(Remember the carnivals that were located down by the river every Fourth of July? This story really happened. I changed the names of the boy and Lisa in question because I didn’t want to embarrass them or me, even after all of these years! If you have any carnival memories, please share them. All of the photos are by John Duguay)
by Kathy Warnes
The freedom of the Ferris Wheel, Merry Go Round, and Dodge’Em cars swirling in the rides section of the carnival beside the Detroit River made me vow that this Fourth of July would be different! This Fourth of July as we walked around the carnival by the river, ate cotton candy, and rode the rides, I would tell John I liked him. Maybe he would even hold my hand- the ultimate act of love for eleven year olds in the late 1950s.
John and I had spent our childhood being good buddies, growing up a block away from each other. We played long, hot summer afternoon baseball games and twilight games of hide and seek, tag, and statue makers with the neighborhood kids. When would be a good time to tell him I liked him? Could I tell him when he slid head first into first base and I tagged him out?
The Fourth of July carnival that came to our town every year would be the best place to tell him. I dug my favorite pedal pusher and matching top outfit out of the ironing and ironed it. I put new laces in my blue tennis shoes, and put on blue socks so the hole in my right shoe would blend in with the sock. To my anxious eyes, the colors blended and the hole stayed harmlessly under the cover of my right toe.The music from the Merry-Go-Round danced on the wind and floated into my ears. Miss Burr had taught us the song in music class,
“Come Josephine in my flying machine,
Going up she goes! Up she goes!
Balance yourself like a bird on a beam
In the air she goes! There she goes!
….Going up, all on, goodbye!”
Pretending I was a bird on a beam, and balancing myself with both arms, I headed toward the Merry-Go-Round. John and I usually met there. I kept my eye on the horses, especially the one with the brown mane and black and white spots. That’s the one we would ride together after I told him I liked him and he told me he liked me.
Then I saw something a few feet away from the Merry-Go-Round that brought me crashing back down to earth.
A woman with braided brown hair had set up shop in a little cubby hole of a booth. She had a rack golden lockets on slim chains on display and an engraving machine sat on the table in back of her. A single customer stood in front of the woman. “I want it to say, I like you a lot,” he told the woman with braided brown hair. I wanted to jump up and down and dance. I wanted to fly with Josephine in her flying machine as high up as the moon or the sun. The lady with the braided brown hair’s customer was John.
I backed away before he saw me. I flew away. I floated away. “I like you a lot.” John had told the lady to engrave on the locket. I would never forget this Fourth of July! I planned to run over to my best friend Janet’s house and show her the locket as soon as John gave it to me and I needed to get a locket to give to him.
Ducking behind people and dodging a few kids I knew, I sneaked back to the booth. Whew! John was gone, but the lady with the brown braided hair was still there. She smiled when I ordered a locket and she chuckled when I told her that I wanted her to engrave, “I like you a lot,” on it. She engraved the locket for me and when she handed it back, she laughed. “It’s a nice Fourth of July gift,” she said.
I smiled at her and held the locket tightly in my sweaty hand. I had to hurry and meet John. I was already late, but this year he hadn’t named an exact time. He had just said that he might see me at the Merry-Go-Round. I knew he meant more than might. He had gotten me an engraved locket just ten minutes ago, hadn’t he?
John stood in front of the Merry-Go-Round waiting. I switched the locket to my other hand so I wouldn’t tarnish it with my sweat. “John,” I said.
He didn’t hear or see me. He was walking toward a girl wearing Bermuda shorts and a matching blouse and a coordinating kerchief. As she walked toward John I saw that she had on flowered straw sandals and her toenails were painted pink.
“Hi Lisa,” I heard him say to her. “I ‘m glad you came.”
He handed her the locket. “I got this for you.”
She smiled at him and put the locket around her neck. They walked away, holding hands.
I put the locket back in my sweaty hand and I walked away too. Defiantly I rode the Dodge-em-Cars twice and the Merry-Go-Round once. Then, still balancing myself like a bird on the beam, I went to the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel attendant brought a boy and a girl to the seat behind me. It was John and Lisa. I rocked back and forth in the seat by myself. I looked out over the Fourth of July red, white, and blue decorations and the flags waving in the breeze. I saw little ant people lining up to form the Fourth of July Parade.
“Going up all on, goodbye!” I sang as I rode in the Ferris Wheel in front of John and Lisa. My tears blurred the red, white, and blue Fourth of July colors together.
Every Fourth of July since that day long ago, even when I don’t ride the Ferris Wheel, I hold the locket in my hands and sing, “Going up, all on, goodbye!”
My tears still blur the red, white, and blue Fourth of July colors together.