew he had been spying on the story time.