Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hey, Rube!

Just the other day, I started getting Turner Classic Movies Channel on my cable. I really like old movies, and with AMC moving toward newer movies and other programming, I wasn't getting my fix. I've wanted the station for a long time, and finally called the evil cable company to get it (there are easily twenty-five channels I'd give up for that one--hands down).

The other night, I watched an old romantic comedy, Road Show (1941, Hal Roach) a kind of obscure movie about a rich playboy who, afraid of marring a gold digger, has an attack of catatonia. He wakes up in a loonie bin.

Unable to talk his way out, he soon runs into a resourceful manic with whom he escapes to a down and out travelling carnival. They work at the carnival while our hero and the young blonde carnival owner fall in love. It was a nice, if light and predictable movie.

What all this leads to is the recollection conjured up by this movie, of a traveling carnival that came to my town, many, many years ago.

I grew up on North Dakota. While we were all aware of tv, and wished we had one, there was not yet a broadcasting station close enough to send a signal we could receive. Thus, there were no tv's in our town.

Dad was a telegraph operator for the Great Northern Railroad. He was still paying his dues at the time, so we moved from one town to another from time to time. I went to second and third grade in a little farm town called Larimore, North Dakota.

We kids were pretty free, in those days, to run around and get into any trouble we could. One summer day, I was walking on a street near the edge of town, I noticed some unusually frantic activity. There were several trucks being unloaded by more than a dozen men, and a few women. Huge stakes were being pounded into the ground, in an orderly manner.

Interested, I moved closer to watch.

It soon became apparent that they were erecting a huge, colorful tent. There was also a row of booths going up alongside and much other activity, the nature if which I didn't understand. Turned out, it was the midway, through which you had to pass to get to the big top. There would be attractions, such as games of chance and sideshows along the midway.

A short, chubby man saw me and waved me over.

"Kid, I'm Oscar." I told him my name. "This is a carnival. You want some free tickets to the show?" "Sure." He took me over to a big tank in the back of a truck. "Here's a bucket, here's a dipper. Fill the bucket with water from this faucet and carry it around to the men, so they can get a drink." "Ok." "Don't get too close to the work, and watch the hammers."

I carried the bucket from one work area to another and let the men drink, refilling it as it emptied. The men were kind of rough, but friendly, as were the women. I worked for two or three hours, all the while watching the big tent go up. When the tent was finally up, Oscar stopped me and said that was good enough. The workers were going to break for dinner.

Oscar handed me a handful of tickets. "Give these to all your friends, and one for yourself. They're for the show tomorrow night at seven. And here's a dollar for your work."

Now, at the time a dollar was a lot of money. I left there a happy kid.

I now know that the tickets were a ploy to get us to bring our parents, who would have to buy tickets, and that was ok with me. It was a good show (though not nearly to Barnum & Bailey standards, as I later learned), with a trapeze act, horses, a couple of elephants and a lion act. There were clowns and acrobats, etc.

My friends and I had a great time. I think I spent the whole dollar there in the midway.

The carnival was called "Little Oscar's" and I've never heard of it since. I've seen the big circuses several times but, even though they were bigger and slicker, none has been quite as exciting as Little Oscar's.

That time.....is past.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California


After thinking about my memories of this incident, I spent a little time pondering. I haven't thought about it in a really long time until the viewing of this film brought it back.

Freedom. This was a time when you could travel freely about and ply your trade without needing permits, licenses and permissions. Presumably, the principals of the carnival paid taxes and chatted with the local police in each town, but I suspect that the only permission they needed was from the owner of the field 'pon which they planned to set up.

The roustabouts probably came and left as they pleased, hooking up with a carnival as they needed money. Because this casual kind of work is no longer available, many of these are among those we currently call "the homeless." Carnival owners probably picked their schedule strictly according to where they thought they could make money--subject to a sort of coordination with their competitors.

These carnivals could never exist, given the nature of local government corruption and intervention--not to mention the evil and unConstitutional Homeland Security thugs.

Thoughts on my personal danger: In the 1950's midwest, harming children was unheard of. It was for New York and other big cities. My recollection of detail is sketchy, but I recall some of the men were pretty rough and rowdy. It was, though, broad daylight in the middle of a wide open field.

Today, parents would shudder over such a thing.

This is one of many recollections that make me think I grew up in the best possible time in history.


TWC said...

That, was a great story. You could run with that and it would be the first couple of chapters of a great book.

steveintx said...

Larimore....the only memory I have of Larimore is being strapped to a chair with a belt. Just think Mom invented safety belts and didn't know it.

Col. Hogan said...

I remember that! She did it to me, too. Yu get strapped to the chair, and couldn't get loose until you ate your gruel.

ron said...

Kids today do not know what freedom is. Mine was going out in the middle of the 40 acres we lived on and climbing the biggest tallest tree and seeing how far I could see.
I spent many hours in that old white pine.
People talk about life but they do not know what it is to live. I wonuldn't take away the dazzle of the big city but there are few things I wouldn't give for the peace and solitude of the country.

Aurora said...

Col, I often wonder what the best time in history would be. I think you could be right about your childhood, but you've lived to see what I think is going to be one of the worst. (Hate to be a pessimist)