“Mommas, Would You Let Your Fifteen Year Old Join the Carnival?” Retelling a Story

The following is a reprint of a post I did in October, 2013 on the Braking Points Blog. At breakfast here at Walden Shores the conversation turned to stories about the freedom most of us experienced as children. Linda D. told about walking 9 miles through downtown Pittsburg with a girlfriend to visit her grandfather. Judy shared about her mother who also with a girlfriend hitchhiked into Sioux City, Iowa to hear Lawrence Welk…she even danced with him…how great is that memory! We all moved around our communities with few restrictions.
To my knowledge the story Guy Overby told us on that Sunday Afternoon in October, 2013 expresses that freedom to strike out to explore better. Guy and his wimageife of 70 years are still living in Greenville, KY…and Guy always has a story to tell.

So, Mommas, would you let your 15 year old join a carnival?

Some stories people tell are just too good not to share. On Sundays, Terry and I go visit some folks from church who are no longer able to attend worship services. We visit for a short time, serve Communion, and pray with them. It gives us an opportunity to check in on them and to include them in the life of the church. On more than one occasion we will be entertained by their life stories. Today was one such occasion.

One of the people we visit launched into a story that will make most mothers cringe. When he finished 9th grade, he left home and headed west to find a job. He did not run away. His family simply did not stop him. This would have been in the 1930’s. His only opportunity for work near home was as a farmhand at 50 cents a day. He set out to find something better.

When he reached Denver, Colorado, having worked odd jobs since leaving Kentucky, he saw a Carnival setting up and a Help Wanted sign posted. He strolled up to where they were erecting the tent for Side Show and after watching for a few minutes he determined who the boss was, approached him and asked for a job.

“You able to travel?”

“Yes, I guess I am, if you mean traveling with the Carnival..couldn’t go far on my own.”

The Boss chuckled, then asked “How far?”

“Guess about anywhere in the States, not overseas.”

The Boss looked him over carefully, assessing his long lanky frame and probably his character in that slow look. If he thought this is just a kid, he didn’t say it.

“How long you aiming to stay with us?”

“All summer, till you close for the winter.”

That settled it. He went to work at 15 years old for the carnival traveling from Denver clear up into Montana and then back down south, breaking it down for the last time in Oklahoma City. He worked setting up tents, driving the stakes into the ground and as a ticket taker for the side show. He said at every stop, he wrote his mother a letter, picking up letters from home along the way. In Oklahoma City, he parted company with the carnival and headed home to Kentucky. He said a lot of the family back home had a hard time believing his mother had let him go.

Listening to his story I kept a running commentary in my own head..His parents let him go…a 15 year old…ON HIS OWN with no support from home…he JOINED a CARNIVAL, that’s rough stuff..but also, he found a job, he supported himself making a dollar a day, he wrote his mother at every stop and he returned home, where he went on to join the army. In fact, he was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He returned from service, married and raised a family. He and his wife are strong Christians and have been married 60 plus years and his children also built good solid faith filled lives and families.

The times were different, but so were the people. Makes me wonder if more 15 year olds joined the Carnival…NO NOT REALLY! But it does delight me that I have had the opportunity to know someone who did.


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