Back during my childhood years, I attended a small country school from first through the eighth grade. The school was small enough teachers had two grades per classroom (first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seven and eighth).
Every year around the end of February or beginning of March, the CSO (Community School Organization – better known as Parent Teacher Association) would host an indoor carnival in the school gymnasium. For the rural families who attended, it was an evening of games, treats, and a chance to get out and visit before the busyness of spring farm work descended.
I haven’t been able to find much history on school carnivals, other than they’ve been around a long time. They most often serve as a fundraiser for the school for something in particular.
A variety of games and booths were included each year, like the cake walk. Music played and you walked around in a circle on the numbers that had been taped to the floor. When the music stopped, you stood on a number, hoping the person pulling numbers out of a glass jar would pick yours. There were some wonderful bakers in our community and a cake made by them was awesome.
There were ring toss games, a ball toss, and several others to keep the youngsters busy. My husband remembers a dig in the sand game from his school carnival days which entailed digging through a box of sand for poker chips. The color of the chip determined the type of prize. He, admittedly, watched to see which color garnered the best prizes and dug until he found one.
Tickets were sold at the door, just like for a carnival. I think they sold for something like 20 tickets for $5. Each game required a different number of tickets to play. The cakewalk seems like it took five.
My favorite game at the carnival was the fish pond. Sheets were hung on a rope, making an enclosed area. The students lined up on the outside of it with a “fishing pole,” which was usually a dowel or old broom handle with a piece of yarn attached to it. A clothespin dangled from the end of the string. After surrendering the appropriate number of tickets to play, you lifted up the pole and dropped the end behind the curtain, waiting with great anticipation of what treasure you’d “catch.” There were usually three parents helping with the booth. One who took the tickets and helped get the line over the curtain. One who stood at the side of the curtain and whispered which child was in line. And then the person who chose the prize and attached it to the line.
People donated items and funds for the carnival, and the fish pond seemed to have an assortment of treasures and junk. Unlike the other games, the fish pond guaranteed a prize. And depending on which parent was helping behind the curtain, sometimes the prizes were so perfect for the child. It was fun because you had no idea what you’d get, but you knew you’d have something unexpected when you felt the tug on the string and pulled the line back over the curtain.
The winter I was eleven, my mom helped organize the carnival. I’d buzzed around the gym with my best friend, playing various games and spending way too many tickets at the cake walk (where she won a cake!), before I wandered over to the fish pond.
I should probably explain that anyone who even remotely knew me knew I liked pretty, girly things even though I was a farm girl who loved (and still loves) all things John Deere.
So I handed over the required tickets, lifted the pole and anxiously waited to see what treasure I’d receive. When the line gently tugged, the parent standing beside me carefully lifted it up over the curtain. A wrinkled brown paper sack hung from the clothespin.
“Be careful,” she warned as I unfastened the pin and opened the sack.
Inside was a little porcelain statue.
My childish heart pitter-pattered in excitement. I loved it! It was pretty, and pink, and so, so perfect for me.
Who cared about my friend’s silly cake when I held in my hands something so girly and sweet!
At the time, it didn’t register in my head when I saw my mom step out from behind the fish pond booth a few minutes later. But I know she was the one who chose that special little gift for me, knowing how much it would delight me.
I discovered the statue wasn’t a statue at all, but part of a salt and pepper set produced by Enesco in the 1950s. The pattern is Prayer Lady. There were numerous pieces produced in a variety of styles, from a tea pot and soap dish to a canister set. They also produced them in a blue color scheme.
But none of that mattered to me. What mattered was that someone I loved made sure I received something I loved.
My little prayer lady sits on a shelf by my kitchen sink and every time I look at it, I think of that carnival and my mom, and it warms my heart all over again.
Do you have any fun or special school memories?
Did your school put on a carnival?
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