Some people have a hard time remembering details from their past, especially childhood. All it took for me was a glance at this map.
I can’t remember how old I was – somewhere between 5 and 8 – but I do remember that my grandparents lived in Villa Hills, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, where my grandfather was a recruiter for the Army. My entire family was in town – this was back before my parents were divorced, back when every summer was spent with my grandparents.
It remains to this day the only time I’ve ever been to an amusement park.
I have no timeline, no detailed list of memories, no comprehensive nostalgia – only that there was a definite feeling of exclusivity, like this was the coolest thing I had ever done, like this was never going to be topped no matter how hard we try.
Other than that, it’s a piecemeal collection of fleeting images.
I remember the map; specifically, I remember seeing a section of the park called “Coney Island” and making the only connection I could: the hot dogs we were served in grade school came on “coney buns.” I remember my father clamoring to ride The Thing, a stand-up rollercoaster that sounded horrifying. I remember Hanna-Barbara land, filled with Flintstones and Scooby-Doo and a million other kid rides.
There were long lines. An Eiffel tower. A lot of walking, and a lot of people.
I remember getting wet during the log ride, and being horrified. I couldn’t get wet. I wasn’t supposed to be wet.
I remember leaving, riding home in the dark, grasping for dear life to a stuffed Scooby-Doo doll that my father and grandfather had spent too much money trying to win. The doll had to have been at least three feet tall, or so it seemed to my young mind. I kept it for years, until the Styrofoam beads began to spill out and the legs had to be reattached.
It was the first time I remember being part of a crowd that large. Of being part of something bigger than myself, where I discovered that other families are just like mine – out for a weekend, looking for thrills, fighting over food.
And all it took was a glance at a map.