Archive | June, 2015

New Freedom Carnival Memories

28 Jun


The annual New Freedom Lions Club Carnival starts June 29, in New Freedom, Pennsylvania of course. While we no longer go every year, the vivid memories linger.

New Freedom Carnival Poster 2015

The carnival was after school was out, usually it was held during the first week of July, the week that included the 4th of July. It was something to look forward to in our small town of perhaps 1,200 people. My three brothers and I, and perhaps everyone else in town, counted down the days until carnival each year.

As it got closer, it was harder to wait. Anticipation mounted. Just a couple days to go. Everyone in town, well especially the children, and I suspect many adults, consciously or subconsciously turned their gaze towards the New Freedom Playground.

We knew magic was about to happen. The broad expanse of green grass of the playground was going to transform. We were looking for the first truck. The truck transporting the first of the carnival rides. My brothers and I competed for bragging rights. Who would be the first to spot the trucks pulling into the grass to set up a dozen or two dozen rides?

20150607_123450 New Freedom Playground and former site of the Boy Scout building

The trucks arrived either late Saturday or on Sunday to set up the carnival rides and various carnival games in time for the opening at 7 PM on Monday. Sometimes we would spot them if we were out late Saturday night, but more likely we would spot them while we were driving to or from Trinity United Methodist Church in the morning. The trucks meant our town was soon going to explode with activity. Hundreds and thousands of visitors were about to descend on New Freedom for the seven nights of carnival.

Carnival meant flashing bright lights, rides, music, games, lots of good food and bingo.  My dad was the head of bingo at the carnival for decades.  Weeks ahead of the carnival he would get out his spreadsheet and pad from the prior year and start making his calls from our black rotary phone in the breakfast room.  He was calling the regulars to get them scheduled into shifts to collect coins at the bingo tables.  A handful of the regulars were lined to alternate about every 15 minutes as the bingo callers.

Dad also had to check the catalogues and call in the order for bingo prizes.  Every game had either a single winner or two or more 1/2 game winners. You could accumulate your wins all week long. Sometimes you might borrow a win or two from another family member so you could get that special prize you had your eye on all week.

The players gathered on the white wooden benches placed on pebbles and attached to long white wooden tables about hip high.  They sorted through the stacks of well-loved 1/8 inch thick bingo cards looking for 2 or 3 cards with their lucky numbers. One or two women in town were suspected of buying and memorizing books on how to win at bingo.  Everyone always cast an eye their way when they shouted out bingo.  Did they really know secrets? Did they really win more than the rest of us?

Every night hundreds of cards were spread out on the table and gallons of dried field corn kernels were spread out in strategic piles the length of each table.  Corn kernels were used to mark the called numbers on your card. We all had our own bingo strategy.  My birthday was on the 11th so I was pretty sure my lucky card(s) had to include B-11.  The card(s) would be especially lucky if B-11 was in one of the corners. Some of us came earlier in the evening, when there were less players.  Logically this meant our odds of winning were better than when the tables were crowded.  Some of us stayed for those last 5 or 10 games when everyone started to leave.

The best of times was when my Dad was calling bingo, which happened 3 or 4 times each night. No, no, he did not send me a secret signal so that I had an advantage.  It was the best of times because that was my dad’s voice, announcing the numbers at a practiced cadence… “Under the B-7, N-42, I-19, N-40. Under the G-60, O-67, B-4, I-30.”  I moved my corn kernels onto the card to cover each number I had, looking for patterns to emerge. Two in a row, three in a row counting the free space in the middle, and drating the numbers that were close but not quite one of mine.

As time went on I knew we were getting close to someone calling it out, calling BINGO. Dad calls my lucky number… “Under the B-11,” now I had 4 in a row going at a diagonal, just one more. This could be a really lucky card, especially since I included my dad’s special number in the other diagonal corner. “Under the O-69, G-55, O-62.”  Now the anxiety level was really high. Most times someone else would get their special number and shout BINGO or perhaps there would be multiple Bingos. But sometimes, magic happened and my dad called “O-Skixty-skix” and I would holler BINGO so the whole tent could hear me. O-Skixty-skix was Dad’s signature call.

Dad would call out, “Hold your cards”, perhaps my cousin Carol or my friend Scott would be working my row, collecting coins. One of them would hurry down the row and shout out my four winning numbers.  Dad would respond via the microphone, “That’s a winner, anyone else?” We’d all look around, this time I was really lucky, I was the only winner. Dad would close out the game, “Single winner.” Then we would hear the bingo number ping-pong balls drop back into the machine, the coin collector would drop off my “1 Win” card and head back down the row collecting coins for the next game.

I would play a few more games to see if I was on a hot streak. Then I would gather up my win card(s) and my coins and head out to explore the rest of the carnival knowing that I’d be back either to play, or to work my shift at collecting coins, or sometimes, knowing that I was going to be a bingo caller for the late shift when I could call out “O-Skixty-skix.”


Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian for Summoose Tales, he is a Board Member for the Association of Personal Historians and serves as their Regions/Chapters Director. To learn more about preserving your life stories contact Bruce at


Grandma died 30 years ago

25 Jun

When I left to join the Peace Corps, I had three living grandparents. I had one living grandfather; my two grandmothers were both alive and lived in my home town.  My grandmother Margaret  Van Zandt was the one I was worried about.  She had suffered from various ailments for several years and was now living in my parents’ home.  As I left on my two-year adventure as a Peace Corps volunteer, I wondered whether I would see her again? My other grandparents were in reasonably good health so I worried a bit less about them.

20150607_085724 Margaret Van Zandt

Here Margaret is dressed in a period gown to participate the New Freedom, PA Centennial in 1973

Grandma Van Zandt was remembered as lively and lovely.  I remember going through her Flapper days scrapbook in my parent’s basement.  There were lots of Dance Cards, with the little pencils attached by string, posted in the scrapbook. She enjoyed the Roaring 20s.

20150607_120817 Margaret Chichester age 16 in 1918 v2 -8 Black and White - Cropped

Surprisingly, Margaret wore a similar dress in 1918 when she sat for this portrait at age 16.

Margaret was on the New York state girls high school championship basketball team. I found this remarkable since she was only 5’2″. She attended Temple University and was known for her ability to “skinny down the rain pipe” from her dorm room at night to enjoy adventures in Philadelphia. She graduated, so perhaps it was not all adventures.

During World War II Margaret was the American Red Cross chairman for the hamlet of Pearl River, New York. She logged hundreds of hours volunteering. She led a cadre of volunteers in rolling bandages, knitting sweaters and preparing supplies to support our troops overseas.  Later in life she became a nurse.

One of my most prized possessions is Grandma’s Shadow Box with treasured possessions that were proudly displayed in her bedroom.  Prominent among her mementos are some of her Red Cross insignia and awards along with some of her nursing pins.


I remember visiting Grandma in Pearl River.  There was the toy room, with old toys from my mother’s childhood.  There was tiny side room with the old TV and the lounge sofa chair. There was the mysterious basement with the old bottles.  The silver cigarette box in the living room was used to hold playing cards. Up the wooden staircase were several bedrooms. My favorite was the smallest at the end of the hall.  I slept there with my older brother in a narrow bed with a half-sized pillow and an old purple comforter.

My three brothers and I were not allowed to explore the empty lot next door. It was overgrown with trees and bushes.  My grandmother talked of the danger of falling into one of the old wells.  We still felt compelled to do a bit of exploring down the overgrown path and felt very brave to come back out of the woods alive.  My dad mowed the lawn with an old push mower of unknown age.  There was a swing set. Perhaps my mom and her sister swung on that swing.

There were many great memories.  My three, then later my four,  and finally my nine first cousins would occasionally join us at Grandma’s house to celebrate the holidays. This was great fun for us. Entertaining, housing and feeding thirteen grandchildren was perhaps a bit of logistical challenge from Grandma. There was one sad memory. Our first dog Apples wandered off one day from the backyard at Grandma’s house and never came back.

I preserved a few of my memories of Grandma’s home and her yard by digging them up and planted them in my parents’ yard.  The striped hostas I transplanted flourished for years in their front garden.  The one foot high Norway Maple sapling that I carried home, is now a ninety foot high mature tree shading my parents’ gazebo in their backyard. This despite the fact that it was run over at least once with a lawn mower, but that is a different story.

At age 65 my  grandmother told me she did not have a  lot to live for.  Her friends were starting to die and she missed us when we were gone. I worried about Grandma. I was happy when she later moved to my small hometown. At age 81 Grandma was now living in my parents’ home as I was preparing to depart for my Peace Corps service in Barbados.  I was sad to say goodbye. However, Grandma was resilient. I was very happy to greet her when I returned home three years later.  She had out lived all of my other grandparents.  Though she was frail and living in a nursing home she was able to join us as we celebrated a family reunion the weekend I returned from Barbados. She was the last of her generation.

I had ten more months of bonus time with Grandma. I enjoyed visiting with her and asking about the stories that only she now knew.

Years later I joined the staff of the American Red Cross to work in the National Office of Volunteers.  I also worked with the chief nurse of the American Red Cross. I often thought of Grandma. Late one night I went to search for Grandma in the Red Cross files of Registered Nurses who had served in the American Red Cross, but I did not find her. I often wondered about Grandma’s impact. How many men and women’s lives did she touch directly or indirectly during her many years of nursing and Red Cross service. I am very proud of her legacy.  Do I volunteer because my grandmother and later her daughter, my mom, volunteered?

I treasure the stories that Grandma shared. As a personal historian I treasure being able to help people record and share their life stories with their loved ones.  It has been 30 years Grandma since we said goodbye.  We still miss you.

20150607_120940 Margaret Chichester age 16 in 1918-4 close cropped


You don’t have to be famous to have family stories that need to be recorded and shared.  I was reminded of this by a recent blog by a colleague

See also How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales.  He is also a board member and the Regions Director for the Association of Personal Historians

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