Im not attracted to gambling due to a traumatic experience in
my early years. My mother had brought my younger sister and I to a 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. In 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 very determined that she was going to win something
for me too. When my mother was 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 mothers
moods, I became glum as well. I no longer wanted a large fuzzy whats-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, ragamuffin sort of child and
my mother personified this archetype. Even without the 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 fairgoers. A hand outthrust
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 smote him. He couldnt
take the tears. He couldnt 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. Hed seen enough of the evils of gambling to
last him for a lifetime, and so had I.
I dont remember what the large fuzzy thing was. I dont
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 mothers 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 Cowards comedic
Spirit, and she directed a gripping version of Night
My other exposure to gambling was at the harness races at Woodbine
Racetrack in Toronto. My CB Radio club, who were a bunch of hosers and
I loved them, had an outing and we went to the racetrack for the harness
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 widows mite or pensioners
pennies, little bits of money they could not afford in the eternal hope
that they would have a win.
For a week or a day, they would no longer be poor. You could see the
kind of tense desperation in their faces. This wasnt just for
fun. These poor folks were at the desperate edge of gambling.
Just before the event on the ground outside rockabilly superstar, Rompin
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 good thing and somewhat
rare. This was fun and I got to shake the hand of Rompin
Ronnie Hawkins. Wowee!
© Sonia Brock 2006