The county fair gospel
The first time in my life that I got the liver and lights scared out of me was at the county fair.
Scaring me was not an easy thing to do. Mama said I wasn’t scared of the ol’ devil himself and she was right about that. A little man in a red suit with footies was kind of sissy to me.
Mama was scared of everything, especially bad weather, tramps and the men who came along with the fair that set up right behind the school and right in the middle of our neighborhood.
As soon as the fair came to town, Mama locked every door in the house. She hammered a nail in each window frame so those shady fair folks couldn’t push the windows up. She wasn’t taking any chances. Why, they could pull me and Bubba out the window and take us away with the fair. I thought that might be kind of fun. And I sure didn’t care if they got Bubba. I tried to pull the nail out of the window next to his bed so they could “get at him good.”
My friend, Betty Kay, and I had to walk through the fair grounds every morning to get to school. Mama would stand down by the road and watch us until we got in eyesight of the teachers who were watching out for walkers at that dangerous time.
“Keep your eyes straight ahead and run if those men say anything to you,” Mama said.
Mama had eyes in the back of her head but I didn’t think she could see my eyes through the back of my head. So I kept my head straight but my eyes darted all around. Betty Kay wasn’t scared of anything either, so we walked as slow as we could to take it all in.
At night, Mama would let me sit out in the yard and enjoy the fair from a safe distance. It was an amazing thing to see. As I watched the blinking lights and listened to the happy screams, I was filled with excitement and wonder.
When it was time to go inside, Mama closed all the curtains and put a chair under the doorknobs of both doors so the fair men couldn’t come in on us. I would peep out from behind the curtain to get one last look at the magical place just across the road.
The fair always came during cotton ginning season so Daddy was never at home to take us to the fair or to protect us from those mean men that ran the fair. That’s why Mama was really scared.
One night after Mama locked us in, she heard something rattle the back door. A fair man for sure.
Our back door was solid wood but Mama peeped through the keyhole and saw this mean face looking right back at her. She screamed so loud that my grandmother, who lived just down the hill, came running.
Mommie wasn’t scared so she walked around to the backyard, with me right behind her. We didn’t see anything except our ol’ dog lying on the back steps. The man’s face was really just some paint peeling off the frame of the screen door. Give Mama credit, though, it did look like a face.
Finally, the night came for Betty Kay and me to go to the fair. Our mamas gave us fair warning that we were not to ride the Ferris wheel. The bolts might come out of the seat and we’d fall out and die, or worse, we might get stuck way up on top and never get down.
When it came time for the man to be shot out of the cannon, our mamas let us go up closer to watch. The cannonball man put on his little white cap and slid down in the cannon. Then, “Boom!” Out he shot and, in a flash, he was safe in the net. And that was that.
As we walked away, the man at the Ferris wheel called us to come ride. We each had one dime in our dirty, sweaty hands.
Our mamas weren’t around so we did the “don’t.”
I’d never been so high. I could see everywhere — our house, Pop’s chicken houses with those soft lights seeping out from under the doors, the school and the darkness of Marine Land where we played. I could almost touch the moon. I’d never see such sights.
But then, at the height of my happiness, the Ferris wheel stopped with us right on top.
Now, it is the law of nature that when you are stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel, the seat you are in will not be still. It will rock, tip and creak. The fastening bolts will loosen right before your eyes. The wind will knock you around like tumbleweed and an icy chill will go down your spine. You’ll be so scared that your insides will turn outside.
It is biblical that your mama will appear out of nowhere to wait for you when you come down.
And it’s also biblical that you will run to her like a prodigal child … and that she will not spare the rod.