Last Tuesday I went to Carden Park Elementary School to spend time with a boy or a girl during lunch. I am still a little nervous since I am still in training. I was so happy to see Susan Gentry there, who came to visit her daughter. Allison spends a day at Carden Park as a part of the gifted children program.

Susan’s smile gave me a boost of confidence and I was ready for action. I noticed a little boy sitting away from all children on the bottom of the steps in full isolation. Nick was in trouble after he tried to choke his friend. The boy was too impulsive and did not know that putting his hands on another child’s neck was not a game. Nick felt very bad, he did not eat his lunch and sat with his face hidden in his hands. I started talking to him and learned that he would not go on a field trip after lunch.

“I was never on a bus before.” Nick cried. I didn’t know how to calm down a child, neither was I sure that to punish the boy for the whole day was the right thing. I am not a teacher. This was when I remembered my friend Cleo – the clown, who had a gift of making anybody smile just in time. Cleo Thomann’s name can be found in a book “The 1951 Kansas City Flood” by Brian Burnes, and you will find a story of a young man, who was chased by a police while driving toward the Fairfax plant to rescue the time cards.  Without Cleo, all 900 employees would not be paid. The name of the article about Cleo is titled “Just in Time.” 

Cleo’s credo was: “It is worthwhile to make someone smile.” Cleo had a gift to make people smile even when he did not wear his clown’s costume. Yes, Cleo was a professional clown. He was able to pull out of his pockets so many little and big items that made not only kids’ eyes grow big. People joked about Cleo, “He always looks so innocent until he starts showing his tricks!”

Cleo went every Friday to the Correctional Facility to work with the troubled teenagers.  They waited for his visits impatiently because every time Cleo brought something that is hard to find in a place like that – a smile.

I remember my visit with Cleo and his wife Opal in their home back in 2002. He showed me the stoplight that his wife gave him as a gift because Cleo, as she said, “Does not know where he goes.”  Thomann’s house had many fascinating things. The doll collection was one of them. This beautiful doll’s collection began with the first doll 67 years ago. Opal lost her father when she was just ten years old and never had a doll. Cleo gave Opal her first doll after they got married. This is how her collection began.

Cleo had the words to live by – “I think everyone in the world has but one desire and that is their happiness. My goal is to help people find it. Some think money, some find comfort in alcohol and drugs, in a big home, but none of these works.  I think I’ve found the answer.  The only way you can get happiness is from someone else. It makes you happy when you make someone else happy.  People are happy when they see their children happy and their friends and neighbors happy, and the more people you make happy – the happier you will be.”

The memories of Cleo made me see Nick not as a troublemaker but as a boy who needed a smile. It made all the difference when he suddenly looked at me and smiled! It came right in time for me to see the meaning of our church ministry at Carden Park. One smile does not seem like a big thing but when it comes just in time – that makes all the difference.

–Pastor Lydia