There were five kids in our family and we lived in the state of Rhode Island. Our growing years were the 50’s and 60’s. Even though our parents were divorced, I never felt deprived of anything because our father would take my brother Ronnie and I to many places our mother couldn’t afford; on the other hand, our mother would take us to more of the cultural events like ice skating exhibits, ballets, plays and art museums. Therefore, I do have fond memories despite the divorce.
I suppose it was because Ronnie and I were the middle kids that we got to go more places more often than the others. We were old enough to enjoy things, but Ann was a teenager and off doing teenage things, and the twins were three handfuls. We went to amusement parks, theme parks, horseback riding, drive-ins, and we even got to go to Quebec, Canada to see my father’s relatives. It’s no fun when you don’t speak French, and everyone else in Quebec does and … your father makes you order French toast. My father thought it was funny that the waitress couldn’t understand me but he made me go to the counter and continue to try to explain what I wanted in spite of the lack of my language skills.
Carousel is a word that sure does bring back some happy memories of childhood. It was in Roger Williams Park in R.I., ah, that merry-go-round; it is something that people from across the state and some neighboring states, not to mention tourists, came to enjoy often. Standing beside the carousel were the mini cars. When I look back now I can still see it and my eyes still magically light up. The real mini cars that ran on real gas and a real wooden track had to be driven by the rider, which would be me, or
whoever was in the car. You couldn’t really crash because there were rubber tires around the entire course on both sides of the track, and the entire course was built three or four feet off the ground. I know that you couldn’t crash because I got stuck head on or against the rails more than once. The man operating the cars had to come running to get me unstuck more than once. It was a few more times before I got the hang of it. I was thrilled anyway just to be the driver. The ride was amazing for a little girl.
There were many more things in the park to enjoy. There was the Japanese Gardens. This was free, and I always found this to be quiet and I found solace in them. Even back then, when I was a child, I didn’t know any big words, but I certainly found peace there, our father was not one to let us linger and enjoy, but led us through not even stopping to let us enjoy any part of them. It’s amazing that I knew about quiet feelings since there was no peace at home. That is a story in itself for another day. Other activities included sledding in the snow. I remember two large hills facing each other and they met at the low spot. I always loved this, sledding at Roger Williams Park and ice-skating on the pond. Roger Williams Park was such a fun place to go and play. One other thing about the park was that there was an animal house. Inside this house were monkeys, elephants, lions, tigers and a bear. Oh my, what a wonderful park for any aged person.
The favorite of all children, of course, was the majestic carousel with colorful horses a few animals and real leather reins to hold on to, and if you were lucky enough to grab a horse on the outside, you got to reach for the golden ring which would get you a free ride on the carousel. Ronnie and I used to race against each other to see how many rings we could collect on one ride because not every ring was golden. There was only one golden ring and you had to catch it and if you dropped it, there was no extra ride. Just ask me. One thing I hated was when the carousel had a lot of people on it. Not only did you lose an outside horse, but you either got a horse that didn’t move, or worse yet, the sleigh. Oh, the shame to be seen riding in the sleigh. The merry-go-round was the best thing about the park. The carousel here was not the only one of the majestic ones in the state. I remember the one at Oakland Beach. The one here was just as majestic but was not as big, plus when you were at Oakland Beach, swimming was on the agenda too.
Another famous carousel was at Rocky Point. This place was another destination my father would take us. It was an amusement park with a wooden track roller coaster. Thinking of that last sentence makes me laugh; as a child all roller coasters were on a wooden track. Come to think of it, the park was being torn down when Ronny and I went back to R.I. to visit in 1998, the year he died. The only thing left was the carousel I cried because we rode all the rides and all the good times we had at Rocky Point. The restaurant was still open and this was THE place to go to get fried clams, and THE best in the state clam cakes. Nothing stays the same, they call it progress. That was sad enough, but then we went to Roger Williams Park and it was sad for us too. To our dismay, the merry-go-round was the only thing left at the park that was familiar to us. The cars and tracks were gone, the helicopter ride was torn down, and the toy boats in the water were gone too. We found the animal house had been moved to the zoo somewhere else in the park. The park was full of people, in fact too many people for the size of the park. Trash was everywhere, including beer cans and bottles. So disappointing was the park, we just had to leave without seeing anymore of the park.
We stopped on the side of the road in front of the merry-go-round and Ronnie and I discussed this in detail about the condition of the park we loved so much. We got back into the car. We dried our tears, looked at each other and smiled because we knew it will always be there. A beautiful carousel with bright horses and one gold ring for a free ride, standing right where we left it, inside Roger Williams Park in the 1950’s.