Last week, the carnival arrived in Lake Mills for the annual Town and Country Days festival. I haven’t gone to the festival much in the last few years, even though it’s put up across the street from where I live. There isn’t a draw for me since 1. I’m a bit too old for a carnival, and 2. I have no need to go to the beer tent. This was not the case when I was growing up.
As a kid, the fair was one of the highlights of the summer. My parents would take my siblings and I to the park where we’d spend hours enjoying the festival. Every year, we’d scope out the best spot for the Saturday morning parade and dine on sliders and sno-cones.
While most elementary school-age children were there for the rides, I was all about the games. This was mostly due to the fact I hated heights and most of the rides involved an element of elevation. I would play pick-a-duck and skeeball, pop balloons with darts and use a water pistol to shoot a target; and I would even attempt to toss a pingpong ball into a small fish bowl to win the ultimate prize – a goldfish that would maybe live a week.
But my favorite carnival game was the clown knockout. Rows of clown heads made of fabric and stuffed with sand would be lined up along the back of the booth and people would use softballs to knock back the clowns; three softballs for a $1 if I remember correctly.
The summer between third and fourth grades I had my eye on a big prize at the clown knock-down game, a 12-inch Chucky doll with a plastic head and stuffing-filled body from the “Child’s Play” film franchise. Chucky’s face was twisted into an angry snarl, and he was wearing the signature Good Guy overalls. As a child with an affinity for horror films, I knew I needed that doll.
Because I was still a child, the game operator allowed me to sit on the top rail of the booth, which shortened the distance between me and the clowns. I would slap down a few singles and start throwing the softballs with decent accuracy. And by decent, I mean for every 10 balls thrown, I probably knocked down nine clowns. I credit this to the fact I was playing softball during the summer.
For three days I kept trading up my prizes, becoming a familiar face to the booth operator. The Chucky doll wasn’t the top prize, but it wasn’t the low-level framed pictures, T-shirts or Kewpie dolls.
Finally, during the early Saturday evening, I won the doll. I can’t imagine how much money I spent to get the coveted prize, though it probably would have been cheaper to buy a Chucky than win it.
After getting a taste of victory, I aimed to win a larger Chucky. At that point, the game operator told me I wouldn’t be able to sit on the ledge of the booth anymore if I was going to play. My 8-year-old arm wasn’t able to get enough power behind it to knock down the clowns from a longer distance. The game had defeated me. But I still came away with a big prize I was proud of.
And unlike most of the prizes from carnivals, I actually still have the doll. It’s put away in a cardboard box with a few other childhood treasures.