Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson

Episode 4: Juggles the Clown

February 10, 2021 Kelly Swanson Season 1 Episode 4
Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson
Episode 4: Juggles the Clown
Show Notes Transcript

What happens when a small town accountant goes back in time to a day that brought him the most joy, and recreates it? Find out in this touching episode as Kelly takes us into yet another story of bravery in her tiny little town about a mile and a hair past nowhere. Get your key to the city at and watch the video episodes at youtube channel. 

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Sometimes courage comes when you stop living to please others. Even if it’s just for one day.

Prides Hollow is a town that’s too big to be one you’ve heard of, but too small to be considered quaint.  Big enough to still see strangers when you go into town - but small enough for your personal business to be more public than you would like.  Chances are good if you grew up in Prides Hollow, that the lady working the drugstore counter once dated your daddy and never forgave your mamma for stealing him right out from under her. Wait. That didn’t sound right. Well. Anyway.  

Gossip is hard enough to deal with in a town like that. But even harder is the expectation passed down to you from your parents and their parents and their parents. For to some, children become the walking embodiment of the fruits of our labor. And if we told everybody you were going to become a doctor, well gosh darn it, you’d better become a doctor. 

Here in Prides Hollow we are all judged by what was done in our name. Just as we could forever reap the benefits of his great grand-daddy was a judge, you know. A secret affair - a brush with the law - or the suspicious DNA of a child - would cling to you long beyond the grave. And one negative always outweighed ten positives. That’s the math of small town gossip.The Wentworths were a family that had gone to great lengths to cultivate a name of recognition and worth. And while they had desired more for their only son, Barnsley P Wentworth III, than the life of an accountant, at least his clients were of high esteem.  If you can’t make big money, at least you could handle big money.  It gave his mother something to brag about over at Myrlene, Vyrlene, and Shyrlene’s House of Beauty. Where gossip is truth, big hair is a blessing, and tabloids are the second Gospel. 

They certainly did not expect Barnsley to give Old Man Wither’s challenge any serious thought. And they certainly did not expect that he would accept the challenge. Everybody knows he doesn’t need the money.  And they certainly did NOT approve of his choice. And if they could have seen it coming, they would have done anything to stop it. 

But they didn’t. 

Enter in Barnsley P Wentworth III. A quiet guy with kind eyes that held a hint of sadness to the edges. He slipped in and out of a room without you even knowing he was there.  He was dependable. Hard working. And much to his mother’s chagrin - still single. He just hadn’t met the right girl yet. Despite her endless efforts to set him up. And he wasn’t in any hurry.  Barnsley never really cared about his family’s worth as much as his parents thought he should. He was quite happy with simple pleasures, and a place where he could fish on Sunday afternoons. 

But when Old Man Wither’s challenge made it to Barnsley’s ear - what would you do if you were brave - he knew exactly what.

Barnsley had most everything he could want and need in life - a good job - a secure future - a nice place to live.  But there was one thing he didn’t have. Passion. Now I’m not talking about the romantic kind of passion. I’m talking about that something that really lights you up from the inside out. That thing that doesn’t fall into the what you should do - but what you could do. If you were brave.

He had never forgotten that year back when he was a teenager, and spent a summer as a counselor at a camp for sick kids.  As counselors, their job was to find ways to make the kids’ lives more fun - even if it was just for a few weeks. To help splash some color into a world that had been painted in shades of hospital gray. 

Barnsley, the quiet teenager, was given the unexpected task one day at camp that changed everything. They made him be the camp clown ‘cause the girl who usually did it was sick. And so a quiet teenager who liked math and reading and did not like being the center of attention - put on a clown costume, a bright blue wig, painted his face, and popped on a bright red nose and floppy shoes. And when he stepped out of his cabin as Juggles the Clown - he became somebody else.  He never forgot the sound of the children laughing and cheering - or the feeling of accomplishment and pride he felt when he went to sleep that night. He spent the rest of the summer as Juggles the Clown. Best summer of his life.

So when Barnsley thought about the challenge, it wasn’t so much a chance to get the money that he didn’t really need - as much as an excuse to dig out the costume that had “gone missing” at the end of summer camp. And just pulling it out of the box filled Barnsley with a feeling he hadn’t felt since. Passion. 

He took the day off work, made the necessary calls, went to go buy supplies, and spent hours painting his face with a big bright oversized smile. The costume still fit him - well, a little shorter than it used to be - but that seemed to just make him funnier. And when he stuck that red nose on his face, and popped his rubber suspenders, his real smile was just as big as the painted one. 

