“To thine own self be true”

The words of Shakespeare are as relevant today as they were for Polonius during Act 1 of “Hamlet”. And they will be as relevant tomorrow and well into the future. Be true to yourself; what do you like; where do your talents lie; who should you avoid; when do you just walk away; why do certain things drive you crazy? Even at the age of 8, I was beginning to answer those questions. And sadly, as all lessons do, it came at a price.

It was Labor Day Week end in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I was thrilled to death because the Dr. Sanguinary Carnival was set up at the Rolla-Rena, four blocks from my home. I was old enough now that I could go to the carnival by myself and I was rarin’ to go.

Now Dr. Sanguinary was a local celebrity. He had a Saturday night show called “Creature Feature”. It was after the ten p.m. news and aired old “B” horror movies.  He told bad jokes and if you were old enough to stay up, you never wanted to miss it. http://www.drsanguinary.com/main/2/drsanguinaryorg_ad.swf

Doctor Sanguinary had a passion for children and would make many hospital visits to see those sick children throughout the year. Because of this, he sponsored carnivals during Labor Day Week end all across the Omaha area to support the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. He was our local “Jerry Lewis” and was on-air pushing for those pledges and raising money.

My parents knew I was very excited about going to the carnival and decided to give me some money to spend. They gave me $5.00. Now that may not seem like much in today’s world; it won’t even purchase popcorn and a soda at the movies, but for an 8-year old, it was a lot. (I checked it would be the equivalent of almost $30.00 in today’s market.)

The carnival was small, mostly games, a dunk-tank, maybe a simple ride AND pinball machines. I am pretty sure I ran the four blocks to the carnival and went immediately to the “money-changer” and changed the $5.00 bill to quarters.  I remember as if it was yesterday. The day was warm and sunny and the carnival was set up in the parking lot of the Rolla-Rena. I went straight to the pinball machines which were located near the south wall of the building. I picked one pinball machine and began plugging in the quarters. Before long, all of the quarters were gone. I stood at that machine and one put in one-quarter after another – 20 times.

I don’t know how long I was there but I know that it took no time at all and I was out of money. It wasn’t until that last ball fell down the drain and was lost did I realize what I had just done. While I knew the money went to a good cause, I felt empty. I had gotten trapped in that machine; I couldn’t stop plugging in those quarters. I didn’t go home with any cheesy toys or prizes. I didn’t hang out with any of my friends. I was obsessed with that machine.

As I walked home, slowly with my head down staring at the sidewalk, I realized that I could never gamble. I knew that I would be a candidate for Gamblers Anonymous if I were to gamble. I was being true to myself and learning, even at the age of eight what restrictions/limitations I needed to make in my future.

I did avoid pinball machines for many years but then the table games came out – Pac-Man. I went through a period in my life that if I had enough loose change, it went into the Pac-Man table. Then came the video games; they weren’t on the computer but in the pinball-type machines. I found Dungeons and Dragons and the Legend of Zelda. It was during one of my Legend of Zelda games that it all came back to me, “Jane, you must stop, and now!” And that was the end of it. I have truly avoided any game like that. I do not play computer games. When I play the Wii, it is for exercise only and there is absolutely no on-line gaming. I do not gamble at the casinos. I may go with my husband, but I go only as an observer.

When I was in my obsessive mode, it was at times when I was too young to have money, a college student and had no money and no credit cards, or just out of college and had to budget even purchasing a 10 cent newspaper. It came at a good time when my obsession did not impact others. I am far past the time that I will let this take control of me because I remember how I felt as an 8-year old child, coming home empty-handed and thinking how disappointed my parents would be with my actions.

When my grandmother knew she was dying, she began to open up and share things with me. Towards the end of her life I found out how much she and I were truly alike. I was raised and am still a Methodist. When my grandma was younger, part of being Methodist was abstinence from alcohol. She and my grandfather never drank and I always thought it was because they were ol’ time Methodists. She admitted to me (I remember the conversation so well, sitting in her kitchen) that the reason she didn’t drink was because she was afraid she would like it too much. My grandma was being true to herself. She knew that she needed to have the control to say “No” because she was afraid of losing that control.

My revelation came at age eight,  “To thine own self be true”; words to live by and constantly evaluate so I can be the best I can be, at all times. Not even a pinball machine or Pac-Man table can get in my way.