A few weeks ago, we dragged our family to the Lawrence Busker Festival to watch a variety of street performers (a.k.a. buskers) do their things.
Crowds meandered from act to act, watching death-defying feats of skill and bravery, all seasoned with a healthy dose of (sometimes bawdy) humor. Magicians ate — and breathed fire. A unicyclist with impressive credentials (reigning champion of the galaxy, or something like that) rode a 12-foot tall unicycle while making dirty jokes and poking fun at Topeka, and a one-man band churned rock classics from an astonishing contraption strapped to his body. At the end of each performance, the performers unabashedly passed their hats. Kids of all sizes ran up to plop in bills of all sizes.
We’d seen our fill of acts, and the kids were squawking — they wanted to go home. A crowd of spectators cleared, leaving us in the front row for the next act. I read the program to see what act would be next.
“It’s a strong woman,” I said. I was ambivalent; watching a woman lift an anvil — or whatever she would do — seemed only mildly interesting.
“Look, there she is,” my husband pointed. Wearing a polka dot pinup-type outfit, Mama Lou, American Strong Woman, stepped into the street to set up her act.
She danced a little to upbeat background music, flashed smiles at the audience and appeared to be — well — having a great time. I immediately liked her, and so did the rest of my family. We decided to stay for her performance.
We watched her smear on bright red lipstick and arrange some items she would soon destroy with her bare hands — a metal chain, a phone book to be ripped in half, a frying pan she would crumple.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she began. “You’re thinking, ‘She doesn’t look that strong!’”
It was true. Although she was fit, she hardly looked particularly muscular or mighty.
She quickly moved on to the business of breaking a chain with her bare hands, segueing into the first of her many proverbial quips.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she advised.
Each of Mama Lou’s feats of amazing strength was accompanied by nuggets of encouragement, reminders that we’re all strong and praise for what makes us unique.
“Whatever you do in your life, make sure your mama’s proud of you,” she said after showing the young audience how to break a pencil with their butt muscles. “My mama’s very proud of me,” she added.
Do what you love, even if it’s kind of weird … find your inner strength … recognize that there’s more to others than what meets the eye … accept yourself … be a superhero….
I was happy to see my children lapping up all she had to offer — listening to her message with rapt attention. The whole family declared her the best act of the day; we were glad we stayed.
I hope they learned another lesson she didn’t articulate, but one she demonstrated. Her smiles and laughs were genuine, her desire to encourage others authentic, her performance unpretentious. In my opinion, her best lesson was that the greatest strength a person can achieve is to exuberantly be themselves.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks.