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An exhausting weekend rehashed

For once, I'm not blogging about books today. I've had a brutally exhausting and emotional weekend, and I'd like to share it with you.

We had our 46th Annual St. Bernard's Summer Carnival this past weekend. The proceeds of the carnival go to the operations of the school. The normal operating days of the event are Wednesday through Saturday and have been since the late 1980s. Before it was the carnival, we called it the bazaar; it was open for three days, Thursday through Saturday, back before inflation. We opened on Sunday during the early 1990s, but it didn't turn out to be remarkably profitable. We consider the carnival to be a kick off to summer in our area; it's a chance for the school kids to see each other before people go away from summer vacations, etc. We usually conclude it with fireworks.

I've been the so-called "carnival barker" since high school. I work the school-based side, talking about the carnival rides as well as the food, attractions, and fireworks. I'm kinda like an institution there, since I've been the announcer for so long. People expect me to be there. And even though I'm 34, it's a chicken vs. egg situation; "What came first, the carnival or Sean?" More on that in a bit.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we were washed out due to rain; my Facebook page was bombarded with local folks wondering if the Carnival was on or off on those days. We didn't even open the doors. We have never, in the 46 years of the carnival, been washed out two days in a row. I've been attending it since I was 4, working it since I was 13, and announcing it since I was 15. We've had days where we've opened and closed early because of rain; that happens. But two days in a row? After Thursday, I thought we were in trouble. Using my knowledge of what we've done in the past, we were in, on average, a $15,000 hole. That's a huge amount during a four-day carnival. We managed to salvage something out of Friday, but we closed an hour and a half early due to, you guessed it, rain. We can't control the weather. We also decided to add Sunday in, as the weather was supposed to be better. As I said, we haven't opened on a Sunday since before I graduated high school.

After writing a good 1,300 or so words in the new short story I'm writing for Bruce Sarte's second holiday horror anthology, I went down to the carnival grounds on Saturday. Saturday was supposed to be bad, weather-wise. I was seriously wondering if anyone would show up. However, the sun managed to show itself and we had a decent crowd... until the rain started falling in sheets at about 7:30. We called the fireworks off and closed at 9:30, a whole 90 minutes early.

I wasn't expecting anything for Sunday. I said that if there were no people there by 5 (we were slated to be open from 1-9), I'd go home; there would be no reason for me to be there if I had no one there to tell what was going on. But around 4:30, people started showing up. By 5, we had a small throng. By 6, we had a good sized crowd, the dunk tank and pan game were hopping, and we were busy at the concession stand. I got my second wind and I stayed.

In addition, we were doing so well that by 8:30, we were contemplating staying open another hour, which we ended up doing. Afterward, I cracked open a couple of Coors Lights and we toasted the carnival's closing for another year.

So all in all, despite the hassles with the weather and having no fireworks (we only have a one-day license), I'd say our carnival was successful.


Like I said, I've been doing this carnival for just a little over half of my life. I went to school there for two years, fourth and fifth grade. Of course, I want to see the carnival succeed. I just find it odd that other than a small, core group of parents and teachers, the carnival is practically on life support, support-wise.

I give four days to the carnival every year. I'm there from half an hour before we open to half an hour after we close. The carnival, as I said, helps the school. Parents working the carnival receive a discount on their children's tuition, better known as the incentive. Yet over the past decade, our carnival has shrunk from a full offering -- I literally could list everything that we had and do so in a 15-minute rotation; now it takes me less than three minutes, two minutes if I speak fast -- to food, fried dough, a dunk tank and kiddie games under the big top. No more gambling, no more beer tent (the last time we had the beer tent was 1997, when I was 20... we also got rid of it for insurance reasons), no more basketball shoot, no more raffles.

Why has it shrunk? Yep, that's right. A lack of support from the parents.

The carnival helps the school. When the core group of parents leave, who will take it over? If we don't have new parents taking this over and supporting the carnival, the carnival will, more than likely, cease to exist. If the carnival ceases to exist, the school and PTO will either a. need to find new revenue streams that would have to generate, at the very least, $50,000 every year, or b. close altogether. St. Bernard's Elementary would unfortunately go the way of the dodo, Holy Family, Julie Country Day, and St. Joseph's.

For those of you in Fitchburg/Leominster reading this, you'll know exactly what I mean by that last sentence.

So my question is this: Why do I care about this so much when a good portion of the parents could care less? Why do I do all of this when I don't have an incentive to being there? I have no kids in that school. Why should I give up 26 hours of my time, spread over four days, when I could be covering a game or, just as productively, working on a book, when the people with kids there would rather just write the tuition check than take advantage of the incentive?

I wish I had an answer.

I've selflessly given 21/22 weeks -- just four weeks shy of half a year in real time -- of my life to this carnival. I'd like to see the carnival get to 50 years. It would mean I'd be at 25/26 years of service, second only to the principal and his wife. I have great memories of this event, going all the way back to my elementary school days.

Do I think it will get to 50? As I look upon the past weekend, I'm not too optimistic. There is thunderous death knell tolling over the carnival, and I don't want to see it take its last gasps.


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