"Oldest Carousel in America"; that's what the plaque on the building proudly proclaimed. That never mattered much to me. Each ride on those mangy, frozen stallions was another chance to catch the brass ring. Well do I remember the very first time I succeeded in that. In those days, my feet fit in the small metal stirrups. The beat up old bell gave a dull thud, a lever ground and slowly the merry-go-round began to spin. Sitting atop my sorry excuse for a horse, I felt like a prince charging into battle.
Clickity-clichity-click! The rings were fed into the arm.
Clip-clip-clip! The kids began to snatch them out. Me, I was lucky to get one every other try. Then, came the end, and the brass ring was dropped into that old arm. Coming around for the final spin, my eyes widened, my eyebrows crammed into my hairline (yeah, it was lower then) and my smile went ear-to-ear. Bones stretched, muscles strained, fingers crooked and my feet pushed against the stirrups until my little, bony behind was high above that wood saddle.
Snatch! I pulled my hand back and looked at it. There, looped about my pinky and ring finger, was the brass ring. I was Old Faithful. The joy welled up and erupted from me as I exchanged my own "Golden Ticket" for a real ticket, a ticket for a free ride.
Over the course of many summers, my reach improved. Two rings, three, four, five rings became my standard. Of course, by then I didn't really fit in the saddle any more. But oh, those poor old horses; decades of paint and abuse had taken their toll. Manes were scraggily, tails gone, crystal eyes cracked or missing and leather bridles brittle with age. Great hunks of wood had been gouged from the swinging stirrups. It was a wonder how the horses' legs stayed connected to their bodies.
And yet, and yet, still I remembered that first brass ring.
Time was not a friend to the Flying Horses. Prices went up, conditions went down and kids lost interest. Pac-Man, Asteroids and Centipedes became the rage.
And yet, the faithful like me returned each summer.
Until the day the sad news came: the carousel was to be sold! The video generation didn't even notice. The faithful wept, but most glumly accepted it. Ah, such is the way of things, the old makes way for the new; you can't hold into the past.
Some things in life are worth the fight. The Island Historical Society rallied the troops. Letters were written, meetings held, funds raised - sometimes a penny at a time. Seemed some of the video generation had hearts. And finally, the poor old horses found a new owner. Ah, then the real work began. Layers of old paint were peeled away, down to the very first. Wood was treated, hair sewn, holes filled in and paint applied. It took the whole winter, but oh, what a glorious day of re-birth! Crystal eyes gleamed, manes and tails wafted in the summer breeze, and soft new bridles waited for the next generation of riders.
The new brass bell rang out, the lever slid and slowly the renewed champions began their circular race. There wasn't an empty saddle that day, or that summer.
Since then, the horses have never wanted for riders; among them, my own daughter. She and I have chased each other many times about that old course.
And yet, and yet, still I remember that first brass ring.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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