I was never a fan of scary rides but I looked forward to my summertime visits to Elitch Gardens. It was not your average amusement park. Founded in the 1890’s they prided themselves on the beauty of their flowers as much as the variety of games and rides. Nobu and I went every summer from the time we were dating through the 1990’s when it was torn down.
We would follow the same route through the park, admiring the giant hanging baskets, the aroma mingling with the smell of popping corn, the taste of warm, pink cotton candy and the sounds of happy squealing ebbing and flowing as the rides went up and down. Even the most remote corner pulsated with fun.
What had always been a pleasant excursion took on a new dimension when Neil was three. We discovered Kiddie Land. It was encircled by large trees with plenty of colorful child sized activities to keep their young audience busy.
Neil rode the airplanes first, hoping to snag the red one, pulling the lever that controlled the gentle sloping of his craft. Next came the race cars, alway the orange one.
I liked the boats. Neil would dutifully give the attendant his two tickets and bound off, bounding in the sea craft, grasping the steering wheel in one hand, the cord to the bell in the other.
The ride would start it’s slow, predetermined route and Neil and I would wave like mad to each other, him clanging the bell and me saying, “Goodbye, see you soon.”
The boat would dip behind the thick bushes and my son would disappear. I’d quickly shift left, waiting to catch that first glimpse of him as he came back, our eyes locking at the same moment. He’d start clanging with renewed vigor, both of us waving, “Hello! Hello!.”
Neil and I did this every summer until he was old enough to go on the regular rides with his dad. By then, Evan was three and I would stay in Kiddie Land, meeting up with the others for lunch and games.
Once–just once–I became distracted by the mom standing next to me and didn’t wave “Hello” as Evan rounded the bend. His shoulders slumped as he stopped ringing the bell. He looked so sad. I made up for it by hopping a bit from one foot to the other the next time he completed the circle, calling loudly, “Hello Evan. Hello!”
Soon enough it was Evan’s time to go off with Nobu and Neil while I went with Andrew to that secluded corner. I was content.
One year when Andrew got in the boat I couldn’t help but notice his knees were folded up ear his chin and he had to scooch to fit in the seat.
This was to be my last time in Kiddie Land.
The thick canopy of foliage barely masked the oppressive August heat, the humidity mixing with the already thick air as it rose in visible waves from the concrete to the sky. The world took on the appearance of a mirage. I had left my drink on a park bench and I could feel the creeping effects of dehydration.
The ride started and I began my ritual of “Goodbye, see you soon,” trying to ignore my light-headedness. The children started to move.
All of a sudden I saw Neil at three waving goodbye, then Evan and now Andrew, the illusion of being left behind so real I clutched the back of the park bench, tears and sweat leaving my cheeks chapped.
Today they are all grown up, the illusion a reality. I have waved goodbye at schools and airports, first apartments and visits home for the holidays.
I always keep waving long after they’ve disappeared, just in case they turn around to see if I’m still watching.