National Geographic : 1972 Mar
huge rollers in her coal-black hair, the only clue to her daily transformation from back yard housewife to glamorous circus performer. Chona worked the trapeze and tightwire, and her husband Howard ran the novelty stand, where he sold souvenirs. Chona, a diminutive figure, less than five feet tall, is one of the "Flying Padillas," a circus family of Mexico. "My brother Alexandro, he does the triple somersault," she told me proudly. Howard was usually busy with his stand during the show, but I noticed that often he managed to be in the big top when Chona was aloft. Carrying a cluster of colorful balloons, he would join me by the back door. He would smoke a cigarette in short puffs and keep his eyes on his wife (pages 424-5). "She's getting too confident," he would tell me. Chona was aware of the danger. The win ter before she had fallen when a rope gave UG OF THE BIG TOP draws townspeople to an uncultivated field near Lehighton, Pennsylvania (left). The troupe moves with the first light of day, traveling an average of fifty miles to a new site. The purple trucks follow purple cardboard arrows that bandleader King Charles Weathersby places during the night. Each season the circus covers some 12,000 miles along a zigzag route extending from Florida to Michigan (above); it winters in south Miami.