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A Writing Exercise: The Day the Carnival Came to Digby

[This past weekend our church hosted a writers' workshop with writer Suzanne Rhodes (formerly Suzanne Clark). It was a extremely fruitful time for the eight of us gathered. Suzanne treated us to a full palette of writing tips, sprinkling her talk with quotes, poems, resources, and more. During lunch she gave us 90 minutes to write something on the spot, choosing from a number of exercises she offered. I chose an exercise that invited me to tell a story from the perspective of someone sitting on a house's front porch. Other's wrote poems, personal narratives, and dialogues. They were all quite good, as I found out when we read our offerings to each other and discussed them. It was an encouraging time. We plan to meet once a month to encourage our writing, the second Monday of each month at 7:30. For more information, contact me. For now, here's a mostly unedited version of what I wrote that day.]

Roller_coatserThe Day the Carnival Came to Digby

That October, 1948 I believe, the carnival came to Digby. My little brother John and I ran barefoot through the meadow that lay beside my house to watch the Southern Railway train roar over the tracks, it's clickety-clack a kind of invitation for me. All manner of machines protruded from the box-cars --- the red and blue of a ferris wheel, the painted horses of the carousal, and other mysterious parts and pieces, all grand and hopeful and just a little bit dangerous, you know.

John and I were speechless --- just standing in the grass watching the train until the red caboose disappeared around the bend, the engineer waving to us as the train vanished from sight. I knew we couldn't go to the fair. My Daddy said there was gambling there and Christian folk didn't go and besides it cost good money and we weren't going to throw away hard-earned money on something we couldn't eat or wear. And yet I knew I'd waste every cent I had on the fair if I could, go without food for days if need be, if only I could go.

A few days later it was on this very porch that John and I were sitting, legs draped over the edge, swinging, sucking on a piece of grass, just waiting for something to happen I guess. That maple tree that stands over there was in full color, leaves of orange and red and yellow, and the air was cool and gentle. We were just sitting there, and then I heard, "Come on, get in the truck." I looked over my shoulder and my Daddy was standing in the front door way, his bib overalls on and hat in hand, my mother in her cotton dress beside him. But my feet were already in mid-air, John and I racing for the truck, whooping and hollering and jumping in that Ford flatbed, ready for something, anything, and yet we didn't dare ask where we were going. My Daddy was a man who believed in the economy of language, spending words like he spent money: rarely, and with great care. It woudn't do to ask him where we were going, just wouldn't do.

As Daddy drove down Oak Street, John and I were watching what we were leaving: the dirt road behind, the clouds of dust, the simple frame house that lined the street, that no-good Jacob Woodrow on his porch, rocking, the Nelson kids hollering out to us as they ran behind the truck. We turned onto the blacktop of Highway 24, past Drucker's store, the filling station, and on to the edge of town. I remember turning to John, his eyes wide with expectation. We were afraid to speak, afraid that if we said its name its possibility might just evaporate, that we really might not be going to the county fair.

And yet as we pulled into the meadow parking area off Highway 24, I saw that we were. The smells of hay and animals mixed with hot dogs and cotton candy filled me. There were the red and blue seats of the ferris wheel, spokes lit with what seemed a thousand lights. And the carousal with its hurdy-gurdy music. And the roller-coaster, something I had only heard about but never seen.

We walked the aisles and marveled at the sounds and smells and sights --- the screams from the roller coaster, the carnies hawking their games on the midway, the swings twirling round and round. John and I rode all the rides, all except the roller coaster, my Daddy paying with nickels and dimes without question, watching John and I go round, a slight smile on his face.

Near the end, after sunset, we stood before a kind of coaster called the Monster Mouse, little red and orange cars making their way over a cicuitous track, seemingly leaving the tracks at curves before sharply veering back on course. Arms crossed, head motionless, my Daddy watched the cars for a long time as they made their way up and down and around the track, following them with his eyes. And then he said, "Come on." My Daddy took me on the Monster mouse that day, the best and scariest ride at the fair. As we jerked to a start, he gripped the sides of the car, sliding lower and lower in the car as we went. (My Momma said later that all she could see of him was the white hair atop his head.)

When we stopped, Daddy slowly got out of the car, staggering a bit to the ground. I remember now -- he just lay down face down to the grass. After a couple minutes he slowly rose to his feet, said "Come on," and we went home, him like a converted gambler, sober once again.