The saga of the fair fish

One of my greatest childhood memories is the time my parents spent at least $50 on ping pong balls at the Columbia County Fair.

Those little bouncing balls were the ticket to winning goldfish. All you had to do was get out of land in the mini goldfish balls of colored water – something my brother was really good at and I felt like I was good at just because I was with him. And for some reason, this one year and this one year only, my parents caved, and bought us what seemed like an endless supply of ping pong balls.

We one something like 20 goldfish that year.

I have a hazy memory of the shouts of job every time we got a ball in bowls, but what I remember most clearly is the true comedy of trying to find a place to put 20 something unexpected goldfish.

There was a tank that was only a little leaky – that was good for at least three goldfish. Another tank that had been for the gobies that didn’t live to make it under the Christmas tree – another three.  A glass goldfish bowl good for at least two. And then the trifle bowl. And then a set of class canisters meant for flour and sugar, but just fine for goldfish in a pinch.

Everywhere you looked, there were goldfish.

With the memory in mind, there was only one game I really, really wanted to play when Eryn and I went to the fair. And it was the only game she didn’t really want to play.

“You aren’t really going to win a goldfish are you? What about a lizard? Or a hermit crab? Go for the hermit crab?”

Sparing her the stories of the hermit crab graveyard in my backyard, when it came time though Eryn surprised me bought the 100 ping balls for $10, instead of the 40 for $5. And boom, I was right back at the Columbia County fair. This was everything.

Eryn was not as good as my brother at this game (something I suspect might be intentional) and was insistent on trying to win the lizard. Ball after ball, bounced away defeated. Five-year-olds were easily out performing us.

But then, on the very last ball, on my very last throw, right when Eryn thought she was safe, it landed in a red goldfish bowl.


Mission accomplished.

For the next hour or two, Eryn kept asking, are you really going to keep that fish? Why don’t you give to a child? Isn’t it a little inhumane? What about the cats?

But when the time came to leave, the fair fish was in the car with us.



Fair fish though are the most problematic of all fish (except maybe birthday party favor fish, which I have heard of). You are not ready. You are never ready for a fair fish.

Such was the case, for this fair fish. The fish bowl had a plant in it, and coming home at 10 p.m. I was not dealing with that. So instead, the fish into a mason jar – with its weirdly dyed blue water – and up onto the mantle.

It was about 9 a.m. when I realized how right Eryn was, when I walked in the front door to this.

Note the fish’s horrified expression.

Mama cat was beyond obsessed. I’d take her down. She’d go back up. I’d take her down again. She’d find a new way up. And so on, and so on.

The fish was moved to the kitchen on the oven, not a place Mama cat usually goes. Then, I got it a real bowl.

But alas, the stress of the whole ordeal from fair to cat was too much for fair fish. And like so many of the fair fish from the glorious day in Columbia County, by the time I got back with fish food (instead of the crackers crumbs I’d been tossing in), fair fish was dead.

As my mother texted me “best not to get too attached to fair fish.”

Even so, they continue to make the best stories. Rest in peace fair fish. It was a lot.



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