By Shane Richard Bell
Most people survive hard situations, but only a few outmatch them with unequivocal resilience and strength.
From the beginning Coeur d’Alene resident Phyllis Horne has chosen strength and resilience as means to a greater life. For Phyllis, the decision to choose either of these realities boiled down to a single moment. It was this moment and the events to follow that compelled Phyllis to write her life story in her memoir and new release, The Carnival Girl.
She was fourteen. She lay in her bed, sweating and scared. It was August, 1956, and the temperature rose to 102 degrees. Inside her trailer it was 107 degrees. Nobody else was home to bother her, but this did not minimize her mother’s ongoing alcoholism, dysfunctional relationships, and instability. She had to leave for her own well-being. Instead of relying on a parent to survive, she would be completely on her own, an orphan with the positivity to prevail and a desire to succeed.
So she got up and left her mother in Torrance, California- another tally in her mother’s gypsy wanderings- and she headed to a place known by postcards of white-sandy beaches, waddling toddlers, and colorful beach umbrellas: Long Beach, California. But Phyllis’ life was not postcard material, and without a job, any money or family, she was forced to sleep under a bridge for two months while looking for an opportunity.
“I couldn’t get a job because I was a runaway and I looked it,” writes Horne in The Carnival Girl, “so the carnies took me in.” The Pike, the amusement park where she worked, was like a dream, a pleasant escape from the past and an invitation to a better future.“The Pike was a street a mile long that was completely lined with amusements, food vendors, and rides,” adds Horne, “with a roller coaster that extended out over the ocean.”
The Pike offered everything Phyllis needed to start a new life. “The carnival was really good to me. They taught me how to survive, how to make a living, how to take care of a family,” said Horne in an interview about her book and story as a runaway, carnival worker and all-American success story. After four years at the Pike and at the age of 18, she became a first-time business owner, buying two concession stands that she would operate for the next six years.
Yet Phyllis was ready for the next leg of her adventure, or how she puts it, “my dance with life.” A stationary carnival was not enough, so she joined the traveling carnival. “It’s like having your own little town on wheels,” muses Horne. Life was much better, she had a son, a family, and liked what she did and how she did it. “We helped each other out when needed,” said Horne. “We were one big family.”
Phyllis traveled throughout the southwestern United States for the next ten years, living a uniquely gypsy life balanced between illusion and establishment. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with performing for people to have fun. The carnival gives people a break from life. We all want to escape the real world, feel free, and have fun like we did when we were little children,” said Horne. “I was in charge of fun.”
As fascinating as Phyllis’ story is, her intention in writing her memoir, The Carnival Girl, reaches far beyond her own story. She writes to inspire people to fulfill their own dreams by telling of how her dreams were fulfilled. “I’m finally telling this story with the hope it will inspire other runaways and young people that there is hope for their lives. You can do anything you set your mind to do, but you must have faith and ultimately trust God has a plan for you,” states Horne.
Dreaming, believing and thinking positively is what moved Phyllis forward, from her times of hardship to happiness. “I always believed you can be anything in the world,” said Horne. “I’m living proof it is possible.”
“Phyllis now lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she manages her own rental properties and enjoys retirement. A world traveler, she has been a real estate agent, has owned storage units, a grocery store and a gas station. Horne is an avid supporter of patriotic causes, including military veterans. The Carnival Girl is her first book.” (www.carnivalgirl.com)