The Greatest Show on Earth

Dinner was over at the Hargett house. Now it was time for the floor show.

Elizabeth and Ashleigh, my wife’s grade-school sisters, sang and danced with all their might. Lyric sheets sat before them on the living room floor, sometimes intensely studied for a second or two before the singers rejoined the song on the stereo.

“Whoo!” “All right!”

Earlier, they had been talk-show hosts with the same fervency, giving each of us the World’s Silliest Interview as a monitor-mounted camera recorded it all for posterity. (“What’s your favorite color?” “Blue.” “Wrong!!!”) Still earlier, they had been infomercial hosts, selling a torn office chair and other products for gazillions of dollars.

I smiled and laughed and cheered them on. And remembered. Oh, yes, remembered.

In a very real sense, that was my sisters and me out there all over again.

When we were kids, Leslie, Carey and I put on more impromptu variety shows than the Muppets.  Sometimes for my parents. Sometimes for our grandma. Very occasionally, it was just for each other and the eyes of a few dozen admiring stuffed animals.

Record albums were the most common prop. Not exactly titles off the Billboard 100, either. A Li’l Orphan Annie fitness album (“Feeling Good With Annie”) may have been the most used, starring one sister as Annie, myself as Daddy Warbucks and a babysitter as “Professor Fitness.”

This was deathless entertainment, mind, especially when Professor Fitness accused Daddy of being “Flabby, flabby, flabby!” As my own frame was spindly, spindly, spindly, the show quickly reached the levels of high comedy – though not nearly the bladder-opening levels of hilarity achieved by my sisters and their Strawberry Shortcake disco album.

Yes, really.

It went beyond musical extravaganzas, mind.  Often way beyond.

Sometimes it would be skits, with the scripts either checked out from a library or made up five minutes in advance. (Our combination of A Christmas Carol with the characters of Star Wars lives on in my mind for some reason.)

Sometimes it would be self-developed games like Commercials – do a 60-second spot on a random “product” – or Channel Changers, where each person had to jump in with an overlapping radio show, every time the dial was re-tuned.

And of course, there was no missing the Christmas Eve Fashion Show ™, featuring the latest in pajamas unwrapped by us just 45 seconds before.

It was wild. It was weird. And I think it was a big part of why we grew up the way we did.

No, not in need of psychiatric assistance.

There was always a chance for that moment in the footlights. In the end, it didn’t even really matter what the moment was. We were having fun. We were learning confidence and creativity. We were developing decidedly odd senses of humor.

We were being a family.

Those are the best moments of all. The ones that build the mental photo album and remind everyone, then and years down the road, just how lucky they were to have each other.

It might not be ready for Broadway.

But it’s not too shabby, shabby, shabby.

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