It is carnival week in Worthington. When I was a kid, this was the most anticipated week of summer vacation. We bought books of advance ride tickets, one ride for one ticket. We waited impatiently for the trucks hauling the puzzle pieces of rides to pull into the firehall parking lot on Sunday morning. The rides rose quickly into the air transforming an empty parking lot into our own amusement park. To be a ‘carnie’ seemed like the most exciting life traveling from town to town.
My friends and I went every night to ride and walk around looking for classmates, especially those boys we liked and might not see again until school started again at the end of summer. My best friend’s father was a fireman who worked on one of the games of chance. I envied that she could stay every night until the rides stopped and the rainbow neon lights went out. I had to be home by 10 PM. I left my friends to ride until the end and walked alone up Bear Street past the funeral home to my house just a block from the carnival grounds. One night I came home late and climbed stealthily up the stairs to my bedroom and slid into bed. When my brother came in later, I heard my parents ask where I was. He innocently told them I was already in bed, never giving the hint that I had come home late.
The carnival food was better than our home-cooked meals: greasy french fries in paper cones and hamburgers from the ladies auxiliary and pure spun pink sugar wrapped around a paper cone like a beehive. We spent our money on games of chance picking up ducks floating past or throwing rings around glasses or tossing coins into baskets. We tried for the big stuffed animal but always walked away with some cheap Cracker Jacks prize.
Then there were the parades. Monday night was the Kiddies Parade with kids on bikes and kids with their pets and kids dressed in costumes. The best-in-show won the prizes. The centennial of our town was in 1963, and that year I rode one of our ponies whose tail and mane were woven with dusty pink ribbon. The local newspaper published an insert about the history of Worthington with pictures of the oldest resident. My mother still had a copy put away in the cedar chest when I cleaned out her house 45 years later.
The Farmer’s Parade was a procession of shiny tractors and machinery and horses and sometimes old cars rolling down Main Street. My father was a farmer, but he was always making hay in the fields when the tractors drove down the street. Summer days were long and hot and hard work; there was no time for carnival.
The big Fireman’s Parade was Thursday night. The bands and firetrucks lined up at the school waiting for their turn to drive down the street in front of people lining the streets. The parade lasted for hours. I marched in my green and white uniform with my trumpet pretending to play the song I never had memorized. I wanted to play the clarinet or flute like my girlfriends, but my father had this trumpet from his school days so I was stuck with that. There were baton twirlers in fancy costumes. The firetrucks from all the surrounding towns were interwoven between the marching units. The firemen threw candy from the sides and windows of their trucks to kids lining the streets. This was the biggest night of carnival with people lining our Main Street and swelling the carnival grounds after the parade. My mother never visited the carnival, but she watched the parades at a friend’s house along the parade route.
Saturday was the last day of carnival week, and the afternoon was reserved for kids. We could buy a one-price ticket to ride all afternoon in the hot sun. We waited impatiently to gather for the bike drawing bringing an end to our afternoon. I never won the bike and never knew the kid who won. It seemed like it was always someone from another town that won.
By Sunday morning, the rides and trailers were gone to other towns and other kids waiting for them.
I have not been to the Worthington carnival for several years now except for a quick stop to buy deep-fried mushrooms or grilled chicken. For years after my husband and I got married, we had a front-row seat to the parades and a guaranteed parking spot at my in-laws house. Their house was smack in the middle of the parade route and almost directly in front of the announcer’s stand. We could sit comfortably on the porch swing and watch the bands march by and wave to the fireman throwing candy. My kids sat on benches at the edge of the sidewalk with their bags open for the candy littering the street. The house is sold now, and new people sit in our front-row seats.