Retro Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair Balloon Boss & Buddies

Sally Van Develde selling balloons at the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair Grab Bag Booth

The following piece was originally published in August of 2015. Here it is again in honor of the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair, which is running through Saturday night … 

Growing up in Fair Haven with parents in the fire company, Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair time meant time spent inflating punch balls during the day and helium balloons at night.

That’s because my mom, Sally, ran the Grab Bag Booth in the 1970s and 80s. It was the go-to spot for kids whose parents had a losing streak at the game booths and needed to buy consolation fair memento.

During the day, the kids of the Grab Bag Booth ladies would hang out in the fire truck bays at the firehouse with an air hose, a bag of deflated punch balls and a lot of silly compadres. And so the blowing up went, with lots of giggles and a few bursts … and more giggles.

And at night, the balloon supplier dude would roll Windy over to the booth — a helium tank covered with a creepy clown face. And there either I, my mom or another young volunteer would stand, affixing a plastic gadget at the end of deflated balloons onto Windy’s big red mouth — one after the other — all night.

It was a sought-after job. After all, the kids helping at the fair got tickets — cards that could be used as money for food and/or rides. My mom loved her little helpers and treated them well. There were adult balloon cohorts, too. One was Mom’s longtime friend and neighbor, Barbara Lang (below). Jeanette Choma was yet another, whom for many years later held a tradition of remembering fire company members of the past with memorial balloons …

Barbara Lang, friend, neighbor and fellow balloon lady at the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair
Photo/Fair Haven Fire Department Yearbook, courtesy of Evie Connor Kelly

Though, on any fair night of way back when, at closing, before Windy went bye-bye, we kid helpers, Lang kiddies included, of course, inflated balloons, inhaled the helium and talked like Donald Duck. That was when we thought we were way too cool for any other booth helper’s shoes.

Oh, wait. Did I say that? Somehow I don’t think inhaling helium at a fair night’s close would fly like an escaped balloon these days. Oh, well. A good memory was made, it was fun and, guess what? No harm was done.

Here’s a secret about Sally the balloon lady: She was known to be a major contributor to the helper kids’ giggles by taking a random hit of helium and saying silly things to them — something to quack about, really. If you knew Sally …

Thank you from the kids and me, my mom Sally, the fair balloon boss lady and her buddies!