Word spread quickly through the children’s hospital over in Garnett, that they had a special visitor.  Little feet, little bald heads, and matching patterned hospital smocks shuffled their way to the recreation room in excitement, following the sounds of music and honking horns, where Juggles the Clown was already in full performance mode. The kids who couldn’t get out of bed got a personal visit from Juggles himself and a bedside performance. 

Wherever he went, he made balloon animals, left noise makers and silly hats and glasses and fake rubber noses - and a lingering trail of giggles. 

There was no order in the children’s ward that day as Juggles painted over their gray world in a splashing mural of horn honks, bubbles, and brightly colored confetti.  It took forever for the nurses to get all the confetti up. But they didn’t mind a single moment of the clean up.  Every nurse and every doctor by the end of the day had their own pair of fake nose eyeglasses and a whoopee cushion to use in case of emergency. 

When it was finally time to leave Barnsley did something unexpected. Well, even more unexpected than showing up in a clown costume. He promised to be back.  And he meant it.  And that twinkle in his eye was proof enough. And if you looked close, well that twinge of sadness that was there just yesterday? Was gone.

As he was driving home, everything looked a little brighter outside his car windows. Even fishing couldn’t beat this feeling.  He hated that the day was over. He’d sure never said THAT on the way home from work before. 

But it turned out there was one more stop he didn’t know about.  Not a planned stop. But rather a divinely appointed one. 

As he was headed back into Prides Hollow, just outside of town, he got distracted and took a wrong turn which forced him to have to turn around in what looked to be a trailer park. As he was putting the car in reverse, he noticed the row of mailboxes off to the side, and how one was covered with happy birthday balloons. He stopped and got out to take a closer look. 

It didn’t take long to figure out which trailer housed the birthday boy, as the door was covered in brightly colored Spiderman paper that said Happy Birthday Ben.  He reached into his pocket, pulled out the nose, and popped it right back into place and marched his floppy shoes towards that birthday trailer.

He hadn’t even reached the door when the curtains flickered and you could hear a chorus of squealing kids from inside. The door bursts open and little Koolaid stained faces started rushing down the ramp which had been built up to the door. 

Clown! Clown! Their squeals were deafening. 

Clown! Clown!  

Ben, the obvious birthday boy judging by the hat that said birthday boy, came rolling down the ramp in his wheelchair - his eyes as wide as saucers. What looked to be his mom stood there in the doorway with this confused look on her face, still holding the cake knife covered in blue Superman icing - staring in disbelief at the clown she had told her son they could not afford. This didn’t make sense.  Who could have arranged this? The boy’s father had been out of the picture for years.  What if he was some kind of creepy dude? But there was something about his eyes - they were kind. And when he winked at her, she just knew it was okay.

Juggles held court that day in the trailor park gravel lot for Ben and his friends. He made balloon animals, and sang silly songs, and made funny noises, and gave out presents to everybody. He even made a Spiderman web out of balloons which didn’t actually look anything like a web, but nobody cared. It was the perfect magical day.  Ben grabbed Juggle’s legs and whispered, Thank you. I knew you’d come. And Juggles had another feeling tugging on his heart he didn’t recognize. 

When the kids went back inside for more cake, the mother told Juggles, I don’t know where you came from. But thank you. I wish I could pay you something.  How about a cup of coffee, he said, and they sat on the front steps and became unexpected friends. 

Driving back that night, Barnsley made a decision that  would forever change his life and baffle his boss. He would trade in that ledger and briefcase, for a squeaky nose and a clown costume. And he would never look back.

When he told his parents of his decision, they were speechless. What would the town say? was their first thought.  His father, “Dr Wentworth” told him he was a fool. His mother said he was sending her to an early grave. And the news spread through town quicker than chicken pox through daycare. His mother couldn’t go to the beauty salon for weeks, she was so mortified, until Sally Jane’s high school daughter got pregnant, and the gossip had changed to a new topic. 

Barnsley P Wentworth III had traded in a lucrative respectable job to start a camp for sick children. He worked long hours, with breaks only to go fishing. And on those days he was gone fishing, Juggles the Clown would make a surprise appearance.  

Barnsley’s parents eventually came around. His father was dragging his feet on accepting this new life change, but his mother put an end to that because they had a wedding to plan.  

She got most of what she wanted at Barnsley’s wedding. The doves. The chocolate fountain. The strolling violinists. But the one battle she lost was over the groom’s tuxedo.  She would forever hold over his head her chagrin at seeing her son meet his bride up at the altar wearing a clown costume.  

But how could she complain about that today, with her new grandson, Ben, sitting right beside her. After all, he was a Wentworth now, and she was pretty sure she heard him say he wanted to be a doctor.