It's not like we live in the big city with high rises and sky-scrapers blocking the view. You would really think I would have noticed a Ferris wheel before it was right outside my window. The sight of a carnival midway being constructed brought back childhood memories.
The small town where I grew up, population 700 (give or take), had a celebration each summer called Old Settlers Days - a three day celebration that was second only to Christmas on the calendar of a child. As soon as my sisters and I spotted the trucks loaded with the pieces of our favorite rides, we began planning. The rides were set up along main street - the Tilt-a-Whirl on the east end and the Ferris wheel on the west. Food booths and games of chance lined two sides of the central city square. On Saturday night there was a band and dancing in the park in the center of the square.
We were each allowed three rides per night and the time spent planning and re-planning our selections lasted much longer than the actual rides. Between rides, we got one treat per night - usually cotton candy or sno-cones - that we ate slowly while anticipating the next ride. Once we had finished our rides, we would "casually" seek out Grandpa among the older folks sitting on benches or steps in front of businesses, in hopes that he would fund one more ride. We were never disappointed. To top off our evening, we visited the game booths to pick up a duck. Plastic ducks floated in a constant circle in a shallow trough. Each duck had a number on the bottom which corresponded to a prize. We studied the ducks as they floated by, trying to divine which one held the magic number that would get us the big prize. But most often we ended up with a plastic whistle or a necklace.
As small girls, we were also fascinated with watching the "big kids", especially the teenage couples who held hands as they walked. We watched boys throw baseballs or toss rings to win their girl a stuffed animal, and dreamed of the day a boy would hold our hand and win us a teddy bear. During the summer between 6th and 7th grades, a boy I had a crush on wrote me a letter (this was 1972 - no emails or texts, and long-distance calls were expensive) and asked me to meet him at Old Settlers for rides and games. I was ecstatic! I can still remember my mother's words of wisdom before we left, "A lady doesn't let a boy spend a lot of money trying to win her prizes." I took her advice to heart and every time he offered to buy a ride ticket or throw darts at balloons, I politely declined. I didn't find out until later that he was crushed because he had been saving up his lawn-mowing money just so that he could show off and win me a bear.
Years have passed and times have changed. Families routinely visit Worlds of Fun, Disneyland and Six Flags. Small-town carnivals don't hold the same fascination. Teens and pre-teens are too advanced to think hand-holding is a thrill. Not enough mothers teach their daughters to behave like ladies. But the sight of a small town preparing for a traditional street carnival gave me a grin and a stroll down memory lane