Whenever we visited amusement parks together–whether at a park he ran, or one at which he was a visitor like everyone else–my Dad always picked up trash. He could not help himself.
If someone had discarded a cigarette butt, a drinking cup, a candy wrapper onto the ground, my Dad would pick it up and carry the trash in his hands until he found a proper receptacle.
Having a father in the amusement industry meant my brother and I got to spend lots and lots of time at amusement parks. We would go to Six Flags over Texas after school each day. One summer, when Dad ran Old Chicago, we spent the summer riding rides and playing carnival games. Another summer we stayed in Knoxville, Tennessee for the World’s Fair, since Dad ran the midway there. My brother has followed Dad’s footsteps into the amusement industry. I’ve watched from the sidelines.
I’ve watched, over the years, how Dad pays attention to keeping the lines moving. There’s a whole science to those queues we stand in to ride roller coasters. Park managers don’t want us standing in line all day; if we’re standing in line, we’re not buying lemonades and souvenir T-shirts and balloons. I’ve watched how Dad pays the same respect to the parking lot attendant as to the visiting dignitary. And, of course, how he picks up trash without qualm, in order to keep the park–his or someone else’s–looking nice.
I suspect he loved his industry from the very first job he had as a ride operator. I know he loved roller coasters and thrill rides; I inherited that gene from him. He told me he wants to be cremated rather than buried because he would rather have cemetery land available for an amusement park.
When I was a baby, above, he would carry me through the park on his shoulders or in his arms. Two years ago, on our last trip to an amusement park together, I tried to hold hands so he would not wander. Eventually, we came to The Scream, below.
And of course my Dad could not help himself. He rode that ride with gusto, like the grandchild sitting next to him, not dwelling on the ups and downs or what lays ahead, but just enjoying the moment.
*** UPDATE ***
The morning after I posted this article, I was brushing my teeth. That picture you see at the very top of this post sits in that porcelain frame atop a high shelf in my bathroom. Very securely, I might add.
Well, it leapt from its perch, landing on my arm. It did not break. And, though heavy, did not hurt me.
Of course I risk sounding loony, but…I suspect the frame was my dad, somehow, reaching out to me.