Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mother Was a Carny

Not really, but you have to admit that’s a catchy title. My mother did work at a ticket booth at the Kosciusko County Fair when I was a kid—a service she performed as a member of Tri-Kappa, the women's organization she belonged to when we lived in Warsaw, Indiana. Maybe that’s why I feel like the county fair is in my blood. This time of year, I always get an overwhelming urge to look at livestock, ride on a ferris wheel, and eat just about anything that’s deep-fried.

On days when my mother was working at the fair, I always went along and spent the day there. I visited the exhibits, ate fair “food” (not really food at all, just sugar and fat), and played a few carnival games—even though my parents cautioned me that they were all rigged. But most of my time and money were spent on the rides. My favorites were the ferris wheel and the paratrooper, which is sort of like a ferris wheel, except it’s tilted and your feet dangle. Once, when I was riding the paratrooper with a friend, one of my shoes flew off, hit the top of a tent, and bounced to the ground. My friend thought this was hilarious, but I didn’t see the humor in it—at least not until we were off the ride and I had retrieved my shoe.

We moved to Goshen when I was twelve, and I found the Elkhart County Fair to be much the same as the Kosciusko County Fair—the same exhibits, the same food, the same games, the same rides. One of my friends in Goshen was a wizard at the claw game. If you told him what you wanted, he could always get it—even if it was buried under a pile of other prizes. (His other singular talent was that he could belch louder than anyone in our school—possibly louder than anyone in the world. I assure you that I have never heard anything like it, either before or since.)

The Ventura County Fair opened this week, and I plan to go. I haven’t been for several years, but I expect it will be much the same as the last time I was there, and much the same as the county fairs of my childhood—the same exhibits, the same food, the same games, the same rides. There’s something reassuring in that. My tastes, however, are not the same. These days, I tend to spend more time looking at the exhibits and less time on the rides. But I will ride the ferris wheel, and I may ride the paratrooper, if they’ve got one.

If I do, I’ll make sure my shoelaces are securely tied.

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