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The Guilford Fair: Memory
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Every summer we had gone to the fair. For many years it was the Guilford (Connecticut) fair, right close to my home. My favorite rides were the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel. I was always treated to cotton candy. Sometimes I would try the penny pitch or throwing a softball through a clown's mouth, but they always seemed like a waste of money since I seldom won anything that way.

The most fun part of the day was spent wandering up and down the various exhibits and rides, with the smells and noise and colorful attractions. I liked to look at the people--the fair people--and imagine what their lives were like, going from town to town, doing this day after day. I checked out all the exhibits that had animals, too.

I remember as a young child riding the merry-go-round and reaching from the horse's back for the brass ring. Finally, I passed the arm holding the brass ring just as the horse reached the top of its cycle and, reaching out as far as I could, grabbed the ring. My mother, of course, was always sure that I would fall and break my neck. But alone, I could do my own risk assessment. And truth be told, I was pretty careful.

The ring, once grabbed, was exhanged for my choice of stuffed animals. I chose a kangaroo (the most exotic animal displayed) and I believe Kanga is still in my attic waiting for her brass ring.

One year, finally, my mother decided I was old enough to enjoy the fair by myself. She dropped me off early in the morning with five dollars (five dollars was a princely sum in 1950) and told me to have a good time. She would pick me up at 5 p.m. to go back home. It was the first time I had ever been left completely on my own in a public place. I immediately started checking to see if I could read someone's watch from a distance and figuring out what 5 o'clock would look like upside down (analog watches in those days, remember).

That parameter established, I set out to enjoy myself. I pitched pennies, rode the merry-go-round twice, bought pink cotton candy, and won a small prize shooting arrows into a target pinned onto a bale of straw. Lunch time came and I was hot and tired, so I sat down at the booth where a small dark man was selling Italian subs (submarine sandwiches also known as grinders). I bought a lemonade and half a sandwich. Every person who came by heard from me how delicious the sandwich was, especially with a nice cold glass of lemonade. Pretty soon the owner of the booth had more business than he could handle, and he had me filling glasses of lemonade and serving them to customers.

To my astonishment he gave me ten dollars after the lunch crowd dwindled away and thanked me for my help. I had never had ten dollars before. Nearly time to go home and I was tired and footsore. And on top of the world. I had been on my own in the big world for the first time and I had earned my first real money. That man actually paid me to help him, bringing customers in off the fairway and serving them lemonade. The lemonade wasn't sparkling, but I was.

I kept checking people's wristwatches until it was 5 p.m. and then I made my way with the other outbound folks to the main gate. My mom was there, waiting for me. She asked me how the day was. I said, "Fine." She could never have understood what a wonderful day it had been (she would have been horrified at my talking to all those strangers) and how I would remember it more than 50 years later for the pure joy of being on my own for the first time in my life and doing it successfully.

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