A Little Girl at the Texas State Fair

By Karen Brode

I felt so  happy when I woke and heard Mother in the kitchen frying chicken for us to take to the fair. I had been counting the days until it was time to go. Everyone had told me I went to the fair when I was a little baby, but I didn’t remember it. Now, I was four years old! It sounded like a magical place I might’ve heard about in one of my books. My mother had told me about the big man at the fair who hollered welcome to everybody. Big Tex was his name. I couldn’t wait to see him.

We had a picnic basket with a tablecloth. Mother had redeemed her green stamps from the grocery store to buy it. I loved going to the S & H Greenstamp store because they didn’t take money, only stamps.

John sleepily made his way down the hall when I went to the kitchen. He rubbed his eyes, and his hair was tousled from sleep.

After he went to the bathroom, he came into the kitchen and said, “Momma, I’m too tired to go to the fair.”

She looked up with a worried look on her face and told him to go tell his daddy that.  He looked around nervously before saying he had changed his mind.

After breakfast, I went into my parents’ bedroom where Dad was still in bed. He had the Sunday paper with him and I climbed in next to him. He snuggled his arm around me and I asked him to read the comics to me. He read Dagwood and Snoopy and Beetle Bailey. I could pick up some of the words. I tried to memorize what some of them looked like as he pointed to them. He got more and more excited that I might be able to read as we went through each one.

Finally, Daddy asked, “Are you ready to go to the fair?”

As I bounded out of the bed, I screamed “Yes!” and ran to my room to put on the clothes Momma had laid out for me.

John sat in the kitchen looking sick. He never looked good first thing in the morning and it took him a long time to wake up since he stayed out so late at night.

Mother packed the picnic basket and Daddy carried it to the car. He sat in the car for awhile, and then came back up on the porch.

“Are we going today or tomorrow?” he asked.

We all hurried out the front door and climbed into the car.  John and I sat in the back seat with the picnic basket. Mother had put a quilt and pillow back there. John immediately laid his head on the pillow, but as we pulled away from the house, Daddy glanced in the rearview mirror and said, “I guess he stayed out all night and can’t wake up now.”

Without another word, John popped up from the pillow and sat upright.

I was too excited to think about anything else but the fair as we drove through the towns on the way to Dallas.  “Are we almost there?” I asked as I bounced up and down on the seat.

John grabbed my arm and made me hit myself in the face.  I laughed because this always started out as a game and it made John laugh too.  As the game progressed, he made me hit myself harder and harder. When I wanted to stop he kept doing it.

“Why are you hitting yourself,” he asked. “What is wrong with you?” He laughed. I laughed, too, but cried at the same time.

“You kids settle down back there,” Mother said as she looked at the map. She still wanted to think that we were playing, that everything was a game, something fun that we both enjoyed. After that, I sat as far away from John as I could and watched him warily.

Dad pulled into a gas station and announced, “I need to put some gas in the jalopy.”The bell rang to announce our presence.

“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty, and go wash the windshield,” he said to John. “Surely you can do that.”

John made a face at our father behind his back but he opened the door to go get something to wash the windshield. He was angry and he slopped the water around.

When we all got back in the car, Daddy slammed his fist down on the steering wheel, and said, “You can’t even clean the windshield!  Do I have to do everything? Look at those streaks!”

John sank down into his seat as if he wanted to disappear.

Daddy got out and rewashed the windshield before getting back into the car and saying, “I don’t know why you think you can just halfway do things, Jughead! Do you think you’ll keep a job that way? I don’t know what is ever going to happen to you!”

“Albert, let’s just have a nice day at the fair.” Momma said.

“Oh, he’s just like your family. He acts like a Morrison through and through.”

Momma stared out the window and we traveled on in silence.

As we pulled into the parking lot at the fair,  I forgot about the things Daddy said about John and started bouncing on my seat again, anticipating the fun we would have.  Momma turned to me and said, “You stay with me! Don’t let go of my hand!”

Then, Daddy unloaded the picnic basket and Mother spread the tablecloth over the trunk of the car. There was a thermos of lemonade and some paper cups. It was a great picnic, but all I could think of was the fair.

“Here, I know you like chicken legs,” Momma said as she handed me a crispy fried leg. I nibbled some of the breading off it, and then laid the chicken leg on my plate. Daddy and John were eating chicken and drinking lemonade on opposite sides of the car. Mother looked at them, and hung her head.  I looked at John who  was now leaning against the car with his arms crossed looking longingly at the midway.

“Take off, Jughead, and meet us back here in a few hours,” Dad said to John.

My brother bounded off to enjoy the fair on his own. Mother took one of my hands and Daddy took the other one as we started down the midway.  There was so much to see and do.  There was noise and music and people everywhere. I watched as people were whirled around and turned upside down on rides.  Everyone was laughing and screaming.

Mother took me to The Calliope where she stood by me after she lifted me onto one of the horses. The horse went up and down as we went round and round. My Dad stood in the crowd smoking a cigarette and every time we came around, Mother told me to wave to him.

Too soon, it was late afternoon and time to go back to the car.  When we got to the car, John wasn’t there. I could feel Momma’s heart lurch as she turned to look back at the fair.

“That lazy boy,” my father spewed. “I told him what time to be here!  Where in the hell is he?”

Mother sat down wearily in the front seat but left the door open. Daddy leaned on the front of the car with his arms crossed watching for John. I got into the back seat and sat quietly.

Daddy came to the window of the car door and said, “I guess I’ve got to go look for the sorry excuse for a son.”

Mother just sat staring straight ahead. I knew she was either going to yell or cry soon.  I stayed quiet.

Just then, John came toward the car. He stopped when he saw Daddy standing there. Then, he continued on toward the car.

“Did you finally decide to join us,” Daddy asked. “I should have left you here!”

John got into the back seat and hung his head. I saw that Momma was crying in the front seat.

Daddy got behind the wheel and noticed that Momma was crying. “Oh, that is just what he wants, Hazel. Cry and feel sorry for your lazy, no-good son. If you don’t stop coddling him, he will end up in prison! Is that what you want? You’ve always let him get away with things, and if it wasn’t for me, he’d probably be in reform school already.  When was the last time he got himself up and went to school? What is going to happen to your little boy, Hazel?”

Momma kept her window down on the way home and she watched out the window as if she would find the answer out there somewhere on the highway. Daddy had his arm out his window as he flicked his cigarette into the night. John sat quietly on the opposite side of the back seat.

When we arrived home, John got out of the car and ran to the house. He went to his room

and closed the door.

Daddy watched him, and said, “Well, he doesn’t have to help me with anything, does he? It must be nice to be Hazel’s little boy.” He lugged the picnic basket into the house and Mother and I followed.

“You need to get to bed,” said Momma. “It’s way past your bedtime.” She slipped off my sandals.

“Can I sleep in what I have on,” I asked. “I’m too tired to put my pajamas on.”

“Okay,” she answered.

After I lay down in my bed, I heard her tiptoe down the hall, and listen outside John’s bedroom door. She knocked softly, but there was no answer. She hesitated, and then went back down the hall to her bedroom.

_________________________________

Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

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