Tilt-A-Whirl Terror

“You’re getting old when you get the same sensation from your rocking chair that you once got from a rollercoaster.”

When I read this meant-to-be-funny commentary on aging, I did NOT laugh. In fact I shed a tear. “What?” you ask. “Why would such a silly standup comic one-liner bring tears?” Why? Because this last weekend, I experienced the truth behind the humor.

It had nothing to do with rollercoasters, though. I have never been a fan of the “kings of the midway.” It was all about a Tilt-A-Whirl, my all-time favorite amusement park ride. Until last weekend.

It had been over twenty years since I last twirled and whirled on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I don’t know why I stayed away so long. I’ve always loved amusement parks and we live only a few miles away from one of the best, Oaks Park, in Sellwood, Oregon.  I guess we seldom visited Oaks Park because it was “always there” and there was always a “someday” that I could count on. (There’s a lesson in that young readers…)

We had visited Oaks Park in recent years with our granddaughter, Lydia. In fact, Tom and I took her to the park for her first visit when she was only nineteen months old. Of course, she was too young then to go on rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl; but I looked forward to being the first to introduce her to my favorite ride when she was old enough.

But sad to say, when she was old enough, I was too old – well, not really old, just unable to walk the Oaks Park midway. As each summer flew by (Oaks Park is only open in the summer months), another health-related impediment stood in the way. First was the summer of the knee replacement. Then the summer of pneumonia. Then the summer from hell (before the cancer diagnosis.) So Lydia grew older, and discovered magic of the Tilt-A-Whirl without her Grandma. I was just happy to know that she LOVED it as much as I did.

As this summer approached and I was in better shape than I have been for four years, I looked forward to numerous trips to what is sometimes called “the Coney Island of the Northwest.” Most especially I looked forward to riding the Tilt-A-Whirl with my little (self-described) thrill-seeker, Lydia.

My first challenge was just getting on the tilting ride. (There’s a reason they call it the Tilt-A-Whirl.) Once we were seated, Lydia proceeded to tell me “the secrets of making it spin like crazy!” I laughed, bragging, “I know them all – Grandma’s a Tilt-A-Whirl EXPERT!” (Isn’t there a Scripture about pride going before a fall?)

From the moment the hellish tilting, spinning, dipping, whirling machine started, I knew I was in trouble. TERROR filled my lungs. Not the gleeful screaming of my youth, but sheer, heart-pounding, breath taking TERROR. [Words don’t describe it as well as the pictures. See Tom’s photos below. Yes, I did give him permission to post them – how could I not since they tell my tale better than I can with words!]

The rest of my time in the Park, though I fully enjoyed being with Lydia, Christina (my daughter), and Tom, I grieved over my experience on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I just could not understand my heart-pounding reaction to something that was once so delightful to me.

Pushing sad thoughts aside, I went on a few other rides. Tame rides such as the Carousel – but not on a horse. I sat on the stationary throne we used to (derisively) call the “Granny Chair” in my youth. And of course we spent quality time (and money) in the souvenir shop.

At home that evening, the grief continued. Tears were shed. It surprised me – how deeply I grieved this “loss.” I felt so foolish. Why was I crying for something so unimportant? I dried my tears and a stubborn determination to go back and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl again rose up within me. I just needed to get over this stupid, unreasonable aversion to something I once so loved! Right?

But then I thought, is it really so stupid? Perhaps a seventy-three year old cancer patient, on a mixed assortment of health altering drugs, should pay attention to those warning signs placed at the entrance to all thrill rides, even the “tame” Tilt-A-Whirl. With a weakened spine (from metastasized cancer in my bones) and compromised lung capacity (SCREAMING takes a LOT of breath!), perhaps I should listen to the TERROR still echoing in my mind. Perhaps, just perhaps, my days as a “thrill-seeker” have ended.

The next day at Mass, the Responsorial Psalm was, “Let the whole earth shout out with Joy.” Tears welled up in my eyes, and I almost lost it, remembering the unmitigated JOY I once experienced riding the Tilt-A-Whirl in my youth.

I looked up at the cross on the altar and asked, “Where is that JOY now? And suddenly my mind was transported back onto the Oaks Park Tilt-A-Whirl. My stomach lurched at the memory – that was not JOY, I thought. Then I “heard” (in memory’s tape recorder), the sound of a child’s laughter rising over my screams of terror. Lydia’s laughter (probably at her grandmother’s screaming). Lydia’s JOY-FILLED laughter! Wasn’t that why I wanted to go on the Tilt-A-Whirl, to experience Lydia’s JOY? As I type this, I can still “hear” her laughter

I think I get it. The sound of my granddaughter’s laughter, HER youthful thrill-seeking joie de vivre — that is a JOY. Better than any tilting, whirling ride. My soul can “shout for JOY” that I have such a beautiful memory! I do miss the spinning though.

PS   Those of you who love Tilt-A-Whirls might be interested in learning about its history and the way it works. Would you believe it has something to do with the chaos theory? Just click the word Tilt-A-Whirl.

PPS Enjoy the photos….


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