Ducks, Dolls and the Birthday Game … Gimme a quarter

Written By: Crysta Stephenson

Have any of you ever been a kid?

I was, and I loved it!!!!!!!

Truth be told, I think a lot of people would be a lot better off if they incorporated elements of kid-dom into their everyday lives.

There were so many things that were great about being a kid in Highland County! It is hard to name them all. My kiddest years were spent living with my Mom and Dad in a small house on my Grandaddy’s farm. 

Uncle Tom (who may or may not be hiding to play Cowboys and Indians)

The best thing about that was that Granddaddy, Uncle Frank, and Uncle Tom all lived in the big farmhouse right next door. There was only a matter of steps between our house and theirs. I could be over there in a minute flat. And, I was sure each one of them wanted to spend their entire day amusing me. In fact, I was certain of it.

I sat on the piano bench with Grandaddy and listened to him pound the keys and stamp his foot. I stood by Uncle Frank while he was fixing the fence and handed him steeples. Uncle Tom? Basically, I followed him around everywhere asking questions and begging to play Cowboys and Indians.

Even though I lived ultimate kid life on the farm, some of my best days were spent at the Highland County Fair.

At the fair, there were bright colors and flashing lights. Loud noises and music blaring. Rides grinding and kids screaming. Kids running and carrying prizes from the midway. Smells of hamburgers cooking and that rancid smell of the diesel fuel that powered the rides.

Like most every child, my mother entered me in the Kiddie Show.

Wow! My little kid heart raced. My eyes got wide, and my smile got big. Since you had to hold Mom’s hand everywhere you went, it gripped her tight and drug her over to The Duck Pond.

Ahhhhh … The Duck Pond! The best game ever invented for kids. 

A million little plastic ducks float around on this little stream in a sparkly booth. There were yellow, pink, blue, and green ones. Who could resist?!

Mom said this game cost a quarter. Great! A quarter, I thought. What’s a quarter? Then, she pressed the coin into my little paw and told me to give it to the man. Great! Here, Duck Man, take my quarter!

Then, glory of all glories, you get to pick up a duck. But, you don’t just grab any dumb duck. You watch them all go swimming by until you find the most choice duck, and you grab him. Yes!

You hand your duck to Duck Man. He turns the duck upside down, and there is an “S” written on its belly. “Small,” he yells. Small? What gives? And, he hands me a plastic snake thing that is supposed to be a whistle. I didn’t want that!  I wanted the teddy bear with a blue vest hanging on the wall behind Duck Man. 

“That’s a large,” Duck Man said. OK … what’s a large? As it turns out, you only get the teddy bear if you pick up the one duck in a million that has “Large” written on his belly. 

Or … Duck Man said you could collect 500,000 Small prizes and trade them in for a Medium prize. Then, you could collect 250,000 Mediums and turn it in for the Large. Great! I will do it that way.

And, then the most magical thing happened. I learned that wonderful fair lingo that every kid in America knew in the 1970s.

“Gimme a quarter.”

“What do you say?” asked Mom.

“Please!!!!!!” I answered.

I picked up another dumb, Small duck.

This time I won a kazoo. GREAT! That’s better than a dumb snake whistle!

“That’s enough of this game,” Mom said. 

And, I found myself being hustled away while playing a beautiful melody on my new red and yellow kazoo.

Well, so much for the Ducks! I found out about a real game where you put a quarter on the board, and somebody rolls a dice with 12 or 13 sides on it. It was called the Birthday Game. 

“Gimme a quarter.”

I put my quarter down on the August spot because that is my birthday month. 

Someone rolled the dice. “October,” shouted Birthday Man, and he took my quarter.

“Gimme a quarter.”

The dice gets tossed again. “June!” Birthday Man shouted, and he took my quarter again. Rude!

“Gimme ‘nother quarter.”

And, the dice rolled again. “March!”

“That’s enough of this game,” Mom said. 

Next stop, The Doll Game.

There were all these beautiful dolls in brightly colored dresses. Their eyes were huge, and their hair was shiny, and they all had big hoop skirts. Mom said something about the dolls being gaudy. I thought she said, “Godly.”  They were great!

“Gimme a quarter.”

“Are you sure you want one of these?” Mom asked.

“Yes, please!”

I shoved a quarter into the barrel, and Doll Lady gave me a ticket. I pulled off all the numbers and, of course, I didn’t win.

“Gimme ‘nother quarter.”

Gets ticket. Pulls off numbers. Loses again. Also, rude!

“Gimme ‘nother quarter. Pleassssssee??!!”


The angels sang!! I picked a blue doll!!!

 “That’s enough of this game,” Mom said.

By the time I was 15, I had about 57 of these dolls. I never did figure out what happened to my nice red and yellow kazoo.


About the Author

Editor & Writer

Crysta Stephenson grew up in the Meadowdale and Vanderpool areas of Highland County. She loved it so much that she returned to raise her daughters on the family farm, Glenwood. She received a B.A. in mass communications with a minor in history from Mary Baldwin College. For 13 years, she honed her journalism skills as a staff writer and editor at two small Virginia newspapers. Her second career - also lasting 13 years - focused on managing two small historical museums here in Virginia. These days, she juggles lots of odd jobs including writing and museum assignments that give her time to enjoy life and admire the accomplishments of her daughters, Rebecca and Suzanna, and play with her grandmutts, Alex and Snoopy. She splits her time between her family home in Highland and her apartment in Augusta County.


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