The ticket taker looked me up and down as I stood stretching my back and neck to be as tall as I could be. At four years old I was the runt of the litter. Always the smallest of my peers the same age as me as well as the smallest amongst my much older cousins. I didn’t consider it a curse.
Attempting to hand the man our tickets my father’s jovial expression and body language shifted. I caught the familiar smell of stale beer and cigarettes as he lifted me into his arms. I could feel his heart beating fiercely against the wall of his chest where he held me close as he stormed back down the wooden gangplank of the Mighty Mouse Roller Coaster.
Obviously, I was not yet tall enough to ride this ride.
Cussing under his breath as if I wasn’t there he deposited me at the feet of my mother who sat on a bench alone eating a corn dog. I watched as he started to stalk off, and then just as abruptly he returned to me and my mother, bent down to me and said, ‘I’m not mad at you. I love you two.’ And he held up two fingers. He told us to wait there – he would be right back.
As I crawled up on the bench Mom and I exchanged a knowing look between us. We knew that he was off to get another beer. Even at that young age- my heart skipped a beat when he said that; because all three of us knew ‘be right back’ could mean a few minutes, a few hours or a few days.
He disappeared into the crowd. After sharing a few bites of what was left of her corn dog she wrapped the wax paper around the stick and handed it to me- motioning for me to deposit it in the big metal trash can. I skipped to and from my destination.
As we waited on the bench for Daddy, I had an up-close opportunity to watch the people ride the roller coaster and felt my fear begin to rise in my throat. Which was followed by gratitude. We weren’t allowed to ride it because I was too small. At least that’s what the man had told my Dad. ‘Sorry sir- she’s too small. Maybe next year?’
I could hear the wooden planks creaking and the rush of metal against metal as the carts flew past us with the screaming people inside. I felt a bittersweet terror for a few seconds I had so wanted to ride that ride with my Daddy and I was just as relieved that we could not.
I should have known better. Because within minutes he returned with his liquid courage in hand. He took my hand and said, ‘Let’s ride girl.’
That would not be the last time in my life he would say to me.
I TRUSTED him.
We walked hand in hand back up the wooden planked ramp that turned a third of the way up and then turned again. Like before, I looked for my Mother seated on the bench across from the ride. She had a large Kodak camera around her neck and she was ready to snap our photo as we whirred past.
The same man was there to measure the riders and take our tickets, but before he could object my father stood up to him and told him, ‘Listen mister, we don’t mean you any trouble. But this is MY daughter. And I am responsible for her. I know the risks and I don’t want her growing up being afraid. She’s small, yes, but she is fierce. And she has waited all day to ride this ride with me. I’m her father. Please let us ride this ride.’
The man looked down at me and asked, ‘Young lady, is this true? You have waited all day just to ride this ride?’
He shook his head and waived us through.
We climbed into the car that was at the front of the string of cars. He put his arm around me and held me close to his side. I was just tall enough to see over the top of the car but not tall enough to see the tracks. All I saw was the big blue Texas sky melting into a day glow orange sunset.
My own heart pounded wildly in my chest and head. It was thrilling as it jerked and turned and jerked us again backwards to make the climb to the first of several hills. The wind rushed past my ears and pulled at my doggy eared pony tails on both sides of my head. I found myself in disbelief that I was finally on this ride! My Dad held me tight and screamed along with me in fun!
I was not scared.
The ride continued for a few minutes more and we found ourselves back at the beginning too soon for my liking. It was time to disembark. But I didn’t want to get off and asked my Dad if we could ride it again.
As people got off and back on- he stepped out of the metal car onto the platform and dug some bills out of his wallet- pressed them into the man’s hand and sat back down beside me with a huge grin on his face.
We were riding again.