To a significant degree, the posts on this blog exist to record my old stories. Over the decades, I have told and retold them, to the point where they form the oral history of my life and my family. Stories are a common way for us to connect with our history, but they aren’t the only way.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a single graduate student, and my then-fiancée was a special education master teacher of preschool-aged children. My summer schedule held a significant quantity of free time back then, so I was able to chaperone when she took her class on a field trip to Hoffman’s Playland, a small amusement park in our community.
I was given responsibility for two students — Decoda, and Stephanie — and spent the morning supervising them as they went from ride to ride. The two inner-city girls clamored and competed for my affirmation and attention, and I suspect they had no male role models at home. It was sweet and sad at the same time.
At the end of the field trip, we put the children on their buses for return to their homes in Albany. The school day was over, so Faith and I didn’t have to go with them. Instead, we took a few minutes and sat together on the Ferris Wheel, enjoying together the end of a day well spent. Faith calls it one of our first dates, and I guess it’s true.
Flash forward twenty-five years, and we’ve been married for twenty-four. Unlike many couples, we probably date as often these days as we did back then. Certainly my budget can handle the prospect of a night out better than it could in those days. Hoffman’s is still there, but just barely — they will be closing permanently at the end of the 2014 season. In recognition of this, Faith and I went back this week to ride on the Ferris Wheel one last time. Like the field trip it recalls, the evening left me with bittersweet emotions.
A significant chunk of my family history is tied up in in amusement parks. My high school prom was concluded the next morning with a day spent at Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach. This is the same place, my grandfather told me, that he and my grandmother, with my great aunt and her husband, became “stuck” atop the (then) worlds-largest roller coaster and had to be rescued. Paragon Park closed the year I graduated, and only the carousel remains to remind me of that place.
Faith holds even earlier memories of a park in New York: Storytown USA. During our lives, the park has morphed from a simple Mother Goose-themed amusement park for children into a full-blown teen-and-adult theme park, renamed The Great Escape, and purchased by Six Flags. Though popular, the park as it is presently constituted does not hold the same nostalgia for us as it used to. Real, physical amusement parks are too ephemeral.
This is, I think, the reason our stories are so important. My daughters tell me that my stories have the unusual characteristic of stability: they are the same today as they were when I first told them. Other tales may drift over time, with different facts, features, and interpretations, but mine always open the same, include the same key descriptive elements, and end with the same moral. It has become a comfort to my children, not least because they can quickly identify a known story and ignore it, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have missed anything important.
Oddly, though, these same children want me to record my stories online, fixing them in space forever, to endure long after the amusement parks of their childhood are gone. I consider myself a writer of fiction, but it is these Mostly True stories they desire the most.
“Scene in Paragon Park, Nantasket Beach, MA” cropped from an original postcard published by M. Abrams, Boston, Massachusetts. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Other photos are the author’s.