The night is still. A light is on. Trucks are out of the bays. Cartoony faces and ghosts in empty seats on unassembled carnival rides stare back in the dark. Someone’s cooking at the Fair Haven firehouse. It’s fair time.
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 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. And, at the end of the night, before Windy went bye-bye, we 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. If you knew Sally …
Thank you from the kids and me, my mom Sally, the head fair balloon lady!
Our Retro Pic of the Day serves as a special birthday card to a special fair lady — this editor’s mom, Sally Van Develde.
Today would have been her 92nd birthday. She and her husband Bill moved themselves and their two girls to Fair Haven in 1965, made it their home and quickly fell in love with the town, its people and a couple of unassuming volunteer organizations — like the Fair Haven Fire Department.
They passed on that love of their community to their children. That is why this site, Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, is dedicated to them.
Chatting and catching up in the Acme was also one of Sally Van Develde’s favorite things to do. Everyone knew her. Hearing “You’ll never guess who I saw in the Acme today …” was about as comforting as the smell of a good cup of coffee wafting upstairs with the sound of chatter and laughter in the kitchen when friends stopped by to see her.
Seen in this photo, sent by Fair Haven Fire Department life member Ray Bennett, Sally is seen working at one of her earlier Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair nights in 1969.
President of the Fair Haven Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary many times over, she later became known as the Grab Bag Booth balloon lady.
In this photo, she is manning the popcorn popper in what is now called the Out Back, where all the goodies, like hot dogs, burgers, fries, cotton candy and ice cream are made and served.
Thank you for the gift of raising us here, Sally Van Develde! Happy birthday. You are remembered every single day with every bit of work that’s done on this site.