As we were growing up, Dad sometimes sang while he worked around the house. More often, he "barked," in the sing-song, cajoling tones of a carny. "A winner every time for only a dime. One thin dime, a winner every time. Come On In."
Dad's father chased success from the bottom of an Iowa coal mine to the hills of Snohomish County, WA and back across the hills of Missouri and the farmland of southern Iowa. His favorite book was Think and Grow Rich. He never stopped believing his next idea would be The One. Handsome and charming, he could have been successful at most anything if only he'd stuck to it long enough. But no matter what he was doing, when some other idea glittered in the distance, he chased its sparkle, with his wife and five children bumping along behind him.
Dad was 15 when Grandpa dragged the family from St. Louis, Missouri to Bothell, Washington, where he started building houses. They nearly starved for a year or so, but Grandpa built good, solid houses, and his reputation got around. In 1946, babies and houses were booming. The family loved Washington, and they had a little disposable income for the first time in their lives. Until....
Grandpa came home one day and announced that he'd bought a cookhouse and some game booths and committed the family to traveling with a carnival. Dad and his brothers argued. His sister and mother cried. But in the end, they packed their belongings into a 1.5 ton 1941 Ford truck and struck out for the MidWest. For two years, they lived in that truck, cooking over a campfire and bathing in ponds or creeks. "Hot and Good and Good and Hot. Come On In."
Grandma and Grandpa cooked hamburgers. Well, to be more accurate, Grandma fried hamburgers inside a steaming tent under the summer sun of Iowa and Missouri. Grandpa stood outside, luring people to the counter. "Half a Cow on a Bun for One. Come On In."
Dad ran a string game. "Oh, these strings. These lucky strings. One thin dime. A winner every time. Come On In."
After that first summer, Grandpa rented a dilapidated old house and garage in Exline, Iowa for the winter. The garage gave him a place to work on the equipment he was building for the new and improved carnival he would roll out the following summer.
Mom lived in Exline. She and Dad met in school. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cleaning out the basement yesterday, Dad picked up a worn wooden stool. It had come, he said, from the carnival cookhouse. When they finally quit the carnival, his mother wanted nothing from it, so Dad gave the little stool to my mother's mother, whom he adored. Mom's mom used it in her kitchen and on her porch until her death, and then Mom's dad continued to use it. Dad claimed the little stool from the junk pile when Mom and her brothers and sisters cleaned out their father's house after his death.
And now it's mine. "Every Time You Play, You Win. Come On In."