It’s autumn — one of those October days when I want to ride my bike over the leaves to hear the crackling sound. I want to race childlike and frivolous as I imagine the wind blowing the leaves at my command.
When I see the first yellow leaf from a popcorn tree come spiraling down, a reflex in my mind suddenly begins to play a golden oldie from the fall of 1967. In the wind I hear the Bee Gees singing: “Oh, you’re a holiday/ Every day, such a holiday.” I see myself in Dad’s American Rambler on the way to a girlfriend’s house. It’s an October evening. Somewhere in the cool autumn distance there are lights burning at Ladd Stadium and hearts pounding like bass drums.
Autumn is a time for remembering — remembering my birthday arrives in September, bringing another year’s worth of receding hairline and added pounds. November is a time for calm reflection when I regularly read Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby, ” just to put things into perspective. The book ignites a longing for quiet contemplation, giving me a good excuse to go for long, lonely walks on chilly autumn nights so I can hear the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.
Cool Nights at the Carnival
More than anything, I think. As days get shorter and evenings bring cool breezes off the Gulf, I remember a Greater Gulf State Fair of long ago. In my mind, I see a high school girl on the midway wearing a blue London Fog jacket, several sizes too large, charming me out of my gourd as her lips turn red and glossy from a candy apple. I remember her amidst the swirl of pastel lights from carnival rides, sawdust smells from the ground, and the sugared aroma of cotton candy booths.
The Greater Gulf State Fair is drawing nigh, bringing with it a store of memories. Perhaps this year I’ll see a little girl with her daddy, her cheeks all pink from cotton candy, and I’ll remember it’s time to read “The Great Gatsby.” I’ll ask myself right there on the Tilt-a-Whirl why I have this habit of reading the same book every year. I guess it’s because I like to get to the part where Nick is explaining that Gatsby was a fellow who believed in the green lights, the frenzied future that year by year recedes before us. I like to get all sad and melancholy after I’ve read that book, thus the long, lonely walks late at night. It’s a novel I’d like to have written.
Sweet Nostalgia of It All
I will roam the fairgrounds again this year and do what I enjoy most at the fair. I’ll look at the lights, smell greasy corn dogs and Polish sausage, watch the people, and continue my search for the perfect candy apple. And, looking for the candy apple, I will think of her — the girl at the fair with the autumn-leaf hair, Gulf-water eyes, and candy-apple lips.
As the singer says, “Gee, ain’t it funny, how time slips away.” Those of us fortunate enough to live along the Gulf Coast have our traditions to mark the passing years. My favorite has always been the fair. I cut my teeth on the old fairs once held at Hartwell Field. Those were complete with a genuine sawdust midway, an “All Girl Review, ” and assorted “freak” shows. (The “Head of a Girl with the Body of a Snake” was always one of my favorites.)
I think these thoughts in autumn when my memory is jogged by the way a leaf falls, big orange pumpkins and Indian corn, football games and marching bands — and the fair. Did I mention she had dimples? Oh yes, and her laugh made my heart rise in my throat. And I believe it was on the Scrambler — either the Scrambler or the Octopus — that she told me I was cute. In the tent where “The World’s Fattest Man” was holding court, a transistor radio was playing “Holiday.” And somewhere on the midway, maybe between the Roundup and the Double Ferris Wheel, she kissed me with her candy-apple lips.
An excerpt from the Mobile Bay archives, October 1988.
October 21 – 30
Greater Gulf State Fair
Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds, 1035 N. Cody Road. 344-4573. mobilefair.com
4 p.m. – 10 p.m. weekdays, noon -10 p.m. weekends.
Ten-day agricultural fair offers carnival rides, games, food, livestock, entertainment and a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo.