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180924 September 24, 2018


Lee Memories
Escoe German Beatty
LHS ‘65

    I just wanted to make a couple of comments.  First, there are not many memories that I have from those precious years at Lee that do not include Billy Byrom. He was a very much loved and special friend.  Many decades have separated and scattered us all from each other as we have grown up but we can never be robbed of our memories.  It is a wonderful little time capsule that we can visit and remember those exciting and carefree days of our youth.  Each year it gets harder as we loose more of these dear ones.

    Next I wanted to identify (I think) two of CE’s photo and roster of football players.   On the First Row #31 Billy Byrom, Fourth Row #82 Harold Tuck.  I do not know if Jim Mitchell was at Lee and played on this team pictured but it is likely he may be one of the others not named.  Another one not named would have been Lynn Baeder… I’m pretty sure he played football too. I think Number 22 on the first row is Glenn Wallace.  There may be some others from the group that got moved to Butler when I was in the 9th grade.

(Note from Sarajane Steigerwald Tarter : Billy Byrom's wife, Liz, sent a text telling me that they are having a memorial service for Billy on Friday, September 28 at 2pm at the Owens Cross Roads Church of Christ. Please include this information in this Sunday's Traveler.)

One More Madison Country Fair Story
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    I carefully looked at the table full of brown paper sacks illuminated by dozens of bare bulbs hanging from a line. I looked at them intensively, and listened to hear if any one of them called out to me like a siren luring some hapless sailors to the rocks and almost certain death. Actually, it was a barker that called my name, or called me “Hey boy” which made me look up to see if the Chinese sidekick of Palladin from “Have Gun, Will Travel” had just walked up beside me. Seeing that he really was talking to me, I stood a little longer, the barker enticing me to the “Grab Bag” table, and for only twenty-five cents I could find a treasure in one of the bags.  

    I had done this ritual almost every year I had previously attended the fair, and this year I would do it again, but he didn’t know that. I played the hard sell, starting to walk away, then letting him think he had lured me back with another of his far-fetched promises like a fisherman playing with a big bass on the line. It was a slow evening, so I guess he really needed my quarter.

    There on the table before me were dozens of small brown paper sacks that had trinkets of some description inside. Most of them were not worth the twenty-five cents it took to have the privilege of picking one up and opening it to see what was inside. My past luck was so bad, that I did not even remember the previous years’ treasures that I had won. A kid at a county fair is fair game for any barker, and there was always the promise of a first time to really win big. 

    My hand moved over the table, trying to feel the radiation given off by a valuable prize, like a magician trying to levitate a table with his magic. Finally my hand settled onto one of the bags as if it had been guided by a Ouiji Board. I lifted it. It wasn’t too heavy, and my spirit sank a little. But then diamonds are lighter than gold, and they are still treasures. I slowly opened it. What treasure lay inside? When the top was finally opened I gazed inside to find, to my great surprise that night, this really was my lucky night. There really was a treasure inside the bag.

     It was a watch. A wonderful watch with a brown plastic watchband. And it was ticking, it really worked. Now those were the days before dollar store watches, and a time when the old Timex watches would “Take a lickin’ but keep on tickin’”.  Those were the days before a 10-year old boy could afford his own watch, even one with a brown plastic watchband. 

    The watch in the grab bag was not a Timex, and today I do not know what brand it was. It did not matter to me on that crisp fall night. It was a real working, ticking, silver, watch with a brown plastic watchband.  I was just a kid, but I had picked up a bag with a real watch. The barker started yelling, “Hey folks, come see what the kid just won, hurr-ree, hurr-ree, hurr-ree”. A crowd gathered and he prodded me into holding the watch high above my head to entice the others in the crowd to follow my lead and find their own path to fortune. Ah, the wonder of that night at the Madison County Fair.

    I have a vivid memory of the Madison County Fair that is a sensory image of a brisk fall night.  I know there were nights when it was downright chilly and sometime when it was hot, but I put the weather of The Fair into the same category as those of the first football games. The Fair had a look and a feel and a smell that made many lasting sensory impressions.  Where else could you get the wonderful aroma of cotton candy being spun and then turn the corner and a whiff of steaming manure filled your nostrils?  The barkers with their chants and the rides with their magical music were accompanied by the spinning neon and flashing lights that made you bug eyed and ears ring as you walked through the sawdust or straw lined aisles between the booths and the colorful tents. Remember the excitement felt when you were first allowed to go to the Fair, without your parents?

    I can’t recall when I first started going to the Madison County Fair, but I always looked forward to that yearly event.  In the early days, I had about three dollars to spend and would carefully decide where that money would find its best use.  Later, as I got older, I saved my lunch money and upped my pot to five dollars, and I seem to remember having about ten dollars the last time I went, while I was a senior at Lee.  Back in the three-dollar days, games were about 10 cents each, and most of the rides went for 10 or 15 cents, with the newest ones going for 25 cents.  Food was not that expensive either, but the fare of the food of the fair escapes me now. My favorite treat of all was the cotton candy, because that was the only time of the year that I can remember getting it.

