Flickering lights and frightening memories

Published 4:00 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

Whoever said that nothing is constant except change said a mouthful.

Everywhere this ol’ gal looks, she sees change as defined by both Mr. Webster and Wikipedia as “becoming different.”

Neither mentions whether “change” is a good thing or a bad thing. So, I reckon that it can be either. Some change is good. Some is not.

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As I moseyed around the Pike County Fair last week, I was fascinated by the zillion lights on the Ferris wheel. An unlighted, wreck of a Ferris wheel scared the young wits out of me as a child.

I sucked in air at the thought of being slung around in that new-fangled machine that in my childhood memory was simply, “the Swings.”

Mama said if I got on “the Swings,” one of them might come flying off and I might land in the Atlantic Ocean.

The county fair is still a magical place but something is sorely missing. Change has wrought it so.

Back before folks got so sensitive and the world got “politically correct,” you could watch Mr. Magoo and not be thought insensitive to the plight of nearsighted people. You could read funny books about the Lil’ Devil and dress as a witch on Halloween and not be accused of being a Satan worshiper.

So, in the fall when the county fair came to town, the “carnies” set up 25-cent side shows with the most amazing things – a sword swallower, a fire eater, a knife thrower that could throw knives and split the hairs on a lady’s head and a man that could stretch out on a bed of nails and one that could walk barefooted on hot coals.

And, then, there were the “freak” shows with giants, midgets, fat ladies, tattooed men, bearded women, the gorilla girl, the rubber man that could stretch everything and

Siamese twins in a jar of formaldehyde.

Once in a sideshow there was a man with a face like a lion, a woman that looked like a mule – really – and the frog boy. There was also a half man, half woman but you had to go through another tent flap and pay extra to see that. I did not.

What I did pay extra to see was the live chicken-eating man. He just snatched the head right off an old feathered chicken and stuck it in his mouth. Everybody ran out of the tent so we didn’t know if he chewed up the head and swallowed it or not.

But the most popular side shows as off limits to young people. Only men were allowed in the hootchie-kootchie show.

The hootchie-kootchie was always located at the far and dark end of the fairgrounds and usually off to the side of the Ferris wheel and not too far from the Tilt-a-Whirl. And it was from that high vantage point and those spinning tops that we, the young and innocent, were able to get a sneak-peek at the hootchie-kootchie show.

When it was almost time for the show, the hootchie-kootchie girls would come out on the midway stage, lights would flash and the music would blare out and the men would come rushing down the midway with their hats pulled down over their eyes and the collars of the coats pulled up around their necks like they were trying to hide from somebody.

The men would stand shoulder to shoulder with their backs turned to the midway and the hootchie-kootchie girls would come out in these slinky, dresses that were split up the side so you could see one long leg.

They wore high heel shoes and beads around their necks that twirled in rhythm to the music.

They all chewed chewing gum, actually they smacked on it and between smacks they would lick their lips and bat their artificial eyelashes.

They each had different color long hair and it all looked like it had come out of a bottle.

They would shake their hips to the music and wiggle their finger for the men to come on in and see the show and they did – and in a hurry.

If some of the men hung back, one of the hootchie-kootchie girls would stay back and shake and wiggle some more. It was an amazing thing to see.

The best vantage point was from the Tilt-a-Whirl because you had to wait for the ride to start and keep sitting after it stopped.

What was most interesting was who you could see coming out of the hootchie-kootchie show. If I’d known about blackmail back then, I’d be a rich gal today.


Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Contact her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.