Each night, we zipped two dollars in quarters into our change purses to take to the bustling neighborhood fair. With the money, we could buy food, drinks, take rides, and place bets. At the gambling booth, Sharon's lesson began.
On the shelves of the booth were used games, toys, knick knacks, and a doll in a teal hand-crocheted antebellum dress. Sharon wanted that doll.
Placing two quarters on number 8, our ages, the volunteer spun the wheel the way people on television game shows do until it click, click, clicked to a stop at number 3.
We left to buy cotton candy, a sweet sticky confection made of spun sugar, a treat as pink as a child's blush. We cleaned our sticky pink fingers and mouths in the school lavatory.
To get there, we had to walk by Catholic statues and creep past scary-looking nuns in full habits.
We sighed with relief once we got outside, having escaped a curse from a statue and a whack from the nuns' rulers.
We sipped bubbly Cokes as we meandered to the popcorn stand to buy cups of the salty, crunchy, buttery snack.
The next evening, Sharon decided we'd go to the gambling booth first. Placing two quarters on number 8, she lost again. Unzipping her Cinderella change purse, her small hands shaking with excitement, she pulled out two more quarters. She bet and lost again. Gambling fever had hit her like the flu.
She couldn't ride the ferris wheel because she had spent her money. I wasn't treating her because of our ride last year.
Sharon rocked the seat so high, I saw us being thrown into the air and to our deaths on the schoolyard. I screamed, threatening to have the statues put a curse on her if she didn't stop.
Sharon dragged me to the gambling booth on the third night of the fair. Putting her money on number 8, Sharon lost to the number next to 8. Coming that close to winning, she was as charged up as a racehorse at the gate. Putting down money, she stood straight as a soldier, held her breath, and watched the wheel stop far from number 8.
On the next night, she continued to lose. Hooked by the idea of a win, Sharon bet a buck fifty on the fair's last night. On the last of the three spins, the wheel stopped at number 8.
"Yeah," Sharon screamed. "I'll take the doll in the blue dress."
Before school started, Sharon reflected on what she had sacrificed to win: thrilling ferris wheel rides, crunchy homemade cookies, and creamy chocolate fudge.
"The doll wasn't worth it," she told me. "I thank the Catholic church for teaching me that money gambled is money wasted."