I can count the times on one hand, maybe even leave out the thumb, the number of times my family went to an amusement park when I was a little girl. When we did, it was like rolling up all the fun of a week-long vacation into one day.
Of course, I always went to the County Fair in August, but I only looked at the rides. For one thing, I was busy with Lady Bird, in the 4-H show, making sure she kept her tail clean. Dad took to us kids to every single display of old-fashioned tractors, trucks and tools He said, “This is what we used when I was a little boy.” He had that happy grin on his face, like he was sharing something super-interesting, that no kid could live without. Why would I care about something that happened such a long, long time ago? Those tools were rickety and rusted looking, and some of the needed horses to work.
Mom told me when she and Dad were dating, he liked to take her to the Fair, too. Once a hawker was gathering people around to tell them about a treatment for hemorrhoids. He shouted out in that special carny voice that’s way louder that a normal voice and each syllable is pronounced distinctly, so you know exactly what he’s saying; that same kind of voice Mom used when she’s angry, and she wanted me to know she meant business, only a carnie left out the angry part.
“Many people are embarrassed to tell their doctor they have hemorrhoids,” the carnie shouted. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” Dad and Mom saw the crowd kind of shuffling around and looking down, like they were just embarrassed to think about hemorrhoids, let alone have them. “There’s effective treatment,” the carnie continued, “Don’t be embarrassed.” Mom had no clue what hemorrhoids were.
“I got ’em,” Dad shouted out. “I’m not embarrassed.” That got the crowd laughing and looking at him just grinning and waving his arms. Later on Mom found out Dad had no idea what a hemorrhoid was either; I guessed they found out together, ’cause Mom said she got some after she had me.
Anyways, one special Saturday morning, early, early, Mom woke us all up, and I put on my best striped peddle-pushers, and button-front sleeveless blouse, and my red Keds, ’cause we were going all the way to Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park. That’s where Ma Bell was having a picnic for all the telephone men, like Dad.
Bob-Lo Island was not even in the United State; it was in Canada, out in the middle of Lake Huron, kinda by the Motor City. We got on a ferry in the Motor City, and rode way, way out into another country, watching the Motor City float by, looking all peaceful and clean, and beautiful from the water: shiny skyscrapers, parks, and lots and lots of cars. That got kind of boring, so Bonita and Vickie and I went exploring on the boat.
Each level of that boat had a machine where a person could put a nickel in and get a hand full of M&Ms or peanuts out, delivered right there in your hands. The three of us went around that boat and turned the crank on every single one of those machines. Criiick-click, criiiick-click. Nothing. We didn’t have a nickel, but you never knew, a kid could get lucky and maybe somebody got distracted right after he put the nickel in the slot and forgot all about cranking the knob.
On the very top deck, the wind whipped our hair right out of our pony-tails and all around our face. People were pointing to the big buildings all around, but I was intent on those machines. Jackpot. It was Bonita who turned the crank. She was so surprised when the M&Ms started coming out the slot, she almost forgot to put her hands underneath. The three of us stood there for a minute just looking at each other, Bonita’s brown-black eyes wide and her brown hair fanning out around her face like a peacock, and Vickie’s hair and blue eyes looking like the blond version of Bonita, and me holding my hands around Bonita’s so we didn’t lose one single M&M. Then, just like there was some super-secret signal, we three went running to show the whole family our booty.
M&Ms candy coating kept them from melting, I knew that from the ad on TV, so no need to hurry and eat them all up like a Hershey bar, which melts into liquid quicker than you can say, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat.” Besides, I wanted to test out that ad, and see if it was real honest truth, so I held one back and kept it in my hand until we got on the island.
“Melts in you mouth, not in your hand,” I was pretty proud of my experiment, just like a real scientist, so I showed Mom and popped the last M&M in my mouth right as we were lining up to get off the ferry. Mom smiled that distracted smile she had, like she was thinking, that’s nice, now get in line, stay together, hold hands, it’s crowded here, there’s no time for science right now. I could kinda guess those thoughts ’cause I heard them come out of her lips before.
Bob-lo Island was just like that island that Pinocchio went on when he skipped school: all sorts of candy and entertainment and rides. As many rides as I wanted. I could go on the same ones over and over again. Wheee! That was just like Disney Land I saw on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, in black and white, so the color had to be imagined.
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The Scrambler made Bonita laugh her guts out, ’cause she kept sliding over next to me, sitting between her and Deanna, squishing the life out of me. I kept pushing her over to the center, then she slid back over. It was worth the squishing just to see her laugh so darned hard that tears ran down her cheeks.
I loved the Tilt-a-Whirl: round and round, making my stomach flip over the same way it did when Dad drove over a big hill fast, only with the Tilt-a-Whirl, the flipping never stopped. The laughter just bubble over in me, like too much Ivory Liquid in the dishwater.
Deanna’s favorite was the Dodge Cars. Not Dodges like Dad drove, kids were supposed to crash in these Dodges. Big rubber bumpers and no windows to crash into a sharp shards and cut a person’s head off, like real cars. Besides, in Bob-lo’s Dodge Cars we were all strapped in, so no flying out and getting run over, either. In Dodge Cars, crashing was super-fun, not deadly like in real cars.
Bob-lo Island was most fun a kid could imagine, laughing a joking, going on ride, and eating fun food. Just like Pinocchio, only no cigar smoking and no turning into donkeys at the end of the day.
Today people drive all strapped into their cars and protected by airbags, as if they are in those Dodge Cars on Bob-lo Island. Bob-lo Island is a private resort, and the Motor City is far from the proud city it once was. One thing is still the same: when I ride in the Tilt-a-Whirl, laughter starts bubbling out of me and I have no way of containing it. More than a few carnies gave me and the grandkids a couple extra go-rounds, just because they never saw anyone laugh so hard. I guess I’m just easy to entertain. Wheeee!