On the ferris wheel with Dad

Getting early to the Chautauqua County Fair, as I did yesterday, meant nothing was moving. The Commercial Hall, where I was working at a booth, was closed to everyone but vendors. There wasn’t much ‘commercial’ about most of the booths. Next to our Community Foundation booth was the United Way. On the other side was Job Corps. Down the aisle were the Masons and the Shriners. A Shriner came around to say hi. I told him my Dad had been a Shriner. “What was your Dad’s name?” “Lee Adams,” I answered. “Ahh, Lee TOWNE Adams,” he said.

“I have a story about Lee Towne Adams,” he said. Everyone of a certain age in this county has a story about Lee Towne Adams. The Shriner told how he had been called for a big trial, one of the murders in the ‘80s. There were more than a hundred jurors and they had all filled out the long forms of questions. The Shriner said “We all had the same answers. They should have known all the answers by now. Yes. I get the papers. No, I don’t read the papers. But Judge Adams looked down at me and said ‘Why do you get the paper if you don’t read it?’ I answered ‘My wife reads it.’ Judge Adams cautioned me ‘The press at the door isn’t going to want to hear your answer.’” The Shriner went on to say “He was an honest man.”

The whole family was at the Fair, my Mom, my Dad, my little sisters and me. Mom took the little sisters to the kiddie trains, as they were small. Dad took me to the Ferris wheel. Dad did not go on rides and he definitely did not go on the Ferris wheel. I was surprised. I was elated. I was thrilled! No sisters! Just Dad and me. Bliss. We got in to the Ferris wheel basket and the skinny greasy young attendant locked down the bar. We jerked forward and up a bit, just high enough to see the tops of the food tents. We went up and forward again, and saw the buildings. We went all the way up and stopped and could see into the stadium. We could see past the fairgrounds. We could see Dunkirk in the distance. Dad’s knuckles were white on the lock bar as our basket rocked back and forth.

Then we went down. At the base Dad’s hands relaxed and he started talking. As we went up, his hands grew tight on the lock bar, and his face grew grim. As we went down, he smiled and loosened his grip. We went up. The Ferris wheel stopped to let someone off. We went down. We went up. We went down. Dad looked around. I looked around. I never wanted this to end. Just Dad and me. It didn’t end. The skinny greasy young attendant was gone. Nobody at the Ferris wheel. Just Dad and me, up and out, up and in, at the top, down and out, down and in. Rocking. Again. Rocking. Again. Rocking. A half an hour. I knew it was a half an hour because when the greasy young attendant came back Dad cussed and shouted “A HALF AN HOUR! You trapped us on this for A HALF AN HOUR!”

My bliss had long since dissipated. It was clear that Dad wanted to be ANYWHERE but on the Ferris wheel with me. We got off the Ferris wheel. Never to ride on it together again.

I won’t say this marred me for life. But it was on the list of my great sorrows until I understood that Dad had powerful fear of heights. Thinking about a Ferris wheel was torture. Getting into the Ferris wheel was torture. Being trapped on the Ferris wheel was TORTURE. It had nothing to do with me. In fact I was touched that he would have done this for me.

We will take grandchildren to the County Fair maybe tomorrow. When one of the children asks me to get on a ride with them, I know what I will say. I will be honest. I will say “No THANK YOU!”

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