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Co-written with Jack McGuire


Growin' up on the Dust-Bowl plains
In the Dirty Thirties years,
Mary-Jo saw the world through a veil of tears.
Only time she'd shed that pain
Was when the travelling show rolled in
At the county fair down in Colorado Springs.

Her daddy's arm could always ring the bell.
She guessed her weight – it was easy to tell.
But she squandered all her dreams in the wishing well.

Wishing wells are dark and deep.
You'd better look twice before you take that leap!
You'd better bait your hook before fishin' in your wishin' well.

Every year more topsoil swept
Off the fields by the raging gales.
For Mary-Jo life grew harsher as the harvests failed.
Her daddy drank hisself to death,
Left her momma with seven kids,
Sold the farm for near nothin' to the man with the highest bid.

In thirty-nine when the show rolled out
Mary trailed behind with the roustabouts.
She was held in a spell by the promise of the wishing well.


Razzlers, dazzlers, hustlers, bustlers,
A carnival of romance rustlers.
Not everything is as it seems,
And wishing wells may steal your dreams.

From town to town, she roamed the west
Always looking for that Midway thrill.
Serving in the sugar shack or working as a shill.
And once the rides had all come to rest
She'd seek out love in some carny's tent.
But she owed no favours and she sure as hell paid no rent.

The strongest arm could always ring her bell.
She'd pull her weight, then she'd say farewell,
For love was just a sideshow: she was gung-ho for that wishing well.


Showmen stoke the fires of gamblers,
A crew of pirates and pan-handlers!
Not all we touch can turn to gold,
And youthful passions soon burn cold.

By forty-two the War had come
And the magic of the shows grew stale;
For Mary Jo it was just one more betrayal.
The young men and the sense of fun
All started to melt away,
Like popcorn butter or ice-cream on a summer's day.

Now Mary-Jo, she's split those shows.
But where she's gone, I just don't know.
Maybe she went looking for some other wishing well.
Looking for the wishes that got lost in the wishing well.
She's washed away all her dreams in the wishing well.
fair well
composite by Stephen Alsford
adapting photos by Andrew Dunn (fair) and Kenneth Allen (well)

Created: November 17, 2014. © Stephen Alsford