It’s been over four months since I’ve written anything of substance.
It’s not for lack of desire.
I’ve stared at the same blank white screen many times since finishing the eulogy I wrote for my father’s funeral in June. Sometimes the screen remains in front of me for several minutes. Still other times it’s only a few seconds before the need wanes.
This is, of course, abnormal. I’ve written most of my life. For a significant portion of my adult years it is how I’ve earned a living. In college I was once recognized for how proficient I was at knocking out copy under the gun. For as long as I can remember putting words on to a piece of paper (or typing them on a screen) has come as natural as breathing or blinking.
Recently though the thought has led to nothing but anxiety. The words and ideas are there but I have no desire to translate them onto the page.
So, as I sit staring out of a rain-streaked press box window in Evanston, Illinois, with an hour or so to kill before heading west, it’s time to write about the Ferris wheel.
I’ve thought about the Ferris wheel a lot in the days, weeks and now months since my father’s death.
The exact year has been lost in my mind but for the sake of moving forward I’ll ballpark my age to be around 8 or 9 years old.
The arrival of the Clinton County Fair signaled the end of summer. Every year, until I was old enough to trek to the fairgrounds on my own, my dad and I would attend the final night of the fair together. The highlight was always the demolition derby, which one could not enjoy with a fresh lemonade from the neighboring Goose Lake Lions stand.
This particular night also included a ride on the Ferris Wheel, which traditionally was set up on the east end of the grounds. And it’s that trip around and around and around that my mind had returned to dozens of times since June 16th.
[Aside: My father’s death is recorded as the following day, June 17. That’s a formality. He took his last breath at 11:57 PM on a Sunday night, which happened to be Father’s Day. I know. I was there.]
My father didn’t just dislike heights, he hated them. However, he wasn’t going to tell his son no when asked to take a spin with him. Sometimes you don’t realize just what your parents are willing to do for you until years after the fact. This is one of those gentle reminders.
What made this night and this ride take residence in my memory banks was that it seemingly lasted forever. We got our money’s worth because the operator of the ride was engrossed in a book. It must have been a good one too because having ridden a Ferris Wheel before I knew the accustomed amount of time one usually got to spend going in circles high above the fairgrounds with a bird’s-eye view of all that was going on below on the midway.
If dad was hoping for a few quick revolutions before we were discharged from our car he was sorely mistaken.
Somewhere, well into the ride, we began to assume that each time the ride slowed to let passengers off our time would be up. Around we’d go again. This must have occurred five or six more revolutions before it was finally our turn to stop on the platform and the operator released the steel latch that locked the gondola’s arm in place.
Now, here’s the thing about that night. Everyone that got on that Ferris wheel probably had a different set of expectations for the ride. There were probably couples or families or friends that were disappointed at how quickly their time to exit came. Then there were other groups of two or three riders who were happy to finally be free of their extended captivity at the hands of a literature-devouring carnie.
The novelty had definitely worn off for both of us midway through but each time we’d lurch back around for another lap we’d savor the ascent and descent thinking this time it had to be our cart that would stall out just above the platform where riders exited and new customers stepped aboard.
Everyone knew the ride had to end at some point but no one knew the duration of their time onboard. People who got on after us also got off before us. There was no rigid protocol in place or, if there was, it wasn’t being followed this particular evening.
That’s what’s helped me make sense of the last four-plus months.
We don’t get to decide when it’s time to exit the ride.