A little girl with a long brown ponytail, a sprinkling of freckles on her nose, and brown eyes that take in everything around her approaches the ticket-taker at the Amusement Park. She wriggles with excitement as she presents her ticket. Then she, along with a rush of other little boys and girls, races for the Carousel platform, eyes searching the available horses to find just the right one.
The gentle little brown pony? The proud white mare? The prancing gray filly? Or maybe the fierce, spirited black horse with head thrown back and nostrils flared? The urgency to make a quick decision before all the choices are gone fills her heart with a frantic grip as she nervously scans the corral full of horses, mounted in rows on the round wooden floor.
Her eyes flicker back to the brown pony and the decision is made. While she loves the adventure of riding the horses, there is a little fear involved, and the pony looks kind and harmless. She grips the saddle horn and puts a small sandaled foot in the left stirrup, then heaves herself onto the saddle. She sighs, now that the decision is made and she is safely astride the pony of her choice.
She quickly scans the crowd circling the Carousel, searching for the familiar faces of her parents. A flicker of panic grips her heart when she doesn’t see them amidst all the strange faces watching expectantly. Clutching tightly to the reins, she swivels her whole body in a desperate effort to search the crowd to locate her mama and daddy.
At that moment, the horse lurches and the loud organ music blares. She turns back to the front of the horse, one hand gripping the reins and the other grabbing for the saddle horn. Her heart is thudding loudly as the horse begins rhythmically rising and falling to the beat of the snappy music. There is yet some anxiety as she tries to grasp the idea that she might be alone on the Carousel ride, left to her own devices. The anxiety dances with the thrill of the ride and the sensation of racing through the wind astride this magnificent animal.
As the Carousel sweeps through the crowd of onlookers, she suddenly spots her mother and father, their eyes trained on her as she gallops past. A mixture of relief and happiness rushes through her and she removes her hand from its tight grip on the saddle horn and waves at them frantically. They respond with eager waves and smiles of encouragement.
As the brown pony gallops around yet another circle on the wooden platform, she eases back in the saddle and enjoys the ride. She now knows exactly where her parents are standing: just to the right of the Carousel entrance where another line of youngsters is already forming. She watches the progression of the horses and knows as she swings back by the gate that her parents will still be there . . . watching, cheering. Each time the Carousel comes full circle, she gets ready to wave at them again, basking in the attention and love she sees on their faces. A feeling of security and peace falls over her as she rises and falls to the rhythm of her pony. There is a happy exhilaration in being here today, spending this time with those who love her . . . just getting to be a kid.
In later years, she would come to Amusement Parks and Fairs with her peers when no adults were there to observe. At first, she always gravitated to the Carousel ride, the one they always called the merry-go-round. But her friends said it was too tame, a baby ride. The one time she did ride by herself felt flat and empty: there were no loved ones to wave at, no one to cheer her progress and smile with encouragement. That day, she learned the truth about the Carousel: she realized that the thrill throughout all those years was not the excitement of the ride. Her experience was joyful because she shared it with those she loved. It was an important life lesson.
On one of my trips to visit my daughter and son-in-law on Long Island, we drove out to the far eastern tip of the North Fork to Greenport. In Mitchell Park, facing the Peconic Bay with a distant view of Shelter Island, sits a Carousel ride. The Antique Carousel is the focal point of the park. Built by the Herschell-Spillman Company in 1920 and donated to the village by the Northrop-Grumman Corporation in 1995, this working antique carousel is one of only a handful of carousels that still features a brass ring dispenser.
I have been to this Carousel more than once. On one particular trip, with my Aunt Joyce, we rode the horses on a sunny spring day. It was a delight to ride with this lively 70-ish lady, both of us enjoying the thrill of the ride. And yes, we had loved ones waving at us, cheering us on. This time, it was my daughter who waved at us as we galloped past. Joyce and I, along with her friend Jackie, later went together to the Kemah Boardwalk near Seabrook, Texas and posed in front of their Carousel ride.
|Joyce and Judy at Kemah|
My friend Hiram carves authentic replicas of Carousel horses from a time long past. He researches and carefully crafts his life-sized equines and has brought joy and delight to those who have seen them.
|Hiram's carousel carving won a|
blue ribbon at the State Fair of Texas
A sense of beauty and nostalgia lives in our memories of those old Carousel rides and their majestic animals. But I think for me, it isn’t just about the horses, about their beautiful carved detail. The music was fun, but that too is not very important. The memory for me is tied up in a single concept: encouragement.
Without the encouragement of our loved ones, where would we be? We might accomplish great things, but why would it matter if we did it alone? Every significant moment in my life has been tied to memories of those who love me. Whether they cheered me on as I rode the Carousel, or played in the high school band, or won an award, the significance of the moment was linked to having a network of support.
My parents were always faithful cheerleaders for my sister and me. I had teachers who believed in me and offered their encouragement. Friends throughout the years have been my staunch supporters, and numerous extended family members have continuously cheered me on as well—not because I was developing a cure for cancer or any vast accomplishment, but because they thought I was a person of significance and wanted me to know they supported me. My children are some of my biggest encouragers today.