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Carol Perkins: Step right up - the county fair

The lure of the carnival barkers at the old county fairs often meant country boys with pretty girls at their side lost income from backbreaking work in the fields, some embarrassing moments for boys who sneaked in the girlie shows only to see their fathers across from them, while mothers were watching the little ones on the kiddy rides and overseeing tiny tots covering their faces with grainy messes from corn dogs
The next earlier Carol Perkins column: Carol Perkins: An after the fact commentary on Memorial day

By Carol Perkins

"Step right up and win that little girl a teddy bear!" The barker at the booth, where knocking down three bowling pins calls can win the life size pink teddy bear hanging to the side of the tent, calls out to a young man escorting a young girl down the midway of the county fair. He looks at the guy and wonders what to do. The young man runs the risk of making himself look like a real wimp if the pins don't fall (which they seldom did). Then, again, on the off chance he should win that teddy bear, he might seal the deal and have himself a steady girl.

The young man has worked all week in the tobacco patch and his money comes hard. Should he waste it on throwing a softball at these pins? Should he buy her some cotton candy to take on the Ferris wheel instead? He knows winning that teddy bear would be more impressive, so he walks up to the barker, who sees another sucker coming, and pays him a dollar. Quickly, others gather to watch, pressuring the young man to knock down the pins.

He winds up and throws like a pro. The top one falls. He is feeling the pressure, so he gives the man another dollar and the crowd draws closer. Winding up again, he hits the pins in the middle, which should scatter them. Instead, the top one falls. Growing more determined, he pays the man another dollar and throws harder. Once again, the top one falls. He can keep giving the man a dollar or walk away.

The back breaking work in the fields to earn those three dollars says, "Walk, boy, walk." He moves aside just as another young man with another pretty girl gives it a try. No one will knock all three down until the barker has decided it is time to let someone win.

Meanwhile, across the midway at the back of the lot is a tent with a skimpily dressed, not-so-young woman luring the young and old, boys and men inside for a peep show. Young men stand around kicking dirt until they don't see their parents and pay their dollar to see what is under the big top. The older men have broken away from their wives, paid their dollar, and hope to get their eyes full of beautiful women. They are disappointed.

Embarrassingly, young boys sometimes look across and see their fathers sitting on the wooden benches, causing the boys to move quickly out of the tent. They can't tell on their father because then both would be caught.

Meanwhile, mothers are watching little ones ride the Merry-go-round or the swings or the train rides. Tiny tots overdose on cotton candy, covering their faces and hands in the grainy mess.

The games for all ages included the toss the ring over a bottle game. "Win a dish by throwing a ring over a bottle." Now, why did we want a dish? Not many dishes went home with the tossers.

My grandfather won a lamp at a county fair when he was just a lad. This had to have been in the late eighteen hundreds. The globe part of the lamp is gone, but I have the round base with the faded roses on the side. I can see him now, as a tall, lean young man throwing or shooting or swinging at something to win this lamp. I wish I knew the story.

My father liked the "sling the hammer and ring the bell" game at the fair. He might have weighed 155 pounds, but he could ring that bell every time. I was impressed, especially when some of the other girls' fathers could not.

The rest of the summer will bring carnivals to town and the old and young to fair grounds to ride the rides, watch the horse shows or other events, and eat corn dogs and snow cones. Summer means county fairs!

CM Readers can listen to Carol and Susan-Unscripted on FM 99.1 the Hoss, Edmonton, KY, live on Tuesday mornings 10am-12pmCT and again on Sundays 4pm-6pmCT.

This story was posted on 2013-06-09 05:24:17
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