In Northwood, there were two major events that served to bookend the summer. The first was the Northwood School fair, which occurred the third Saturday in June. The second was the St. Matthews carnival, an event that took place in the evenings from Monday through Saturday, during the third week in August.
If you were to quiz the guys in our neighborhood, one at a time, on the merits of both attractions, the fair would probably come out on top, simply because it transpired in early summer. The carnival, on the other hand came about at a time when depression concerning the upcoming school year was reaching a fever pitch.
The boys of Northwood absolutely hated the summer to end. None of us cherished the thought of returning to school. The thought of the approaching school year became so traumatic that, as the final days of summer neared, grief-counseling sessions were a common sight at our hangout, the patio.
It irritated us that the girls we occasionally hung around with were, during this time, chomping at the bit to return to classes. There was even a nasty rumor that they held practice homework sessions to prepare themselves for the school year.
The St. Matthews carnival helped us, in its unique way, to momentarily overlook our impending doom and enjoy what little of our freedom remained.
The carnival took place on the parking lot on the side of the church. Unlike the moving carnivals that pop up on lots today, this carnival was mostly games of chance. The only real rides they had were a merry-go-round and a ferris wheel. If you wanted to empty your piggy bank of change, then this was the carnival for you.
There were many booths with spinning wheels of all variety. Some offered the usual cheap trinkets, some gave out stuffed animals, and some had plants. There were even a few that doled out booze as a prize. I’d like to tell you that there was an age restriction at those particular booths, and there undoubtedly was. But I do seem to recall coming across a fellow teenager from time to time carrying a bottle of Kentucky’s finest.
There were also booths that involved tossing a ping-pong ball at something, most often a small bowl of water containing goldfish. If your ball landed in the bowl, you won the contents. Usually it was a goldfish or two, but sometimes it was just a plastic bag filled with water.
They also had several picnic tables set up at the far side of the lot for bingo. This was where you’d find most of the adults.
My brother relayed to me a humorous story involving the bingo games. It seemed that he and a friend, who had volunteered to check winning bingo cards, conspired to make a few bucks at the carnival’s expense. The scheme was simple. My brother’s friend would stay close to the table where my brother was seated. After a fair amount of letters were called, my brother would yell out “BINGO!” at which time his friend would be near enough to check his card. My brother, of course, would not have the correct letters, but it would have made no difference. His friend would verify the winning letters; the pot would go to my brother and later, in a concealed area, the booty would be split between them.
Everything was set in motion. The players were in place and the game began.
As luck would have it, my brother actually got the proper letters and had an official winning bingo card. He excitedly yelled “BINGO”. The letters were checked and verified by his friend and my brother pocketed his winnings. Of course his buddy still wanted his half.
My brother tried very hard to get out of the arrangement, but to no avail. The words ‘a deal is a deal’ were uttered many times and in the end he gave up half of the bounty.
Unlike the Northwood School fair, we were mostly well behaved at the carnival. It was held at a church after all.
It was a nice place to walk around with your girlfriend and impress her with your skill at throwing darts at balloons. Don’t let anybody tell you different, there is nothing better than winning your date a prize at a carnival, except possibly a few spins with the same girl on the ferris wheel.
And there you had the difference between the fair and the carnival. At the fair, the summer was young and our energy fed off that. The carnival, that urged the summer to an end, was a more melancholy affair. A time to reflect on days passed. A time to hold the hand of the girl you met in June. The girl who couldn’t wait to go back to school, but for now that was okay too. And if you were lucky enough to steal a kiss at the crest of the ferris wheel, well, then the summer ended just fine.
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