After the county fairs, there are the regional fairs followed by state fairs. I truly loved the Arkansas/Oklahoma fair which did run for a full week. There were of course the exhibits I loved, a wonderful midway with games, rides and fair food and music. Each night featured a different musical event. One year a friend and I bought full pass tickets for every night. It nearly killed us. Not only did we work all day, but went to the full fair every night. Each night we did a different exhibit hall, hit the midway for a different fair food experience, then headed to our third row seats for the music. Country, rock, pop, gospel, it was all there. By Saturday night, I was so tired of fairs!
That brings us to the STATE FAIR. The smack daddy of Arkansas fairs is held in Little Rock, the state capital. For a small town girl, this was the big time! When I was a teenager, my best friend (who lived in another itty bitty town) and I would meet in Little Rock for a long weekend at the fair. I would board a bus at Daddy’s drug store, she would hop on a bus in her town and family friends would pick us up and more or less keep an eye on us. Their house was our home base even though all we did was sleep there. In the morning we were dropped of at the gates when they opened and at night picked up there when they closed. Now, you must remember this was a loooonnnnngggggg time ago. A much simpler more trusting time. I think that now our parents would be thrown under the jail for allowing two teenage girls to ride a bus that far alone, not to mention allowing us to spend an entire day alone, unchaperoned, unsupervised and among heaven knows what kind of weirdos.
In 1964 Elvis Presley had a movie, Roustabout, where he play a “carnie”. This made carnies intriguing and romantic, or at least they were to a couple of teenage girls. I remember them all as young, well built and cute. When I close my eyes I still see blue eyes in a tanned face, hair just long enough to be rebellious and killer smiles. Not a toothless, creepy old man among them. We batted our eyes, giggled and practiced our flirting skills. Sure enough, we were almost always rewarded with a smile, wink and an extra long ride. Now, we did have enough sense to not try this at any games, these guys were out for our money. No, we left the games to the boys. Where did we get boys? The livestock barns of course.
Imagine all these small town, 4-H country boys in the big city for the fair. There was only so much grooming and showing of livestock they could do in a day. Usually there was a father or big brother along because they were small town, 4-H country boys in the big city. While we did go to look at the beautiful cows and huge pigs, fluffy sheep and goofy goats, we also went to look at the cute boys. And practice our flirting skills. It was a rare trip through a barn that did not result in at least one father telling his flirting back son, “Here, take the girls for a ride or win them a teddy bear.” Off we went and being young and healthy country boys, we usually got a stuffed animal or two.
One year, my friend (oh, let’s call her Jana) and I figured out that if we were so successful at the fair with just our natural beauty and wit, how much more so if we were foreign! Bear in mind, this was in the 60s and the height of the British invasion. We knew all the British slang and had perfected the ultimately cool Cockney accent. Now I don’t really remember who thought up this great idea or whether it just happened, but for an entire day we were no longer from Mulberry or Aubrey, Arkansas, we were worldly British citizens. Who knew, maybe we were actually friends with the Beatles or Dave Clark Five. People stared with amazement at the two young women from London who had come to the fair; how brave they were to come all this way for the fair! We got even more long rides, extra cotton candy, bigger corn dogs. 4-H boys fought for the privilege of escorting such rare birds (Cockney slag for girls you know) to the midway. Well, that is how it appeared to us anyway. Hind sight does tell me otherwise and I’m pretty sure my hillbilly accent diluted the Cockney. But let me tell you, it was FUN and even today makes me laugh.
The State Fair also had the best sideshows. We saw fire eaters, sword swollowers, elastic men, and bearded women. Somehow we even got in to see Little Jessie Jane And Her Chest Full Of 44s (they didn’t check ages back then). There was Pop-Eye who you guessed it, could pop his EYEBALLS OUT! So cool! But the very, very, very best was the gorilla girl. Yes, a girl who was also a gorilla! How could anyone resist? One year we had a third fair goer, let’s call her Arbutus, just to protect me. She was as eager to see the gorilla girl as we were. For those of you who have never seen this amazing show, let me tell you how it went.
You went into a good sized tent which had a stage with a big iron cage. In the cage was a beautiful young woman wearing a leopard bathing suit. Her hair was wild and she looked deranged and dangerous. Her handler (a man in safari garb) told us how he had found her in the deep dark jungle where she had been held captive by an insane witch doctor. He could put her into a trance and she would turn into a gorilla RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES! Yes! We want to see that! A few words of mumbo jumbo then the girl closed her eyes started murmuring, Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla. And suddenly, SHE WAS A GORILLA! She rattled the cage, it sprang open, she jumped into the crowd, and we ran! Oh the excitement, oh the thrill. Worth every penny.
End of the story? Hardly. Sooner or later, all good things must come to an end and it was back home and back to school. Now Arbutus had a very good imagination and she had been really impressed with gorilla girl. One day she was in a class which was very, very boring and since she sat at one of the back tables, she decided to see if she could turn into a gorilla. I’m not sure if she did the mumbo jumbo (I never asked), but she did close her eyes and mummer, Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla. Maybe she didn’t mummer as softly as she should have, because her teacher heard her and went back to see what was going on. Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla. ” Arbutus!” he said, “Arbutus!” No response. Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla,Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla, Gorilla. “ARBUTUS!” he finally shouted, fear in his voice. “Oh, my God!” screamed Arbutus, “I’ve turned into a gorilla!”
I don’t know if the other students ran screaming from the class room, but parents were called.