Cancer Circus and Me
By Leonard William Zajicek
New sights of this beautiful land were again brought into my vision. The faces of people and conversation with them made me think of how lucky I was to be alive. I was back about two weeks when I received a letter from the VA informing me that my exposure to radiation at Bikini while in the service was accepted as the cause for my cancer. This put me into the class of service connected disability with a 20% compensation each month which amounted to one hundred seventy dollars. My standard of living went up and I became a preferred customer at all the VA centers across the country.
Making arrangements at a VA center close to a town we were playing, I went in for a check up with the thought of "don't make any long range plans" in mind. I was still optimistic on who was 'king' and who was 'peasant'. I must admit I wasn't really ready for the outcome on this exam when told they could find nothing. My spirits were high when I returned to the lot and told all of the results, some even twice! Jim and I celebrated, called home and told the family about the results of the negative findings. Boy, talk about the good life, it doesn't get any better.
With that out of the way, I again fell into the way of the circus life. I got into the habit of buying carrots for the ole pony I rode each day and he and I became close friends. Each time I stepped from my trailer, he would look up from his hay pile to see if my hand enclosed a carrot. I would go over and with hand upon him express a verbal "thank you" and give him his treat. I swear he seemed to know, and with his nuzzle let me know the feelings between us was mutual. As each day, week and month passed, I felt better and the bond between horse and man became strong.
We were playing the midwest and again the time came for a check up. 1 made arrangements for my exam and had to take leave from the circus because of distance. I figured I could be back in about a week.
Again, the results were negative, and the joy within me was expressed by that grin on my face. With the nearest phone in hand, I called my family to let them know. All were as surprised as I was and, again the roll of the dice was in my favor.
As I drove back to the town to meet the circus, I stopped and bought a large bag of carrots for my friend, that old black horse who carried me each day into the ring of spectators who cheered at the sight of the flag. When I got back to the lot, I told all of my good fortune again and looked for the pony. His space on the picked line was vacant. The door of the trailer where the owner of the horse lived, opened and the expression on her face told me, silently, something was wrong. She then told me how the old horse was down and could not get up. When the veterinarian came he found the horse dead, a large tumor in his intestines was the cause. I sat down, cowboy style, and the carrots dropped from my hand. I knew then how the men of the West must have felt when they lost a horse. I knew he was old but I always thought he and I would go out together. I always felt that if I ever fell off him during our ride in the show, he would pick up the flag and complete the circle. I was given one of his shoes and some hair from his mane as a remembrance and I cherish them to this day.
Each day now, when I heard the "spec" music begin, I would turn from the crowd and think of the past when both horse and I were part of it. After I was back about two weeks, the owner of that pony asked if I wanted to ride her big, white Arabian stallion in the show. This was the horse that she rode in her act and was a large part of her circus pay. The honor of it alone caught me by surprise. With hesitation, I asked if she was sure
and she said "yes". The next few days I rode this big, spirited, white stallion and practiced in the circus ring without crowds or spectators. This was one hell of a horse and doubt crossed my mind many times before I was ready to try the "spec" again.
When the day came, all went well except on our exit, I came out too fast and performers and animals scattered with words of an uncomplimentary nature. After that, with initial anxiety gone, I came out a lot slower to the relief of all at the back door.
We were again playing in Texas when it happened. As horse and I went into the ring, I lost my balance and fell from the saddle with flag in hand. The horse left the ring with absence of rider as I lay in a heap upon the ring curb, still holding the flag high. I was helped up and with flag in hand left the ring with crowd applauding.
Outside of the tent, the pain in my chest told me I had cracked a few ribs and the blood on my shirt was from two large abrasions on my shoulder and back. I carry those scars to this day. I went to my trailer with a smile on my face and pride covering the hurt I felt. I assured Jim I was O.K., changed my shirt and rode in the second show that night.
I was advised to see a doctor, but circus people are a tough lot and I was circus folk. After a painful night and to the next town in the morning, I advised the boss man that I was giving up the "spec" because that big, white horse was too much for me. All understood and I lost no respect from the circus folks.