When The Lions Roared

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THIS AD for the Lexington Lions Club Carnival appeared in the Sept. 9, 1981, edition of The News-Gazette.

Pop Goes The World Joann Ware

I never liked going back to school when I was growing up. School meant an end to readi ng the books I wanted to read, daydreaming about the stories I would someday write and staying up past my bedtime. But one thing that made a new school year bearable was that in early September, the Lions Club Carnival would make its return on top of the hill across from the Farmers Co-op.

This was the one fun thing we had to look forward to when September put an end to summer fun. The pools closed after Labor Day and all the other carnivals in the community had taken place in the spring and mid-summer.

The Lions Carnival was like Christmas for me. I remember visiting my grandmother’s sister who lived in an area that overlooked the fairgrounds. Seeing the carnival come together from the picture window in her living room was so exciting. And I could report to the kids at school what rides were being assembled. Even though they were the same rides every year – the swings, a carousel, a ferris wheel – it was nice to have confirmation that the favorites would be there to ride many, many times.

Ascending the graveled hill to the carnival grounds seemed to take forever, especially since I had to stay with my mother, who walked very slowly. I didn’t want the fun to run out before we got there.

“Come on in and fool me a win!” a man bellowed into a microphone. He was always there at the entrance, a man with sandy colored hair and a matching mustache. He would guess your weight, your age or your name. If he guessed wrong, then you won a prize. I can’t remember what all the prizes were; mostly I recall the roach clips, which we used as hair accessories. As kids we were completely ignorant about their real purpose.

When I was 5 years old, I was determined to leave the carnival with a goldfish. To win a goldfish, you had to throw a ping pong ball into a tiny goldfish bowl with the golden prize swimming inside. This seemed so easy for the older kids, who would leave the carnival with multiple bags of new pets.

At 5, my hand-eye coordination needed work and I missed time and time again. Eventually the man running the booth saw my frustration – and probably felt guilty for taking so many dimes from me – that he said, “We have a winner!” And he handed me a fish. I felt like I had won the showcase showdown on “The Price is Right.” And it was silver, not gold.

My mother would spend the entire evening park on a bench under the Bingo tent. Only the game wasn’t called Bingo. No, Bingo was gambling. At the Lions Carnival it was called LIONS. Kernels of corn were used to cover the called letters.

I have always been afraid of heights, so the ferris wheel was not something I immediately ran to at the carnival. I think my friend Frances finally convinced me that there was little chance I’d fall to my death when I reached the top. It would take someone with super strength to push me from the seat and she wasn’t that strong and she would never put me in danger.

I don’t know when the Lions Club officially ceased putting on the carnival. I went through early 1980s editions of The News-Gazette looking for ads for the carnival. The last one I found was from 1981. I was in my first year at Lylburn Downing School at that time and I remember all the kids in Miss Thompson’s homeroom talking about going to the carnival like taking a trip to Disney World.

Sometime in the early ‘80s, the ferris wheel did not rise. The fool-me-a-win guy was silenced. The Bingo tent that wasn’t a Bingo tent was not pitched.

My mother told me that the club members had gotten too old to run the carnival. It wasn’t coming back, ever.

I drive by the place where the carnival was held almost every day. I look at the hill to the former fairgrounds. It’s now paved. A subdivision had been planned there, but never came to fruition. I have daydreamed about winning the lottery, building a cancer research center on that hill and naming it for my mother, who battled that horrible disease.

It appears that Habitat for Humanity is going to buy the former Scott-McCoy Park, the place where the Lions Carnival once roared.

When volunteers break ground on the first house, there’s no telling how many goldfish skeletons and rusty remnants of roach clips they will find.

The News-Gazette

The News-Gazette Corp.
P.O. Box 1153
Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

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