Unfortunately, Brad never did quite recover from his disappointment that school was not going to be all fun and games. To make matters worse, he found reading was a struggle from the get-go, and his lack of reading skills seriously hindered progress all during his school years. It wasn’t until he met me that he found out why he never did well at school. I hadn’t known him a week until I realized he had dyslexia. All those 45 years, Brad had known that he wasn’t “dumb,” as he was labeled by the teachers in an earlier era when they didn’t know how to diagnose or treat someone with a learning disability.
So, although Brad had trouble with words, he was always a whiz with numbers – a common situation with dyslexics. And fortunately for him gambling dealt more with numbers than words. So outside of school he continued his search for gambling experiences all during his childhood. Although he was raised in a good Methodist church family, his dad a Sunday School teacher and his mother the church treasurer, his penchant for gambling was never restricted by them. He asked his dad to cut two cubes out of a piece of wood, and then Brad used a pencil to put the correct number of dots on each side and he had his “dice.” (Those were poor times that he has never forgotten. He always has dice in his desk drawer and I see him sometimes take them out and roll them affectionately in his hand. I know he is remembering.)
Brad’s family had now moved to Connersville, Indiana, where they put down their roots. The house became the gambling Mecca of the neighborhood; all the kids knew that Brad would be organizing some kind of game. No electronics back then, but that didn’t stop the games. If they had a deck of cards, they could play Tonk or War. Or, Brad would turn a bicycle wheel into a roulette wheel.
If they had marbles, they would draw a circle in the dirt and the shooter tried to win “all the marbles.” Brad usually didn’t have any pretty glass marbles like the “rich kids,” but he used his “peadads” (little brown clay marbles) to try to score the pretty ones. Or, if there were just 3 kids, they would play flip-the-coins, with the odd man taking the matching coins. And no matter how many kids there were, they could throw pennies to a line in the gravel.
However, the high points in Brad’s childhood came every summer, when at the age of 8 his family moved ½ mile from the fairground, where a carnival was set up for a week around the 4th of July and during the county fair in August. The 40’s were an idyllic time in a small Indiana town, when an 8-year-old boy could run to the fairground and stay all day without parents worrying about his whereabouts or safety. Brad and his friends went to the carnival every day it was in town. If they didn’t have any money, their main activity was scouring the grounds searching for lids from Lucky Star ice cream cups. If they found one with a star on the back, that was good for a free ice cream cup. The more free ice cream cups they found the longer they could stay at the fair before hunger would chase them back home for a meal.
There were always plenty of things to do at the fairgrounds even for young kids with no money. During the county fair, they could sit in the grandstands for hours and watch harness racing. Brad, at that young age, didn’t know about betting on horse races, but he and a friend would each pick a horse every race and keep track of who had the most winners. But the midway was always Brad’s favorite part of the fairground. Even when he didn’t have any money, he would walk up and down and study all the games and try to figure out how he one day would be able to beat them.
By the time he was 10, Brad finally found a way to earn a little “fair money.” His parents would pay him 10 cents a row to weed the corn in their large family garden. Brad still remembers that those long rows seemed endless in the hot sun. But he loved the jingle in his pockets as he hurried to the fairground – and straight to the midway. His favorite game was the Coin Toss, where a board was painted with unbelievably small squares and circles that contained various numbers. Land on a number and that was the multiplier of your winning bet. But if your coin touched a line anywhere, you lost your bet.
One day Brad was “loaded,” with a dime and 6 or 7 pennies in his pocket, a bankroll swelled up by one “corn” dime and many pennies from several winning sessions on the Coin Toss on previous days. He was back at the game now, ready to make his usual penny bet. He dug in his pocket, pulled out a coin, leaned over the rail, and quickly threw it. Oops, it touched a line and the lady carny put her hand down to scoop it up. Just then Brad realized it was not a penny – he had accidentally thrown the “corn” dime. The lady must have seen the agonized look on his face as he explained he hadn’t meant to throw the dime. Knowing he was a frequent customer who always bet just a penny, she kindly gave him back his dime.
Brad doesn’t remember making another “mistaken bet” until 1987, when we were on our first overseas trip together, a gambling junket to Monte Carlo (the real one, not the one in Las Vegas!). We went into the casino and sat down at different blackjack tables. After about an hour, I got up to go see how he was doing. When I got to his table, he had a blackjack showing and that made me smile. But when the dealer was giving him a stack of chips, my happiness suddenly turned to horror. The minimum bet the junket required of us was already seriously stretching our then-much-smaller bankroll, but Brad was betting FIVE TIMES that much. While exchanging our American money into French franc chips, he had gotten confused and had been betting about $250 a hand instead of $50.
Fortunately he had won a little during that “mistake” session, so no harm was done to our bankroll. But we both remember that scare quite vividly. However, Brad says that scare was not nearly as heart stopping as the one he had at the fair 69 years ago.