Sitting comfortably in my house and watching the snow fall, now that we are finally having snow, I keep thinking about the warm weather to come. The weatherman just announced another week of snow with spring almost a month away. The local PBS station is showing a program on Spokane’s Natatorium Park which doesn’t exist except in photos and memories.
For those who are not familiar with this park, it was the local Disneyland of its day. There were areas for a variety of amusements, from a “Merry-go-Round” to a bandstand. Foods were available. It was a place to take the family, a place to get away from the daily routine and reconnect with friends and family.
The television program brought back memories of Playland, Kiddyland, and similar parks that offered family fun. One of the best when I was very young was Playland, and my favorite ride was the miniature train. No, not the small steam engines that took you on a ride around the park’s perimeter. This train consisted of a seat that was barely larger than a small child’s scooter, and a crank that you used something like bicycle pedals to make it move along the tracks.
There was the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Ferris Wheel, and many more rides. There were games of skill and games of chance. These parks were like county fairs, but open from spring through fall, closing before snow fell.
The parks from my childhood are all closed and gone now. No laughter echoing across the midway, no screams from the roller coasters, no smells from the popcorn and cotton candy booths. The lands have become housing tracts, warehouses, and small businesses. All that remains are memories that the cold and snow can’t cover or change.
More snow is falling, and I watch it build up in the yard and on the street, but, in my mind, my memory, it vanishes as I remember trips to some of the magical places of my childhood. I remember family outings to St Joe (Joseph), Michigan to see the bearded baseball team from the monastery, the tulip festival in the spring, and the oceanside amusement park with its amazing Fun House.
Inside, you would climb three stories, grab a piece of carpet, sit on it at the top of the wooden slide and push off . . . the best slide in the world. Next, we would wait until the large disk on the floor would stop spinning, jump on and try to get the best position in the center of the disk and let centrifugal force push/pull us sliding from the disk.
I remember the swan boats and the Tunnel of Love. For us there was nothing romantic; it was the darkness of the tunnel and being allowed to go on the ride alone. Haunted houses were wonderful as the seat you were buckled into also followed a route through darkness where a variety of ghosts jumped from the black. Gauzy tentacles dropped from the ceiling to brush your hair, lights flashed on to show scenes of bloody feasts, and we could scream as loudly as we wanted.
I slowly come back to the winter scene that remains outside my window. I laugh at my daydreaming and want to scream as well. I know the snow will stop, Spring will give way to summer, but gone are the parks and rides in my memories. Yes, those were the days.
By I. Kartouche