“The carnival’s in town!”
“When are they leaving?”
It was not your usual response, but carnival for me was not about rides or games… it was about scanning grassy fields for lost coins after the crowd was gone. That’s why Daddy’s answer surprised me.
“Let’s go check it out.”
Now? Go to the carnival? Suddenly the lighted Ferris wheel transforming the edge of town had new intrigue. The closer we got, the more intense the symphony to our senses. Carousel music rose and fell, tiny multicolored lights blurred around the tilt-a-whirl, and the clink of rings against coke bottles sang out. Sweet scents of popcorn and cotton candy made our feet move faster.
“There,” I said, pointing. “Daddy, can we go there?”
He seemed surprised but agreed to ‘go watch’ the roulette wheel.
“Try your luck. Red, white, black.” A man pulled a stick that looked like the back of a rake across numbered squares edging the table. A little white ball bounced from number to number on the twirling wheel. Daddy only raised his eyebrows at my longing look, drew his hand from a pocket and silently offered me a quarter.
Twenty-five cents was a lot of money in 1950. Especially to a girl who had just learned that adding a one-cent tootsie-roll to the grocery bill without asking was considered stealing. Remembering the incident, I imagined how much candy I could buy with a quarter, but the chant “double your money” rapidly overcame the sweet temptation.
My father, leaning against a post, only shrugged his shoulders when I glanced at him and the quarter in my hand soon found its way to a square.
The wheel –– and my stomach –– spun wildly. What had I done! I’d risked the entire quarter. Oh, I was a fool. But, wait, I won!
I bet again, and again, caught up in the excitement of winning; forgetting the risk. Daddy watched, neither congratulating nor condemning. As the winnings grew, I counted: $1.00, $1.50, $2.00. His silent “it’s-your-choice” nonchalance left me to choose between instinct and audience. Heady from the cheers, I kept betting, until $5.00 lay before me! Then, one more spin.
You guessed it. In a flash, the stick dragged away my entire winnings.
Gone. It was all gone.
Stunned, I looked to Dad who again shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “That’s the way it goes.” Surely he did not understand what had just occurred.
“Daddy!” I cried, amusing the other men. “I lost FIVE DOLLARS!”
“No you didn’t.”
Wasn’t he watching? Didn’t he hear the crowd gasp with me? I opened my mouth to refute his strange argument when he finished: “You’ve lost a quarter…but you gained something too.”
“I won?” “But I didn’t win,” I tearfully emphasized, “I lost…five dollars.”
“No,” he calmly repeated, bending so we were eye-to-eye. “You started with a quarter, and you lost a quarter. As soon as you put the money on the table it was not your money. When you left it there, it was their money.”
Whoa. I’d given the money away before I lost it?
“But… you said I won.”
“Gained,” he repeated gently. “You gained a very grown-up understanding of how it feels to be greedy.”
My pouty and emphatic response, “Well, I don’t much like it!” drew chuckles from knowing customers around the wheel.
Dad offered his hand, and I silently accepted, glad to leave the experience behind.
Days later, my sister Marlene and I went to the empty field looking for lost coins. I pondered my handful, wondering if adults realized how much they gave away. Were they like me, unwilling to stop because of wanting more?
If there was a next time, I determined, I would first decide how much I wanted to give away and always keep the part I won.
Recently, Marlene, not knowing this story, brought me to a casino as a birthday gift. My stomach clenched in memory. For her sake I tried two machines; each promptly “swallowed” my dollar. Not wanting to reject her gift, I told her it would be more fun if she would demonstrate her favorite game, and she eagerly led me to “Flaming 7s” complete with stick controllers.
Honestly, I was having fun watching her scores rise… until I spotted the amounts of her investment and winnings and realized she was playing with ten dollars at a time! It must have been instinct to not relive my past… I only know it shocked us both when my hand reached out and slammed the cash-out button.
Her eyes grew wide and I took a step back, thinking she was going to deck me. “Wait,” I pleaded, quickly telling my story, and she sighed, “Well, it is your birthday. If that’s fun to you, go for it.”
It was hilarious fun startling her by cashing out every few minutes.
Hours later we’d garnered and redeemed a stack of coupons, winning more than double her investment. “Happy Birthday,” she crowed, shoving some bills in my hand, “and thanks – that was a pretty valuable lesson for only twenty-five cents!”
Happy Father’s day, Daddy. Thanks for the memories. (For more, just search “Daddy” on the blog).
How about you? Got any lessons from your Daddy?