Son steps in to revive clown act with mom

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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SPREADING HAPPINESS – Carolyn Bassham of Boyd paints a bluebonnet on the cheek of her mother, Margaret Blythe, a resident at Senior Care in Decatur as Carolyn’s son, Brian Bassham, looks on. Brian stepped in as Carolyn’s partner in clowning after his dad, Alvin, passed away in May. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Beginning in the early ’90s, Carolyn and the late Alvin Bassham spread joy to the young and old alike in their many disguises at birthday parties, company picnics, senior centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

For 15 years, the Boyd couple clowned as Shy Violet and Big Red-O. They also posed as Mrs. Claus and Santa at First Financial Bank in Boyd during the holiday season.

After Alvin’s passing in May, Carolyn thought her costumed days were over. That changed later in the summer.

“It was almost like the Lord said, ‘You need to do this,'” she said. “It’s a mission for me. If I can spread some happiness and cheer to other people, it’s going to be wonderful for me. I’m not going to have time to be sad.”

Alvin’s memory lingered too closely over her original alias, so Carolyn opted for a different disguise.

“I thought I’d rather do something else than what I did with Alvin for such a long time,” she said. “So now I’m Oopsa Dazee. I don’t know why in my mind came this little hat with daisies on it, and I like daisies. But you need to pick a name that’s unique to you. I knew there were other daisy clowns, and I didn’t want to get somebody else’s name. My mom used to always say, ‘Oopsa Dazee!’ I thought, why not?”

As she brainstormed acts and created her costume, she realized the challenge of facing this venture alone.

“I miss him every day,” she said. “But clowning alone would especially make me miss him. It’s so much easier with two. I could get ready while he put on an act.”

Carolyn braced herself for the test and began preparing for her first gig at Decatur Senior Care fall festival – held last weekend. However, her youngest son, Brian, stepped up to the plate and offered to be her accomplice, much to Carolyn’s surprise.

“I was going to be taking her around and hauling all the stuff in for her anyway,” Brian said. “One day I was out in the garage and found the balloon pump and out of the blue came in and told her, ‘I guess I’ll be a clown, too.’ Then I got a little book that showed how to make balloon animals, and I started practicing.”

“He really took to that,” his mother added. “Fifteen years and I never learned to make some of the balloon animals he mastered in a few days.

“It caught me by surprise that (he volunteered to) clown with me. He’s ordinarily very shy and bashful. But I’m so glad. It’s very special to me. He’s the one that most looks like his daddy.”

Carolyn promptly began working on a hippie-themed costume for Okee Dokee. Like Oopsa Dazee, Brian’s alias was derived from a phrase commonly used by his mother.

“I’m a hippie clown,” he said. “I have peace signs all over and a green wig – curly and long, a headband, vests, tie-dye shirt and the red nose. I don’t like the nose too much. It’s glued on your face. But you get used to it after a while.”

Carolyn’s costume features a blue dress with fabric dotted with daisies and plastic daisy accents as buttons and on the shoes. A long-stemmed. plastic, yellow flower completes the look.

“We have top-of-the-line outfits that she made,” Brian said pointing to his mother. “We’re not just wearing a pair of overalls and cowboy boots.”

Carolyn worked long hours to painstakingly assemble their attire.

“I think I spent as much time trying to thread the needle as I did sewing,” she said. “It took me a lot longer than it would have taken me in the past. But I like making our costumes. It’s personalized for us.”

After their attire was perfected, the two began refining their specialties – Carolyn, facepainting and Brian, ballon animals – and practiced a few skits, puppet shows and magic tricks – the latter Alvin’s specialty.

The large crowd that attended this weekend’s festival didn’t allow for any performances, but the duo hopes for other opportunities to do so.

“I’d love to make regular trips to Senior Care and Cook [Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth]. That’s where we have Alvin’s memorial,” Carolyn said. “In the future, we may do some Vacation Bible Schools, some gospel clowning. That’s what I really want to do.”

The two hope to master a musical instrument each – Carolyn the mandolin on which she began taking lessons this summer and Brian the harmonica – and train Carolyn’s 5-month-old toy poodle puppy, Joey, to work into the act for added entertainment value.

“It takes a lot of practice and a lot of work to be a clown,” she said. “At first it’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable. But it’s amazing. Clowning changes you.

“And with all that’s going on in our life, this is good for me,” she continued. “When you’re making other people happy, you can’t help but be happy.”

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