Ruminating On: Theme Parks
I’m a lucky guy. I understand, when it comes to the modicum of success I’ve had thus far as an author, that I wouldn’t be here without certain people. You know who you are, and I am forever grateful to you. People seem to love Bay’s End, and I’m proud to say that I wrote that book, but since the novel was published in January of 2012, the outpouring of praise has been bittersweet. Because someone very important to me, missed it all.
Irma Meister-Caringer was born October 30, 1919. During her years upon this earth, she traveled everywhere, saw everything, and loved every minute of life. Irma and Lonnie Caringer had four children. In order of appearance, they are: Donna, Barbara, Jess and Rick. One of those children, grew up to be my mother.
I have a little knowledge about my grandmother’s earlier years, but that’s not why we’re here today. You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you she lived an amazing life. She meant a great deal to numerous people, but I need to be a little selfish right now and explain to you what she meant to me.
I didn’t have a terrible childhood. Other than my father being the lay-about he was, my formative years were pretty damn good, in hindsight. Some of my most cherished memories were times spent with my grandmother. She was a lover of adventure and theme parks, and shared that love with me. Before I was ten years old, she’d taken me to every park Southern California had to offer—Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. Sometimes she would ride the rides with me, but as she got up there in age, those times became fewer and fewer. Finally, one year, she stopped riding altogether. That did nothing to lessen her enjoyment, though, as she would always be waiting for me at the exits with a smile mirroring my own. I think about that smile now, and it hurts. Funny how the little things that once caused joy can turn into tears after a while. I suppose they could be happy tears, but this feeling in my chest says otherwise.
When I was fifteen, we left California for Alabama. We ended up having to move back to Cali after Hurricane Opal trashed all of our stuff in 1995, but moved back to the south less than a year later. My communication with Grandma suffered greatly. I understand that people get older, and folks move on, but I could have done more to keep in touch with her. I might have called her more often. I should have. God, I should have.
The years went on and I met a beautiful woman who I would marry. My daughter was born soon after. We moved to Maine for two years and enjoyed the snow until situations outside of my control had us returning to Alabama. I was broken and destitute. I had failed my family. Because of that, I sulked, tucked my tail between my legs and dove inward. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, family or otherwise. Especially not Grandma. I didn’t want her to know the failure I had become. She didn’t deserve a grandson like me. I was an embarrassment. Or so I thought.
Time passed and things began to change. I started a company from the ground up, and was successful. I found I had time to do things I enjoyed again, like writing. And you see how that turned out. Just after I completed the rough draft of Bay’s End, I found the time and money to take my daughter to Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando. I wanted to show her some of the wonders I’d seen as a child, some of the magic I witnessed with my grandmother. My wife was three months along with my son, Chris, at that point, so she missed all the good rides—the ones that pull your face back and have you screaming like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. My Daughter, Autumn, enjoyed everything I took her on, but I think her favorite was Space Mountain. As the cars pulled away from the faux space dock, and we entered that thin tunnel, I heard over the screams of other riders, my daughter’s devious chuckling. Her tone was low, deep, and came in staccato bursts, “Hee…heee…heeee…heeee.” It was rather creepy, but hilarious all the same. The excitement coming off her did little to waylay my own fears, though. I can’t stand that damn ride. Something about being in the dark, only pin lights showing through, emulating stars. I’ve always felt as if I would come across a randomly placed beam, and said crossbar would remove my head in an precise, yet messy, fashion. Even over my screams of utter terror, I could hear my daughter giggling, “Heee…heeee…” and I knew then, as we stepped off the ride, the enjoyment my grandmother must’ve felt with me so many years ago. It’s not about whether or not you enjoy the ride, it’s about the enjoyment of children – how their smiles can infect you and turn a cruel world into a place of hope and joy.
On our way to Orlando from Mobile, Irma Caringer had a stroke. My uncle Rick, whom she was living with at the time, found her lying in the middle of the floor when he came home for lunch. She’d not answered the phone when he called, and he became worried. I can’t even imagine what he must have felt, walking in, finding his mother there on the carpet, breathing, but just barely. She was rushed away to the hospital where they assessed and stabilized her. All the while, I was enjoying Disney with my daughter, just like my grandmother and I had.
We decided to stay in Orlando after hearing the news. Grandma was talking, though her speech was slurred, and she was able to move only one side of her body. My mother, who had come with us on vacation, spoke with her, told her everything was going to be all right, and said we’d be out there as soon as we could. Grandma told her to enjoy the trip. She was fine. She wasn’t going anywhere.
So we stayed. Even though the thought of Grandma loomed in the backs of all our minds, we had our fun. Universal Studios Orlando was a blast, especially for me since the amusement park is much different than the one in Hollywood, California. It was all so new, and I shared my daughter’s thrill of new things. I hadn’t had that feeling at Disney World because, for the most part, it’s just like Disneyland in Anaheim.
We’d spent two days straight walking around theme parks, so when we got back to our suite, we crashed. I was beat down and wore out, cussing my throbbing feet, my aching heels fussing over all the weight they’d had to carry over the past 48 hours. We all went to bed exhausted, but in a good way.
Mom came into our room around ten o’clock and said two simple words, “She’s gone.” I got out of bed and embraced my mother. Together, we stood in that doorway and cried. My God, how we wept. I could see Grandma’s smiling face, that same smile that had been etched across her face every time I stepped off a ride. That glowing face, those forever blush-covered cheeks pulled up so her eyes squinted and her lips stretched.
Then a thought occurred to me, something that stole the very wind from my chest and crushed my heart in its steely fingers.
She’d waited. I know with all my heart, with every beat of the thing, that my grandmother waited until we’d had our fun before she finally let go. She hadn’t wanted to disturb our trip. She knew we would leave, drop everything to come to her side, but she told us to stay, to enjoy our time. She would be all right. She would be okay.
Irma Caringer died just ten days before her 92nd birthday on October 20th, 2011. She was a selfless, beautiful woman with a heart so powerful and so wonderful that she allowed her great-grandchild the same joy she’d allowed her grandson twenty years earlier.
I miss you, Grandma. I miss you so much.