‘Ticket to Ride’
Pulsing music and glitzy lights beckoned me to Westlake Park's Holiday Carrousel in downtown Seattle. It was the magnificent carrousel's first local Holiday appearance and grand opening. The year was 1988.
A kiosk offered free tickets, asking for a donation to Northwest Harvest. As I waited in line for my turn to ride, I noticed a small, elderly man leaning against the fence, bundled inside an old brown sweater, knit cap pulled snugly over his ears.
"Are you going to ride?" I asked him. He shrugged his hunched shoulders and said, "No money."
I thrust my ticket into his hand, saying, "It's free." He didn't seem to understand English very well, so I repeated, "It's free." A smile lit up his face as he repeated, "FREE?"
He grabbed his cane from the fence, climbed aboard the carousel and hefted himself onto a sturdy black steed on the outside row. The black horses are the most beautiful, you know.
I missed that first ride, but I could always come back another day. Seeing the old man's pleasure as the carousel moved out of sight, back again, around and around, gave me even more pleasure.
The following Holiday season, I volunteered to help run the carousel for the Boys & Girls Club fundraiser – a dream come true. The anticipation of the excited children as they waited their turn was awesome. The toddlers invariably chewed on their tickets, which were soaked when they handed them to me.
As I helped load up the children whose parents didn't ride along with them, I picked them up and buckled them securely on their chosen horses. The ride moved slowly at first; as it picked up speed, the squeals of delight and tears of fright came freely.
While holding on to a pole at the edge, I'd reach out my hand to high-five the children still waiting in line. I begged to take my turn at running the carousel machinery. There was no automation running those horses – only "people-power." It meant pulling a huge lever that started the gears moving slowly.
Reversing the lever slowed the carousel to an eventual stop. The children sometimes cried then. I told them to ask their parents to bring them back, as I unbuckled them and lifted them from their horses.
By now their bottoms were often as wet as the tickets they'd chewed on. I don't know who had the most fun – I, the "carny," or the little ones.
Twenty-five years have gone by. The old man has passed on. I have entered my eighties. The children have grown up; they may be bringing their own children to ride the carousel this year. Does anyone remember the carousel lady wearing the "tiger sweater" and Santa Claus earrings who buckled them onto their horse? They are the ones who gave me the most joy – I couldn't have done it without them.
June Foster Stinson is a resident of Lynnwood.