Monday, August 26, 2013

Ferris Wheels, Cotton Candy and the Good Old Days . . .

When driving to work - usually running late - I often take a side street through a residential neighborhood to avoid stop lights.  A few days ago, I was day dreaming, missed my turn and ended up in the business district instead.  This street has 4-way stops at nearly every corner but, since traffic was light, they were brief stops and I was still running mostly on auto-pilot, lost in my thoughts.  So lost, evidently, that I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until I stopped next to an empty lot and did a cartoon-style double take.

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


  1. You really must have been lost in thought on your ride! Thanks for your trip down memory lane. There's something really nice about revisiting these fond memories.

  2. love your post. we used to have a fair at the neighbouring town. It had a similar midway. it was such fun to take the kids and go on the occasional ride with them. Cotton candy all the way. Remember the year with the huge power outage that covered most of the eastern seaboard and beyond, well that was the day they were setting up the fair. They got all the setup done before dark, so they opened an day early since there was no electricity any where else, but they had generators. We went with the kids, had some cooked food and really enjoyed our selves. Most of our neighbours were there as well.

  3. Wow - what a wonderful memory!!!!! I still can conjure up that feeling of how exciting Old Settlers was!!! Nothing compared! Man we were lucky little girls - - - Old Settlers and the North Pole over and over again!! Thanks for sharing. But dear - you must focus on oncoming traffic and road signs please.

  4. Thanks Tami for a wonderful trip down memory lane, I have lots of the same memories of my small town, heck I'm still small town living...just older & wiser!

  5. Thanks for sharing, Tami! I grew up in Lincoln so we didn't have this same kind of thing but once in a while we were in my grandparents' little town when Shelby Days came to town and I remember them fondly.