Monday, June 21, 2010

Throw All Your Rings Into The Ring Box

This morning we woke up to a refreshing summer rain shower. The kind of morning that whispers "Oh go ahead, roll over and pull up that sheet a little snugger." And the next thing you know you're drifting away on the sound of raindrops falling through the leaves and dripping off the eaves.

Rainy mornings didn't always have this effect on me. When I was a kid, this was the kind of morning that brought sadness and disappointment. The sound of rain falling outside my bedroom window inevitably happened the same day some exciting outdoor adventure was planned. A drive to a state park and a picnic lunch. A day at the pool. A long awaited day long bike ride. Or Bushkill Park Day. Wow. That was the worst.

My father worked for New Jersey Power & Light and each summer, the employees and their families were treated to a day at Bushkill Park, an amusement park just outside Easton, Pennsylvania.

Bushkill Park Days. An accumulation of singular moments from each successive summer packed away and ready to be shaken out and enjoyed one at a time now some 40 years later. All the chocolate Yoo-Hoo you could drink. The free tickets for the rides. When tickets were all used up, you ran back to the pavilion where the grown-ups were hanging around. The men drinking Rolling Rock. The women sipping Cokes and minding the babies and the toddlers. The Man With The Tickets would unwind the big roll and hand you a long strip. How many? 10? 15? It didn't matter because when they were gone you could go back for more. Although, the Man With The Tickets would try to make you believe that this would be the last strip of tickets you would be given. "There will be no more," he'd say with a stern look. "Better make them last."

So off we'd race to the Bumper Cars, the Fun House, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and for me endless rounds on the Carousel. Finally, one glorious summer, my arms were long enough that I could grab rings from the ring bar. I'd lean way out over the edge of the moving platform, clinging to the post of my trusty steed as he soared gracefully up and down. Stretch a little further and bing - I snatched the ring. One time I even got the brass ring - good for one free ride.

And then the tickets would be gone and we'd race back to the pavilion worried that maybe this time the Man With The Tickets would be right and this time the tickets really would be gone.

Only one time can I remember, in a vague sort of way, that the ticket roll was empty. I was older by that time, 12 or maybe 13, and already losing the optimistic ideals of my youth. I don't remember being disappointed. Just gave a shrug and an 'Oh Darn.'

It wasn't too long after that the power company stopped the tradition of Bushkill Park Day. Another victim of corporate cost cutting. And today Bushkill Park itself has fallen victim to two floods, irresponsible flood control, and not enough money.

In my mind I can still smell the cotton candy and the popcorn, see the bright colored lights strung through the park, hear the metallic snap-crack of The Whip, and feel the juicy scariness of running through the rotating barrel in the Fun House. Best of all, embedded in my memory, I hear the jolly, lilting melodies of the carousel organ with its brass, its reeds, and the percussive beat of the tambourines and bass drum. And all too soon I hear the voice directing us to "Throw all your rings in the ring box. All your rings in the ring box, please." The voice that foretold the coming of the end of the ride.

I see Bushkill Park now as a kind of metaphor for my life. You only have so many tickets to ride. You don't know how many more you might get. You better enjoy each ride as you go round and round through life. And when the day comes and I hear the voice instructing "Throw all your rings in the ring box" I hope that I am still carrying the excitement and optimism of Bushkill Park Day that even the rainiest summer morning cannot squelch.
Bushkill Park: The Last Ride

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