The County Fair and the Radio

It was a testament to
my love of music

(In fact, I sit stunned
at how much of my life
has had music at the core of it)

I cannot play
but I can listen
as if my soul depends upon it

and maybe it does)

* * *

I needed money
(a few bucks)
I needed Coke bottle caps
(ones with a little radio printed underside)

It took a child's eternity but

I saved the nickels dimes quarters
in a Budd's Sweet Perfecto cigar box

I saved the bottle caps
in a used brown paper lunch bag

until I had enough
to send off for the

My very first, very own

I double tripled checked
to make sure I had it right
then mailed off for it

I waited and waited
so long, so long
I forgot to ask everyday
Did it come?

I can still remember
(and even re-feel)
the scalp-to-sole cool tingle
when I walked into the kitchen and saw
the Package

The radio was beautiful as a thing

(two-toned turquoise and white with silver trim)

and even more beautiful for what it meant

(a little walking-around music machine,
transistors juiced to pump rock 'n' roll
directly to my
rock 'n' roll brain veins)

The most beautiful thing in my world

* * *

For a week every September the
Five County Fair
appeared, as if by sleight of hand,
just outside our town

On Wednesday afternoons
kids would get free tickets
and out of school early
to seek out the magic

The feel of warm rising dust and dirt, mashed grass underfoot
the cotton candy smell almost filling your mouth ten feet away
the sights jerking your eyes left right center left right center
the sounds vying unrepentedly for your notice

I rode the Rides

Ferris wheel
whirling teacup
the Bullet
(well, not the Bullet, but I enjoyed the spectacle around it:
the squeals, the staggering riders getting off, the wet circles on the ground from emptied stomachs)

I visited the Side Shows

Come see the Live Mermaid
(not even a good mannequin)

Come see the Death-Defying Motorcyle Rider
(parallel-to-the-ground, round and round in a cage, ear jarring)

Come see the Hoochie Coochie Dancers
(much, much later for me, but even the clothed parade out front was exciting)

I went into the Big Canvas Tents

(cows, pigs, sheep, all with their smells filling every cubic inch)

(cans, jars, raw; watermelons, pickles, tomatoes, beans, all lined up in clean rows)

(adorned with red, blue, pink, white strips of cloth or the I'm-so-sorry ribbonless)

(scouts, hospital auxiliary, home demonstration club, junior chamber of commerce, cooperative extension)

I saw every inch of the fair
even behind the tents
since little kids are humankind's most wondrous explorers

It used all of my senses and fed me like a wonderful meal

* * *

That year my mother's club had a booth
near the front of the exhibit tent
with signs and symbols and things to make the point

I don't remember why but their display needed a radio that year
and Mom borrowed mine
under solemn vow to return it

But vows, solemn or otherwise,
should never been taken as for sure
only as intentions
and intentions are forever held sway by the unforeseen

Later that week, after school,
she told me my radio had been stolen

As I listened I focused on the
single tear
rolling down her cheek
And I said it's okay

When our family went to the fair on Saturday,
for me the sights and sounds were gone, faded
the thrills buried in the night

I ran to the booth and beheld
the empty space
the nothing spot
where my radio had lain

Mom bought me a new radio
grander, stronger, bigger, classier

but we both knew
we both knew she could not buy me back
that lost chunk of innocence

Harry W. Yeatts Jr.