Special Day at the Fair
I didn't get to know my mothers father very well. His job kept him away a lot. I found out my grandfather was a carny. Carny is a nickname for someone that travels with a fair or carnival group. He operated a ride that was for young children. The ride was like a merry go round. It had small motor cycles you sat on instead of horses.
The County Fair
My parents never had much money, so being told I could go to the fair was great. The fair usually lasted a weekend. My parents chose a Saturday, so no worries of getting ready for school the next day.
Our town was very small and going to the fair was like a reunion. My parents didn't worry about who'd be around. We'd always start the day by meeting at my grandfathers ride. We'd say, "Hello" and give hugs. Then my grandfather would let me ride until I said I was done. After that my mother would hand me some tickets. Then she give me a time to check back. Then I was on my own.
I've always been a window shopper. I liked walking around and looking over every ride. That way I knew how many tickets I had to use to ride what I wanted most.
I was taller this year. I had a lot more to choose from. Some scary high rides and some that would flip you upside down. I needed more time to decide.
I went back to my grandfathers ride so I could think about which rides I would go on. All the rides were like they are today, so many tickets per ride. My grandfathers ride was the only one I knew I could ride for free.
Chat with my grandfather
I didn't want to be rude to my grandfather. After the ride ended I decided to talk to him. I asked him if he liked his job. He said, "yes". He looked sad so I asked him what was wrong. Then he told me this would be his last weekend as a carny. I asked what he was doing and he said retiring. I wasn't sure what that meant at the time. I didn't like seeing him sad.
I asked him what he'd miss about his job. He said the people he traveled with. He told me carnies are like their own family. They help each other keep their rides in good condition. They'll run a ride if someone doesn't feel well. They make sure all the group can get to each fair or carnival they've been booked for.
I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. Then I went back to the rides.
A kind of ferris wheel
I decided to ride the ferris wheel. That way I could look at all the rides from up in the air to see what I really wanted to try.
I pulled out my tickets and started to hand them to the carny. Then he said, " Do you know the carny operating the motorcycle ride"? I explained to him that it was my grandfather. He looked surprised, but he smiled. Then he said, " Young lady, your tickets are no good". My eyes burned with tears that weren't flowing yet. I started to tell him they had to be good, because my mom had just given them to me. Before I said anything he said, " carny children and family do not pay to ride the rides, they ride for free". Now the tears spilled out. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. It was as if I'd just been given the golden ticket. I told him, "thank you very much". He said, " you're welcome. Remember to tell every carny who your grandfather is, he's a very good man to all of us".
Of course, now I was walking in the clouds. It was time to meet mom for lunch.
Mom's first question when I arrived was, " how many tickets do you have left"? That's when I got to tell her the news.
My grandfather smiled. My mom said, " okay, we'll stay till the fair closes tonight".
Making my rounds
I had to finish my lunch. I was ready to take off, but mom said, " a half hour at least. It wouldn't be nice of you to get sick on a ride".
Waiting was really hard. I know I looked like a worm on a hook. I couldn't sit still. Finally, she said I could go.
Like a bullet from a gun I ran to the next ride. I wanted to ride the "tilt a whirl". I was nervous at first. I told the carny about my grandfather and I was on my way.
This was the fun of the entire day. I went to every ride I was big enough for. I told each carny my name and my grandfathers and they'd allow me on. I can't remember all the names of the rides. My favorites were the "zipper", it was like a ferris wheel, but it had cages around the seats to it could flip upside down. I think I rode that the longest.
Most of the rides were short. The carnies would stop it normally and then as if I wanted to go around again. I tried to check for lines, because I didn't want to be unfair to all the paying people.
Since I didn't need to worry about tickets I could focus on all the sweets I wanted. I bought lemonade to drink. Then I got a large bag of cotton candy. Next I wanted a carmel apple. My last treat of the day was an elephant ear.
I didn't get sick, but I was on a sugar rush.
The end of the day
Different carnies were shutting off lights and covering things up. That was my sign to go back to my grandfathers ride.
I was talking a mile a minute about all I'd done that day. No one was upset or asked me to stop. Maybe they were happy to hear what a great memory I had for the day.
I rode my grandfathers ride one last time. We all hugged each other and said, " good night".
Going to fairs now
I try to take my children to at least one fair or festival a year. It's fun for me to watch them and listen to them tell me the rides they're big enough for. I don't know the carnies now, but I tell my children to thank them for the rides. I usually buy a wrist band that allows them to ride everything for the day. Listening and watching them makes me feel young.
The sights and sounds are very much the same as they've been for years. That's my favorite part of still going to these events. I never leave without purchasing an elephant ear and cotton candy.
Sometimes as we're walking around I'll see someone operating a ride like my grandfathers. In these moments that carny disappears and I see my grandfather standing there. In my mind that ride will always be his.