#57 - On Gambling


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 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 excitement.

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 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 all gone.

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 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 thing 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, who were 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 widow’s mite or pensioner’s 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 wasn’t 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!

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006