The Backyard Carnival, “Them boys ain’t right!”

from The Providence Journal, Sunday, July 22, 2018

by Michael Morse

The Jerry Lewis Telethon wasn’t until Labor Day, but the anticipation began weeks before that. When the envelope containing everything needed to throw a successful Backyard Carnival finally arrived in the mail, the planning was over, work had begun.

We gave ourselves a day to prepare, plenty of time to throw the finest shindig in history! All we had to do to get on TV during the telethon was to raise the most money for Jerry’s Kids, and how hard could that be?

We had the perfect yard for the festivities. My father was the greatest home grown landscaper ever, our grass was perfect; fresh flowers everywhere and neatly trimmed. He didn’t use any fancy gadgetry or chemicals either, he did it with a push mower and a hand trimmer, with a bit of slave labor provided by one or more of his brood who were grounded at any given time during the long hot summer. We got time off for hard labor, and the more weeds we picked the quicker we returned to freedom.

When he wasn’t slaving over his grass, he went to work, so his children had the run of the grounds. With no interference from the authority we were free to create carnival perfection.

Fortunately for us, he had forgotten last summer’s mini golf course that we created by digging holes in the middle of the lawn and creating obstacles with things we found. Freshly painted shutters stored behind the garage made a fine waterfall when we propped them up with sticks and applied the garden hose, an upside down bird feeder that we modified with a hammer was a perfect trap and a trash can – tunnel that we banged with an axe until the bottom fell out made the third hole much more challenging. We even used an old flag pole; the last remaining vestiges of last summer’s “Fort Apache,” for the final hole. Now that was a true masterpiece; an old tent bought at a yard sale with our paper route money, erected in the middle of the yard and protected from The Indians with boulders, spears, garden tools and bb guns became in a child’s eye an impenetrable fortress. I still fondly recall the aroma of wet canvass and sleeping bags full of body odor every time the temperature soars past ninety.

Apparently, Fort Apache was not indestructible. The Apache Chief, aka “Mad Dad with a Temper” razed the place and put the Calvary in the brig for a few weeks. In retrospect, liberating Mrs. Otis’s milk box from her doorstep and burying it inside the fort to use as a latrine probably wasn’t our finest moment, but what the heck, we couldn’t very well leave the fort unprotected while taking care of business, could we?

But enough ruminating, we had a carnival to plan! The kit came with posters, tickets, balloons, a few games and little else. It did have a pre-addressed envelope for sending money to Jerry, and we planned on filling it! We sent our sister, Little Mel out to the streets to round up a pack of wild dogs that had been roaming our neighborhood for the petting zoo. She was only five, but the dogs seemed to like her.

Somehow we talked my friend Opey O’Brien into standing in a ring and dodging the lawn darts we planned on charging a nickel per throw for, and borrowed some sheets from the linen closet, hung them on the clothesline so one of us could hide behind the wall with bats and whack little kids who paid a dime to run the gauntlet. Whoever made it to the other side first won the blue ribbon that came in the carnival box!

By noon we were ready. All we had to do was wait for the crowds to appear, take their money, put it into the envelope, mail it, and wait for Jerry to call. Sadly, Mom was our first and only customer.

“You boys ain’t right,” she said before shutting us down. The Backyard Carnival was over before it began, and we spent the rest of the summer pulling weeds.