When I was a girl living in Auckland, New Zealand, we went to the Easter Show every year. What fascinated me most was the sideshows section: the clowns with open mouths that you dropped table-tennis balls down in the hope of getting enough points for a soft toy; shooting tin ducks as they rolled out in a row; trying to fish things out of paddling pools; throwing rings around various prizes…I loved it all.
I particularly liked the rows and rows of cheap trinkets for sale. My favourite was the doll on a stick. I don’t know why: maybe it was the glitter that made them look so appealing. Anyway, I never got one. But then again, I probably never asked for one. Children didn’t, in those days. You just hoped your parents would somehow know that you desperately wanted something, and that they would magically buy it for you.
I was reminded of this because this week, my husband and I went to the Royal Melbourne Show. I haven’t been since I first moved to Australia more than 20 years ago.
And there they were: the glittery dolls on sticks. There were Kewpie dolls, mermaids, fairy dolls and more. I could have one for $8 or $12.
I didn’t buy one. Instead, I took these photos, which as my husband remarked, we could send to our digital photo frame that sits in our living room:
Despite all those childhood memories of candy floss (cotton candy), dolls on sticks and clowns in a row, I think the music died for me in regard to sideshow alleys the day I learned a lesson about longing for valueless trinkets.
We were living in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, and I was 11. One weekend, there was a local fair and my brother and I were allowed to walk down the road to it. We both had a couple of dollars saved up, and that would be enough for some games and some forbidden confectionery (our dad was a dentist).
At one toss-the-hoop game, I was mesmerised by a plush soft toy that I was determined to get. I was nearly there, just narrowly missing it on my last attempt. The stallholder felt sorry for me.
‘You can buy it, if you want,” he said.
“How much is it?”
I was crestfallen. I had nowhere near a dollar left. Then I thought of a great idea, and a way to get that toy.
“Would you accept a silver dollar?” I said. “I have one at home. I could go and get it.”
The stallholder should have said no. Instead, he said, “Well all right, if you want to do that.”
For those who don’t know, a silver dollar was a US coin, some versions of which were made of 40% silver and 60% copper (thus worth more than its face value). They were made by the US mint for collectors, and were not much circulated. My grandparents had visited us in LA from New Zealand recently, and we’d taken them to Las Vegas. My grandmother put a small amount of money in a slot machine and…out came tumbling 20 Eisenhower silver dollars. She gave one to me and one to my brother. It was the sort of thing you would keep forever because your grandma gave it to you.
But off home I went, into my little box of treasures, fished it out and back to the show with it, where I paid for my coveted toy.
You know, I can’t even remember today what that toy looked like. I do remember many years later, as an adult, throwing it away in disgust because I wished I’d kept the silver dollar.
I inherited the other silver dollar from my brother, Phillip, who died at a young age. But it just wasn’t to be. Years later, thieves broke into my house and stole just about everything portable, including my jewellery boxes with their sentimental bits and pieces, Phillip’s silver dollar among them.
So now I go to shows and just look. I keep my dollars in my purse—even though they’re not glamorous Ike silver dollars, but just plain old Australian copper $1 coins.