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Gramps, Mr. Peanut enlivened 1939 World's Fair

Cotton candy, the Ferris wheel, midway barkers, the lilting strains of a merry-go-round _ most people's idea of a day at the fair. But not mine. Instead, I remember a warm summer's day in 1939 at the New York World's Fair, where I encountered a most unusual friend.

Since we lived in the New York City suburbs, Grandpa had often gone to the fair and returned home to dazzle us with tales of its wonders. Then, unexpectedly, he asked Mom if he could take me along. I was thrilled.

So there we were a couple of days later, trudging down the long train ramp from the elevated subway line to Flushing Meadows Fairgrounds. Despite the heat, Gramps high-stepped along as usual, while I ran to keep up.

Suddenly, the magnificent trylon and perisphere, symbol of the fair, rose up to greet us. I felt like Dorothy in the Land of Oz ogling the Emerald City for the first time. As I stared, the towering spire and massive ball of the trylon and perisphere seemed to shimmer and melt into the noon sun like a gigantic spilled ice cream cone.

I could hardly wait to explore the perisphere's inner sanctums. Grandpa assured me we'd have that fascinating experience soon, but first a few other exhibits. We meandered through the fair for about an hour.

Eventually we came onto the Central Fairway. A noisy marching band, complete with colorful military uniforms, nearly ran us down. Side-stepping to get out of the way as well as to get a better view in the large crowd, we were soon caught up in the stirring martial music exploding around us. Like the big kid he was, Grandpa clapped like crazy.

The next thing I remember clearly was standing in the middle of the fairway completely alone. Somewhere between the clapping and the band's smashing finale, the crowd and Grandpa had disappeared. But fortunately I remembered his backup plan.

Earlier, as we had passed through a huge concave building, probably the base of the perisphere, Grandpa had pointed out a big yellow and black replica of Mr. Peanut, Planter Peanuts' famous trademark. Unaccustomed like to today's kids are to life-sized Disney-esque characters, I was most impressed. Grandpa said that "in the unlikely event we became separated," this would be our meeting place.

So when the initial shock of losing Gramps wore off, I remembered, and, somehow, found my way back to Mr. Peanut. Within seconds I stood huddlng in his protective shadow, wishing Grandpa would hurry up and find me.

All around, people rushed back and forth as though they knew where they were going. I envied them. Occasionally, someone glanced over at me, or I thought he did. Stories of kidnappers and other strange villains who preyed on little kids came to mind. The passing throng began to appear sinister.

Moving to the other side of the circular exhibit, I tried to blend in with the display. I was really getting scared. Every so often, I gazed up at Mr. Peanut for courage. And he just kept smiling back. Somehow, my new friend's jaunty, comical demeanor reassured me. With a silly guy like him around, it'd be okay, I told myself. But as the crowd thinned, I began to wonder. I was close to tears when, finally, I saw Gramps.

Arms flayed, half-running/half-trotting, he looked like a flapping chicken about ready to take off and wing it across the wide rotunda. Then suddenly, he was there, staring down at me as if he couldn't believe I was there, too. Face flushed and steamy, he kept shaking his head from side to side, gasping for air and unable to talk _ unusual for Gramps.

Finally, he sucked in a deep breath, harumphed a couple of times, and grabbed my hand. "Well, come on then," he mumbled, trying to sound nonchalant. "Let's go see what's inside this old perisphere." All was forgotten as we sauntered off on our way to the next exciting adventure.

Then he looked down at me out of the corner of his eye and added, "By the way, it might be best if you didn't tell your mom what happened today." And he gave me a little wink.

I knew what he meant. So because I liked going places with Gramps, I never uttered a word. However, when he and I tramped the city together after that, I kept a sharper eye out for the old darlin' and stuck like glue.

Dianne D. Price is a freelance writer who lives in Indian Rocks Beach.

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