I'm not attracted to gambling due to a traumatic experience in my early
years. My mother had brought my younger sister and I to an local country
fair in Blenheim or Wallaceburg, or some other town near Chatham. .
We had done the rounds of agricultural exhibits and local prize winning
crafts. Lots of healthy looking heifers, very neatly stitched quilts
and such like. We had the magical cotton candy in hand. At the end we
drifted over to the gambling concession booths where there was a true
carnival 'step right up' atmosphere.
The ground was trodden to dust underfoot and the twilight made the
coloured lights seem ever so bright and compelling. People were trying
to knock things over, get hoops over things and fish for plastic fish
with prize numbers on them. There was an air of general busyness and
My mother was not a great shot but she was not bad. We ended up at
one of these concessions where you throw balls and if you hit something
and knock it down then you win. These were bowling pins and on her first
three balls she managed to hit one and got a large fuzzy brown bear
for my younger sister. Letting people win brings more customers in.
My mother became determined that she was going to win something for
me too. When my mother became determined nothing on earth could drag
her away from her goal.
She threw ball after ball and won – nothing. All her throws were
doomed to failure. She became glum and, attendant to my mother's moods,
I became glum as well. I no longer wanted a large fuzzy what's-it but
she was determined to win. She played and she played and she played
and an hour later she had no large fuzzy prize and the rent money was
My mother had been a flapper and there was a type of heroine, popular
in early films and novels, a charming, ragamuffinish sort of child and
my mother personified this archetype. Even without sound her gestures,
her looks would have carried on the silent screen and upon losing the
rent money and NOT winning a large fuzzy, she became disconsolate. She
wept. She stood in front of that booth and wept. She complained and
she moaned and wept but mainly her gestures carried the whole story
to an increasingly interested audience of fair goers. A hand out thrust
towards the area where she had not won, the other hand on her heart
or wiping away tears. The open and empty purse testified to her destitution.
The poor local yokel who was running the concession for the carnival
folk became distraught as well. His conscience just smote him. He couldn't
take the tears. He couldn't take it any longer. He reached into the
till and gave my mother
(1)her money back and
(2) from the array of prizes a very large fuzzy something.
She thanked him profusely with more silent film star gestures and
expressions. He left the booth. He'd seen enough of the evils of gambling
to last him for a lifetime, and so had I.
I don't remember what the large fuzzy was. I don't remember anything,
except my mother being theatrically distraught in front of this carnival
concession with all her money gone and it was MY FAULT because she was
doing it for ME.
(My mother's theatrical talents were later put to good use in both
acting and directing for the Chatham Little Theatre Group where she
was a great success as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's comedic play Blithe
Spirit and she directed a gripping version of
Night Must Fall
My other exposure to gambling was at the harness races at Woodbine
Racetrack in Toronto. My CB Radio club, which was once very important
to me , a bunch of hosers and I loved them, had an outing and we went
to the racetrack for the harness races.
The member sitting next to me had a system . She was quite secretive
about her system. Hiding her slips of paper from view and doing complex
calculations. It worked for her. She won a reasonable number of times.
I watched the horses racing around and they were beautiful to see.
I bought a few tickets, based primarily on the names of the horses and
superstition. I knew nothing about pedigrees and jockeys and all kinds
of things that you needed to know, so I picked the names that I liked
based primarily on supposedly lucky connections.
I remember looking around, mainly near the ticket windows when I was
standing in line and seeing people who probably did not have much money
– pensioners and the like spending their window's mite or pensioner's
mite, little bits of money they could not afford in the eternal hope
that they would have a win.
For a week or a day or whatever they would no longer be poor. You could
see the kind of tense desperation in their faces. This wasn't just for
fun. These poor folks, among the people there, were at the desperate
edge of gambling.
Just before the event on the ground outside rockabilly superstar,
Ronnie" Hawkins, was entertaining the crowd. I went up after
the performance and shook his hand. I had been solo dancing to the music
which pleased the musicians since any show of enthusiasm and animation
during a show up here in Canada is a really, really good thing and somewhat
rare. That was fun and I got to shake the hand of "Rompin' Ronnie"
© Sonia Brock 2006