    Other things I remember are the prizes you could win.  Of course we all remember how we tried to win Teddy Bears for those early girl friends, but how about the bronze horses with the chains around their necks and the clocks in their stomachs?  Remember how many of them without the clocks ended up as hood ornaments?  Today I wish I had all those 78RPM records that fell prey to the softballs of the prize seeking pitchers. How many thousands of old early Rock-And-Roll records met their fate in that manner? My early favorite games included the pick-up-ducks because you always won something. We all spent money with the throwing rings of one sort or the other. At least two years I went home with a goldfish after I had successfully targeted the fish bowl with a ping-pong ball that bounced almost endlessly until it came to rest floating in one of the small fishbowls.  I think my most favorite game of skill was the little cranes that you had to turn the wheels on the front of the glass case to position them and then let the bucket down and try to pick up the prizes that seemed to be glued to the bottom.  In the midst of the gravel and glue there were cigarette lighters, key chains, whistles, rabbit feet, and little statuettes. The offspring of these mechanical marvels are still around in the pizza parlors and bowling alleys where people try to get stuffed animals out of them, but now they pay one dollar, instead of the 10 cents it used to cost in the brisk September evenings.

    Although they were not considered prizes, there were other things that seemed to only be available at the Fair.  How about the cheap metal costume necklaces and bracelets that you could have engraved with your name and the name of your best guy or gal?  Remember the little double hearts ones? We can never forget the hats that you could also have customized with you name, usually in yellow or red stitches from the magical hands of the lady working the sewing machine as she twisted and turned the hat under the rat-tat-tat chant of the industrial sewing machine.

The Bullet

    But the true magic of the Fair was the rides.  The Bumper Cars, The Bullet, the Tilt-A-Whirl, The Roundup, The Scrambler, and the Ferris Wheel, and all the others that seemed to be that much more violent when you rode them after putting down a hot dog and candy apple.  Bumper cars were great back then.  With the sparks falling from the electric screens at the top of the track and the pounding of the cars as you dared make that turn that put you going the wrong direction and smacked into someone before the voice over the PA could tell you to turn around. I also remember the Caterpillar that was like a roller coaster on a circular track going around in a circle with bumps that bounced you up and down.  The main attraction was a cover, usually of green canvas, that would roll over you as the ride got going and block you off from the safety of the outside world. The Bullet was the biggest challenge of manhood, and it took me several years before I got the nerve to ride it. I remember it being red and white, and the seats were always hard and the thing seemed to be made out of heavy sheet metal with a steel mesh cage that looked like it came off of a NASCAR racer. And what is it that makes a person want to spit from the top of the Ferris Wheel? Tell me.  There was the glass house, where you worked your way through the maze of mirrors and glass.  I remember one night walking head first into a glass wall, thinking it was an open passage, and hitting it hard enough to put a big red bump on my forehead that lasted the rest of the night. And who could forget the thrills of “The Scary House”?  More than one teenager got a fright, and maybe a free feel and a kiss in the darkness of the black lighted-track into the depths of hell. Remember the things that hung from the ceilings that brushed across your head as you went under them?

    We all walked around and looked at the big cloth signs for the “freak shows”.  There were snake pits and dancing girls, and midgets and giants. Oh, they knew how to sucker in us small town hicks. I have to admit that I finally got up enough courage to go into one of the “girly shows” and was red-faced the entire time I was there.  The truth was, I could see more skin at the swimming pool than I did there, only the parts moved differently.

    I remember that the centerpiece of the Madison County Fairgrounds was a wooden grandstand, and I want to remember some type of races that they had there at least once during the fair.  Beneath the grandstand were some of the booths that gave out free yardsticks and other necessities of home life, like calendars, and of course pencils with the companies’ names on them.  Sometimes you could even get one of those pop-open coin purses that you squeezed to open. The agricultural and craft exhibits didn’t mean much to us city folks, but there were always displays of things with big colorful ribbons for first, second, and third place awards that many were proud to take home. 

    I remember it cost something to get in, but with a little maneuvering around the midway to the darker side of the grounds; there were ways in that avoided the required ticket. The great thing about the Fair was that it didn’t matter if you went with a date, or your best friends, it was always fun.  I also remember watching my money as it got closer to zero.  I became picky about what I wanted to do, eat, or see as I neared the end of my bankroll.  Finally, when time or money or both ran out, the night was over.  But the Fair didn’t die in a whisper; it called to you as you walked away and left the shimmering light and the haunting music behind you in the distance.

    Somehow the magic of the fair disappeared as places like Six Flags and Disneyland became permanent, year-round attractions.  Rides and food and attractions got more expensive and were not that rare anymore. When you only got that thrill once a year, you waited for it with great anticipation. It was something special.

        Memphis, TN -  With football and county fair upon us and the summer months just now turning into fall ones, it is hard not to think back upon those nostalgic days of high school activities. I have not been to a county fair for many years. Memphis gave up its traditional fair several years ago and that was when I stopped going here. I think if I ever go to another one, I will seek out a small county near me and make a trek there to see if the same atmosphere is still available or if technology and profiteering has replaced all the wonderful memories I once had of the adventure.