Sitting on the back steps, I could hear the music, and when it got dark, I could see the lights. Actually, I could see their glow in the sky above the trees. To a little boy, it was a magical time of year. The carnival had come to town, and with it came a sense of excitement and, as I remember, a sense of longing.
It was only a weekend thing, set up on Friday and gone by Sunday. I would spend all day Friday watching them set up the rides, and the tents. The fair was held in the parking lot, right behind the town hall. There was always a row of tents to hold the games of chance, the food booths. Of course, there was also the obligatory Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go- Round as well as other rides like the Octopus and the Tilt-A-Whirl (my favorite), and an assortment of kiddy rides. I would stay all day, until I knew I had to be home for supper. And that is how I came to be found, sitting on our back steps on Friday night, longing to go, but without a nickel to my name. Sometimes being eight or nine was tough.
Saturday was even worse. This was the big day and I think most everyone in town was at the fair, except me. Money was tight and extras were kind of hard to come by. But the plight of a little boy, sitting on the back steps was even to much for my cash strapped parents. Usually, by early afternoon, somehow they would find an extra fifty cents. With a stern warning not to waste it all on the games, I was off like a shot, a kid on a mission.
Upon arrival, I would do a lot of walking around, surveying my surroundings, and basking in the atmosphere. All the sights, sounds and smells blending to create a childhood Xanadu, the coins weighing heavy in my pocket. Suddenly, I became very frugal, wanting to experience the rides and taste the cotton candy, but also, wanting to make my money last. However, after one ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl and a hot dog, I loosened up a little. The afternoon always lasted longer then my money, but it didn’t matter. I was where I wanted to be. It was carnival and I was part of it.
I found myself wondering the other day if they even still had one every year, so I looked it up on the web, and sure enough, they do. I saw some pictures and have to admit, it looked a lot different, what with shiny, bright colored rides I had never seen before, and laser light shows. But I am sure more then that has changed. In today’s environment, I imagine that the simple pleasures of scaring yourself by rocking the car on a Ferris Wheel ride, or the melodic music of a Merry-Go-Round doesn’t hold the same sense of excitement that they did back then.
I think if I were to go back today, it would probably be a bitter sweet encounter. I would be a stranger in the familiar. Trying to recapture a piece of my youth, or even rekindle a little of the joy I experienced, would be fruitless. Some things are better left alone I guess. I’ll never be that boy again, but I sure did buy a lot of memories with my fifty cents.
Originally published June 2014