Warming up the 2011 Philadelphia Folk Festival crowd for a Give & Take Jugglers performance, Eric tossed his green conical hat to the audience, pantomiming that someone should toss it back.
Alas, the crowd's return tosses were too wild for the successful completion of this classic silent clown routine. Then Eric spotted a beautiful woman and threw the hat to her. To his astonishment, she caught it on her head - the very thing he had been trying to do throughout his act. He easily caught her perfect return, the completed circuit delighting the crowd. After the main performance, Eric saw that same beautiful woman grinning at him. They talked for the better part of two hours.
Allison, who grew up in Merion, was then a skilled amateur. Her dad taught her to juggle when she was really young. She holds a bachelor's in music and another in English from Muhlenberg College, and was working at summer camps, unsure of what future to pursue.
Eric, who grew up in Glenside, graduated from the now-defunct Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. With the exception of stints running the Bishop Castle gift shop on a Colorado mountain and leading backcountry horseback tours on an Alaskan ranch, he's always been a circus performer.
"He's so obviously present, and he was really listening to me, looking me in the eyes," said Allison, 27. "He has this very positive outlook on life, and he was goofy, and able to laugh."
"I was completely intrigued by this person," said Eric, 46. "She is beautiful, intelligent, very thoughtful. And there was just this succession of revelations: What, you juggle? What, you sing? The only thing that drew me out of it was my colleague tapping on my shoulder to tell me it was time for the next show."
Allison had accepted a fall job as a teacher at Nature's Classroom in Massachusetts and was leaving in two weeks. First came a sushi date, then every bit of togetherness they could fit in until she left. She returned in November, and their relationship progressed for a year. Allison decided to get her master's degree, and Lesley University's arts in education program was perfect, save for the Boston location.
Allison returned with her degree, student loan debt, and a realization: She really wanted to perform.
She joined Give & Take, and uses her education degree during school residency programs.
Eric and Allison are the live-in managers of a 100-year-old livery stable converted into the Give & Take rehearsal space and studio. Their living room furniture is tucked into a corner of a wide-open space with ceilings high enough for trapezes to fly.
In addition to various practicing performers, the couple shares their home with Eric's son Jerry, 10, with whose mother Eric shares custody, and cat Lyra - a former stray whom the couple named after a circus apparatus.
How does forever sound?
Eric picked up a diamond filigree ring in fall 2013 and was eager to propose, but Allison's brother Matthew advised him to wait and court her parents as well.
Judy and Rich liked Eric but didn't know him well enough to outweigh their trepidations about their daughter's building a life with a circus performer 18 years her senior.
Eric realized Matthew was right.
The breakthrough came when Eric invited Allison's parents to his family reunion at the Adirondacks cabin his grandfather built. They met his mother, Margaret, his brother Craig and many more family members. "At the end of it, Judy gave me a huge hug and thanked me," he said.
In 2014, Eric and Allison performed at Oktoberfest at White Face Mountain in Lake Placid, taking on a few extra days to relax.
"He suggested climbing Cascade Mountain in such a way that it made me think it was my idea," Allison remembered. "Eric had this goofy smile, and he made this nice little speechy thing that ended with 'Do you want to marry me?' "
He had asked in a long-range planning sense before, and he didn't kneel or offer a ring, so Allison wasn't sure if this time was different.
"Are you really asking me?" she wanted to know.
Eric knelt and pulled out the ring to make his point.
"We were so giddy, we were basically skipping all the way down the mountain," Allison said.
It was so them
Eric and Craig spent many days exploring Grey Towers Castle at Arcadia University, where their father, Jerry, who died in 1991, taught. "Having our ceremony there was a nice way to remember Dad," Eric said.
When the groom and groomsmen were getting ready, Craig, the best man, presented Eric with their dad's initialed cuff links.
Allison was raised Jewish, and with the help of Eric's friend Ezra, their officiant, the couple crafted a ceremony that included many Jewish traditions. Allison's friend Harold was their cantor. They married beneath a chuppah built by Allison's father and decorated by her mother. Her parents also wrote and recited their own version of the Seven Blessings, and Eric's mother read a poem by Rumi.
The couple wrote declarations of their love that turned out to be remarkably similar. Both said through their relationship they had become the best versions of themselves.
Eric's son Jerry, named for his late grandfather, was ring bearer. He joined Eric and Allison after their vows to each other, and each vowed to love him. Inspired by Celtic tradition, all three took a drink from a loving cup, this one specially made by Wissahickon Pottery, with three handles.
At the reception for 90, their friend and wedding cake baker Maureen got a surprise. The couple had asked another baker friend, Meg, to bake Maureen a birthday cake and everyone sang "Happy Birthday."
The following day, the bride and groom hosted a daylong open house and 200 colleagues and friends stopped by.
"Right before I walked down the aisle, I was the most nervous I've ever been," said Allison. "I was standing with both of my parents in front of the doors, and then they opened, and it was like when Dorothy came out of her house in the Wizard of Oz and everything turns to color. I saw Eric gasp, smile, and then cry, and everything melted away. I was just on a cloud."
"She literally took my breath away," Eric confirmed. "I don't think I've ever in my life experienced that strong of an involuntary reaction. She was just radiant, and I will never forget it."
A bargain: The couple's friend Liza is a high school teacher but also a skilled photographer. "We wanted to hire her for the wedding, but she said that was her gift to us," Allison said. The bride also borrowed a wedding dress, and Arcadia gave the couple a special rate because Jerry had taught there.
The splurge: Eric's white gold wedding ring. A band of hammered metal between two polished bands, this was the one Eric wanted to wear for the rest of his life.
Three weeks in Italy later this year.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Ezra Marrow, Nevada City, Calif.
Venue: Grey Towers Castle, Arcadia University, Glenside.
Catering: Parkhurst Dining, Arcadia University.
Photography: Liza Meiris, friend of the couple.
Flowers: Long Stems, Merion.
Groom's attire: Vera Wang Suit, JoS. A. Bank.
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