Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, Everybody sing out now, Meet me at the fair. Oh you dont know that song? Then youre too young. Its a very old song that always comes back to me whenever I think about going to The Fair. When I was a kid, we never went to the state fair. I went to my first fair when I was married with young children. What we did was go to small town carnivals.
Because the childhood summertimes that I remember were at Grandmas in southern Indiana, it was the carnival that came to town in early August that I love to recall. For about a week before the carnival, you could see search lights crossing the night skies, lighting up the clouds as they went slowly by. Carolyn and I would lie on the feather bed, watching the beams in their silent announcement that the carnival was coming soon. Then on that long awaited magical night, wed get a ride into town with our quarters jingling in our pockets, wide-eyed and eager to taste the excitement of the games and the rides. Carolyn loved the Tiltawhirl, but I was always afraid Id fall out. The Octopus was even worse, and the Ferris Wheel was terrifying. Still, I happily climbed on, trying to be as brave as my older cousin Carolyn. What I loved the most at the carnival was the game where you pitched nickels toward a table laden with cheap gaudy dishes. Whatever your coin landed in, that was your prize. To this day, whenever I go to a festival or the State Fair, I look for that booth, usually in vane. I liked throwing darts at balloons and dipping for gold fish, but what I treasured most was some kind of glass or bowl that I could use for years to come or until my mother would decide it needed to be pitched. Each time Id fill that glass with milk or juice or whatever, Id think of the fun Id had at the carnie. My first taste of cotton candy was at that carnival, thanks to Carolyns worldliness. It was up to her to introduce me to the finer things of life. We had the good sense to pass by the side shows though, as those barkers were very creepy. Today, no grandmother I know would send her 2 granddaughters, ages 9 and 12, into town to the carnival on their own, but back in those days, there apparently was nothing to fear. After the long days of reading, coloring, helping Grandma in the garden, playing on the swing, and generally entertaining ourselves with our own imaginations, it was a fabulous treat to immerse ourselves in the carnival atmosphere, the merry-go-round music, the smell of popcorn, and the squeals of teenagers on the roller coasters. We always got to stay up late on carnival nights, getting back to Grandmas way past our bedtime. Our heads would be full of carnival fun, but after chattering about which rides we liked the best, wed settle down under the sheet on the feather bed and let the crickets outside our window sing us to sleep.