|Photo by Leesa Brown|
The Halloween Fair was a PTA fund raiser. Being nine years old Tommy and I could have cared less about fund raising The 20 nickels our fathers had given us were burning a hole in our pockets and we were eager to begin having the fun those nickels would afford us.
The kids and the adults had different ideas of what fun was. We had no interest in winning a crocheted bedspread, or a casserole dish and we agreed that the cake walk our fathers headed for immediately was boring, except we'd like to have a cake. The table where you bought your nickel ticket was full of cakes, from elaborate to plates of cupcakes. Each had a number by it. The cake walk itself consisted of a series of numbered squares marked out on the grass in powdered chalk to create a large square.
Music was played and as long as the music continued the players moved forward by one square in time with the music. When the music stopped the a number was called and the person standing on that number won the cake on the table corresponding to the number.
We were more interested in the pony rides, as we both held fantasies that we were cowboys. The ponies were hitched to a central mechanism by long poles which led them in an unending circle. When the riders were all mounted the motor was turned on and the ponies began their never-ending trudge around an endless track. Today the idea is horrifying, but then all we felt was excitement, to be in the creaking saddle, with the reins in hand, the sharp smells of leather and horse sweat in our nostrils.
Though I knew very well that the "eighth wonder of the world", the "Amazing Toothless Wonder" in the booth run by my mother was one of our Rhode Island Red hens in a tiny apron and bonnet pecking at a pan of cracked corn, I talked it up to my friends, urging them to spend their nickel in my mother's booth.
Prizes for winning a game were mostly penny candies, whistles, yo-yos or cheap celluoloid Cupie dolls. We threw baseballs at bowling pins, shot bb guns at silhouettes of birds in flight and leaping squirrels and bobbed for apples, nearly drowning ourselves and each other, since it was obligatory to push your friend's head as far under the water in the #3 galvanized wash tub as possible, as was the punch-up afterwards.
We fished for goldfish in a barrel, which consisted of trying to bring a thin metal fish to the surface of the water with a magnetic "hook" attached to a string on a fishing pole. If you managed to do this you won a real live half-inch-long goldfish in a lightbulb-sized fishbowl. By accident or miracle I actually won a goldfish one year. It was dead by morning. School fair goldfish had limited lifespans.
There was an authentic Romany gypsy in a tent made of old quilts, who read our palms and told our fortunes. Tommy argued that the gypsy was Donny Bradford's mother, but I didn't think so because Donny had fallen off the monkey bars and broken his arm the week before, and if his mother was a gypsy who could see into the future, wouldn't she have told him to stay off the monkey bars that day? Tommy agreed that was a point in my favour in the argument.
We crawled through a long and winding "Tunnel of Horror" made of connected cardboard boxes. The pathway was blocked at points until we put a hand in the "bowl of eyeballs" (peeled grapes), or "dead man's guts" (wet rope), pushed open the "bloody" door (bloodied with tomato ketchup), crawled through spider's web (frayed fabric) and were terrified by a ghostly white-painted face which thrust through a opening and then pulled back again.
After the adrenaline of the "Tunnel of Horror" we needed to wind down. We spent our last nickels on bottles of carbonated chocolate milk and threw our dirty selves on the damp grass to drink our sodas and watch the strings of lightbulbs lighting the fair swing back and forth.
We were in that happy, dazed state only exhausted nine-year-olds fall into when Dad arrived to take us home. The "Amazing Toothless Wonder" went into a cardboard box in the trunk of the car, Mother held the large cake Dad had won in the cake walk.
The bag of goodies from Trick or Treating would wait until the morning. I must have been asleep before we dropped Tommy and his family off at their house, because I don't remember reaching home.