It’s September, a month that conjures memories of returning to school, hot summer weather turning into cool, comfortable autumn, and trees beginning to change from emerald green to blazing orange and yellow. For me, there were always two things I looked forward to every September as a kid, and they usually coincided.
The first was my town’s fall festival. It was basically just a street fair that ran three days, closing off our little one block downtown and filling it with food trailers, midway games, a few small rides and the arcade. The arcade was what I loved; this was back in the 1980s when home video games weren’t all that great. I had the Atari 2600, but the games in the old tattered tent in the middle of the festival were ten times as cool as anything I had. Donkey Kong? Hell, they had Donkey Kong JUNIOR! Space Invaders? They had Galaga!
Every game was better than my poor Atari could produce, and I waited every year to see what new games they had. This was long before GameStops were on every corner hawking the upcoming releases and promising pre-order bonuses. The only way you really found out about new games was when they were put into the mall or restaurants or when you found them at fairs. Of course, you had to pay to play, but back then it was quarters, not tokens (tokens were only found in permanent arcades), and I remember my dad giving me a roll of the shiny coins just before the festival one year so I could play to my heart’s content.
The festival lasted three days, Thursday through Saturday, with parades on each of the days. We’d watch the main parade on Thursday from my grandmother’s front porch, watching the marching band and the fire trucks and classic cars roll by. Then I’d walk downtown, maybe a quarter mile, and see what the festival had brought.
One especially memorable year, probably 1986 or 1987, there was a small stand selling martial arts weapons. They wouldn’t sell anything really dangerous to us kids, but they did have some practice weapons they would sell – I bought a set of foam rubber nunchucks and three soft plastic throwing stars. I was in ninja heaven. Another year there was a “play till you win” game where the prizes were small mirrors silk screened with various designs – album covers, tv show and movie logos, that sort of thing. I won a Ghostbusters mirror, a Transformers mirror, and for my mother, a Prince Purple Rain mirror. I felt ten feet tall handing her the five inch by five inch piece of glass inside its cardboard case.
The other event that happened in early September, often on the last day of the festival, was the start of the new year of Saturday morning cartoon programming. There will be folks who read this that won’t understand why that was a big deal. At the time, there were no cable channels dedicated to cartoons; no Cartoon Network or Boomerang, no Nick Toons or Toon Disney, and while there were often cartoons played after school on the regular channels in the 3:30-5:30 block, they were usually just old Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker or Loony Tunes episode.
Saturday mornings, however, were very special to kids, because from about 7am to 11am, the three major networks ran cartoon programming. These were the cool cartoons, the ones you waited for all week to see. The first day of the new cartoons was very special; you had to figure out what to watch and when to turn the channels. Sometimes what you wanted to see conflicted with another good show and you’d be faced with what was basically the worst dilemma a child could face. No TIVO back then, and unless you were lucky enough to have a second TV with a VCR attached (back when VCRs cost upwards of $500), you had to make some choices.
Before that magic Saturday came, however, there were the preview shows. All three of the networks would put on half hour previews of the upcoming fall cartoon schedule. These were usually shown in prime time, amazingly enough, and they were your first glimpse at the new and returning shows. Usually they just showed the opening credits of the series, but it was more than enough to get you excited for what was coming. Every so often, the pilot for a cartoon series would be shown right after the sneak preview. Thundercats, as I recall, had this sort of introduction. Then you’d get to watch cartoons AT NIGHT! Amazing, in the world of the 1980s.
On the years where those two events, the festival and the new cartoon season, coincided, it always felt like the festival was celebrating the upcoming cartoons. Since both were inexorably linked to very fond memories, September itself came to be pretty much my favorite month.
Now, older and wiser, or at least older, I still remember September fondly. And now, though I am unable to attend this year, I have a new reason to love September: DragonCon, which might as well be my childhood festival and new cartoons rolled into one and baked in a semi-nude cosplay pie.
So I invite everyone to celebrate September, to enjoy the weather, to remember Septembers past and plan for Septembers future. You never know when the memories you make this month will become those you carry with you for a lifetime.