A Fondness for Funfairs

Dearest Rachel –

Pulling into Melas Park, where I usually meet Erin to walk together on Tuesdays, I noticed that the parking lot we both usually use is unavailable.

Turns out, while my village and Erin’s city have both canceled their annual Independence Day festivals, the town located between the two (which is why we meet there to walk together, as it’s mutually – and approximately equally – inconvenient for both of us) has decided to go ahead with everything. Which probably means that whoever shows up as a vendor is going to absolutely make bank. Because everybody from everywhere is going to show up here. After all, where else is there to go?

Now to be fair, nothing is open yet. Everything is just being set up right now. I mean, it’s only Tuesday, and the Fourth isn’t until Sunday. So they gotta set everything up first.

In the meantime, while I wait for her to show up, I find myself wandering around the area where the roustabouts are working. It is, to say the least, a nostalgic site.

Only a few lights are on so far, and yet at the same time it just looks like a fairground should. All those cheap-and-cheerful rides set up so hastily, looking just solid enough that they’d probably hold together, but clearly just hammered together over the course of a day.

Yes, I know that amusement parks such as Cedar Point and the like are meant to emulate the look and feel of the old-time carnival fairgrounds, but in a much more permanent and sturdy form. None of this “here they are, now they’re gone” transience. These rides may give you a scare, but they’re safe – as long as you don’t go to doing something stupid like jumping over a fence marked “do not enter” looking for your hat that blew off when you were riding the coaster previously.

But I wonder if somehow that rickety nature isn’t really part of the appeal, part of the charm. There’s something about a fair that crops up right there in the middle of your neighborhood all of a sudden, like the sprouting and blossoming of a great and giant flower garden, that can’t quite be replicated by the permanent installation of a theme park that exists some distance away. It’s that very nearness that renders this thing so wonderful; you can just decide to show up, on a whim, whereas the theme park, you have to make a day out of it, including that long drive, the parking, the admission fee… well, you get the picture.

To be sure, there are some similarities. Even as I’m looking over the set pieces – beg pardon, the rides – that are being built, they have this familiar nature to them, again, like I’ve seen at Six Flags or Cedar Point. And while I can’t quite yet smell the funnel cake, the hot asphalt, the slight whiff of nicotine that seems the hallmark of every such installation, my imagination is already conjuring up those fragrances in my mind.

Not sure that Daniel would prefer this version to the one at Cedar Point. But it’s what we’ve got to work with here, so…

I’m even remembering our last visit to such an event. I think Heritage Days was running during one of the times we visited your parents’ home – your childhood home – after they had both passed away, and we were busily trying to determine what to keep and what to get rid of (and of course, so much of what we decided to keep wound up getting discarded in any event, because they didn’t hold the same sentimental value to me or to Daniel as they did to you). The three of us just had to go, because while you grew up with it, neither Daniel nor I had ever seen it. Granted, we didn’t get the chance to view the hot-air balloon launch on the outskirts of town (that had been scheduled for a time when we hadn’t planned to still be in town), but we did get to enjoy the carnival that had been set up in the middle of the town square, right alongside the courthouse and in the middle of the city park. There were fewer rides, of course, and fewer vendors, but that was to be expected in a smaller town such as yours. It was enough to fill the square, and that was all that was needed. We dined on fried foods (including Oreos!) and ice cream – this was when Daniel discovered his love of mango smoothies, if I recall correctly – and just enjoyed our time together.

On a separate note, I’ve been going through the photographs that Jenn had put together as part of the funeral. One of them has you at Six Flags with Joanna and Will on a ride that I believe was called the King Chaos. Since I had no desire to ride, I stood there and did my best to take a picture of the three of you

Joanna (in the striped shirt) takes the best picture here.

Both the fly-by-night carnival and the permanent theme park have their place – don’t get me wrong – but they really don’t have the same vibe to them; there’s only so much that the theme park can replicate in terms of feel. And of course, there are things a hastily cobbled-together funfair simply can’t include, either. Each has their own separate and distinct charm… and I can hardly believe how much I’ve missed both of them.

I remember how, the last time we were at Frontier Days in our village, after having walked through all of the local vendors, and purchasing the odd ware here and there, I was tired and wanted to go home. Meanwhile, you still wanted to ride the rides, and since they were selling a wristband that would allow you unlimited access (at least it would at that late hour – I think it was officially good for only a couple of hours, but as the festival was about to wrap up in about that much time, it was effectively good until closing time), whereas I didn’t think I could get my money’s worth out of that thing personally, given how little I really wanted to ride anything. So we compromised; you dropped me off at home, and drove back to the fair grounds to try everything you wanted. You told me later about how you rode just about everything several times over – yeah, you really got your money’s worth out of that thing.

At this point, I sort of feel bad for not having stayed, and shared your joy with you. But I still don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it nearly as much; I might’ve been something of an anchor to you and your own enjoyment. I don’t know.

I’ve been told that in some ways having as a distillation of everything pleasant, everything wonderful, everything we enjoyed and appreciated here on earth, increased by orders of magnitude. I do wonder if you’ve been able to relive the joy you experienced that day, but even more so. Would that you could tell me.

For now, I should probably make plans to drop by Melas Park again later this week, and enjoy at least the shadow of glee that earth can provide, and look forward to the chance to share something so much better with you some day.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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