Disclaimer: My blog is usually about bees, flowers, and gardening. This winter I decided to write a series of posts for my Left Field collection. I’ve covered everything from My Near Miss with an Exorcism to Why I Hate Christmas Music. If you only want to read about gardens and beekeeping, please check back in the spring or browse through some of my older posts. Today’s post is being written by request of my social media friends.
Growing up in rural Kentucky, my childhood was filled with colorful phrases that country folk like to say. If someone was going through a difficult time in his life, you would say “He has a hard row to hoe.” If a person was sick, they were “afflicted.” If a person had too much to drink, too many drugs, or was all around acting crazy, they were “blammed up.” If someone was very naïve about the way the world works, you would say that person “just fell of the turnip truck.” As people age, they reflect upon their lives. Are there patterns that emerge? Is there a common theme to the events of one’s life? What I discovered after a great deal of introspection is that most of my life has been spent learning how the world works. In most situations, I am the person who just fell off the turnip truck. One of those turnip truck moments happened all the way back in 1984.
To understand this story, you need to understand what life was like in Boone County, Kentucky in 1984. Most of the county including where I lived was still very rural. My two older male cousins lived next door and they along with my older brother were my playmates all summer long. The four of us did everything together. My entire childhood was spent trying to keep up with those boys. We were like a pack of feral dogs in the summer doing everything outside until mom came to the back door and blew a coach’s whistle, which meant it was time to go home. The only break in my feral summer lifestyle came on Sunday mornings, when I was forced to put on a dress and impersonate a proper young lady while I was at church.
Al Gore had not yet invented the internet in 1984, and nobody had cell phones. During summer recess, you had no contact with your friends from school. The county fair, which was held two weeks before the start of school, was the first chance we had all summer to see many of our schoolmates who lived in other parts of the county. Our fair was huge and considered one of the best in the state.
The fairgrounds could be divided into two distinct sections. The first was the area where the exhibition barns and horse show rings were located. The adults liked to hang out in this area eating corn dogs and blackberry jam cake baked by the Methodist church. The second area was the midway, which was filled with carnival games and rides. The midway was put on by a traveling carnival company, and all the kids hung out in this part of the fair even though all the carnival staff looked like they just stepped out of an episode of America’s Most Wanted.
One hot August evening my oldest cousin, who I will call Oscar for the purpose of this blog, and I were trolling the midway. I was 11 years old, and the only reason my parents would have allowed their baby girl to walk the midway was because I was with Oscar. I’m sure that my brother and our other cousin were off looking at tractors or fire trucks, which is why Oscar and I were together rather than our usual foursome. One of the most popular movies of 1984 was Splash starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. The movie was about a romance between a human (Hanks) and a mermaid (Hannah). Mermaids were all the buzz in the summer of 1984.
Oscar and I noticed that one of the special midway attractions was to see a live mermaid. This attraction had its own special trailer, and you had to purchase a ticket to be allowed inside to see the live mermaid. Oscar and I looked at the painted trailer and puzzled about how they could get a live mermaid into that trailer. We knew there had to be some sort of trick. I thought that maybe there was a tank inside with a person in a mermaid suit. We stared at the sign some more. The general admission ticket wouldn’t allow you into this attraction. You had to pay $2 extra to see the live mermaid. In 1984, $2 would buy you one medium Slush Puppy drink and 6 rounds of Asteroid at the corner store, so that was a big investment.
We decided to buy the tickets and see the mermaid. We walked up a winding ramp and were allowed inside the trailer where we were led to a wall with a window shaped like a fishbowl. The fishbowl was actually a lens. Behind the lens was a woman dressed in a mermaid suit sitting in a rocking chair and reading a newspaper. The lens shrunk the image of the mermaid so that it appeared that she was inside the fishbowl. We had been tricked. Oscar and I realized that we would never get our $2 back. Oscar looked at me frustrated and angry. Then in an act of righteous indignation, Oscar stuck his tongue out at the mermaid. We both stared in the fishbowl to see how the mermaid would respond. She then extended her middle finger and proceeded to shoot us the bird. I grew up in a house where we prayed before dinner and curse words were never uttered, so an adult shooting the finger to us kids was pretty shocking. We ran away and proceeded to tell everyone about the scandalous mermaid with more zeal than John the Baptist proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
In that moment, my 11-year-old self embodied someone who had just fallen off the turnip truck. What was the life lesson to be learned here? What was “the turnip truth?” The lesson I learned that day is that someone is always out to find a way to separate you from your money. The mermaid attraction provided 60 seconds of entertainment. Six rounds of video games at the corner store would have lasted 20-30 minutes. I chose poorly. Then again, maybe I didn’t choose poorly. What I got out of my $2 ticket was a really good story and a really good memory with my cousin.