On Saturday, Riley and I shook off our househead and took the girls to the Strawberry Days festival in the next town over. It was one of those – hot damn the sun is burning my soul – kind of days. All the colors of the carnival rides were multiplied by the heat. Just hip high, my daughters looked at the carousel and ferris wheel and spinning orbit of death with awe across their eyes and rose red cheeks. I wanted to see the small festival in their big way, so I knelt down and held them while we looked up.
I grew up on fairs and festivals. I can hear my childhood in the clink of the gates at the front of the line. Taste it in the funnel cakes and spiral cut potatoes. Glimpse it in the exhilarated faces of my girls while they ride something that is just a little faster than they expected. I can’t really explain it. The words aren’t there to capture the feeling. But as I saw my daughters whip around the corner of each ride, look for us in the crowd and smile with pride at their bravery, I felt closer to my dad than I have since his death in February.
He and my mom used to stand in the crowd while I adventured across the metal landscape of carnival rides. I’d look for their faces in my joy or fear and then smile because because I knew they understood. My dad’s parents were both dead by the time he was my age. I wish I could hug him then. A twenty nine year old orphan with wife and babies and no parents in the crowd to search for as he laughed and cried across the landscape of life. Maybe without them, he turned to us. Maybe he felt closer to them, too, while he stood and watched his babies. Maybe, just maybe, in those moments we were able to give to him half of what he gave to us.
After the rides, we ate hot dogs and kettle corn. The girls walked ahead of us to the car, the paper crowns Riley got them trailing glory and cut stars into the heat. As we drove by the carnival, I let myself look into the crowd just once. I didn’t see what I knew wasn’t there. So I reached for Riley’s hand and then turned to the girls,
“That was so great, you guys. Thank you for going with me. What was your favorite part?”
They chattered in their little voices about all the little big things of the day.
And I smiled through the tears.