The annual Lions’ Club Carnival always came to Norman in late April.
It was tucked way back in the grotty, southwest corner of Main Street and the railroad tracks, and it must have attracted a million kids every year.
Music and laughter and squeals of glee filled the air, along with the smells of cotton candy and something, undefinable, and really gross. More on that later.
I loved the carnival. And I must have spent at least $900 there between the ages of 9-12.
All in nickels.
You pitched nickels to win incredible glassware that you could give to your Mom to atone for your sins (like having spent $900 at the carnival).
The tiny root beer mugs, about the size of a shot glass, were pretty neat. But winning the super cool goblets was our prime objective.
I took nickel-tossing seriously. I practiced at home the week before the carnival, using goblets I’d won the previous year. And, over the years, I had carefully studied the older guys who won the most prizes.
I had discovered that there were three primary techniques to pitching nickels.
- “Free Throw Guys” acted like they were at the foul line in basketball. They’d aim for the back of the goblet, and hope it would ricochet around the thick glass but stay inside.
- “Layup Guys” reached out as far as they could get away with, nickel resting on two fingers, then they’d gently flip it like an underhand layup.
- “Buckshot Guys” were total gangsters. They’d illegally chuck a whole fistful of nickels at the same time.
The Buckshot Guys almost always got disqualified. And nobody but Garfield Heard had a soft enough touch to win using the Free Throw method.
So I was a committed Underhand Layup Guy. In a good year, I could bring home two or three goblets before I’d blown all my money.
And my Mom would be absolutely thrilled as she tried to jam them into the Special Goblet Cabinet that, oddly, was only used when my best friend Steve and I made our killer root beer floats.
As I mentioned earlier, the sounds from the carnival were happy ones. The smells, not so much.
We always wondered what that particularly awful smell was, and why it got worse toward the end the carnival.
We thought that it must be the bubonic plague, but one year some older guys told us what it really was.
They said the smell came from way back by the converging railroads tracks, where a hobo had been run over a few days earlier by a train.
One guy swore he’d seen the body and that it was still there. The police said they couldn’t move it until after the carnival.
I thought that was the dumbest story I’d ever heard, and I didn’t believe it for a minute.
But you can bet that I told the story to every kid I knew. Because it might have been true.
And, c’mon, how often did a kid get to tell a story about a dead hobo on the railroad tracks?
(From: “Memories of an Okie Boomer; Growing up in Norman in the 60s and 70s”. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.)
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