Animal Show

We lived in St. Paul in the 1950s. At least it was the 1950s in our sweet neighborhood on the edge of the Macalester College campus. In the rest of the city and the world, it was the 1990s. There were a few brownstone apartment buildings like ours, but it was mostly single family houses, built in the 1920s. They weren’t very grand, but far more than we could have afforded at the time. In the afternoons there were kids everywhere. Playing in yards, riding bikes, many wearing the uniform of the local Catholic school. A few blocks away we had a pharmacy with an active soda fountain. I regularly expected to see Beaver Cleaver. We didn’t have kids then, so these families, their houses, children, and lives were great mysteries to us.

I was a graduate student at the time, and would spend the late afternoon in a nearby coffee shop pretending to read and understand cultural theory. Fred worked at an art college in Minneapolis. After taking the bus home to our neighborhood, he would meet me at the café and we would walk home through the 1950s together.

On one particular spring day, as we approached our street, we heard a tiny voice calling. A few houses away we could make out a small figure at the top of a hill on a sloping lawn of a Tudor style home. As we came closer, we saw that it was a little girl. She was probably six. Since this was before kids, I really had no way of knowing where she fit between 4 and 13. She stood next to a side table with a few cages on it. In a high pitched but steady voice that would impress a carnival barker, she called out:

Animal show


Ten cents a ticket


Two hamsters


A rabbit


And a raaaaaaaaaaat.

I’m ashamed to say that we didn’t go up and buy tickets. I chalk it up to being twenty-something and a little afraid of children.

In the years since, it’s become one of our favorite go-to bits, to break into the animal show chant when the spirit moves us. It never ceases to be funny.

I’ll visit the neighborhood next month for the first time in nearly two decades to visit Macalester with my son. I fully expect it to still be the 1950s.

Meanwhile, as far as I’m concerned, the little girl still lives on there, at exactly the same age, in exactly the same place. So do the hamsters, the rabbit, and the rat.


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