Top of the Rollercoaster

Top of the rollercoaster.

David Wilcox, a folk musician/singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio, released a song in 1991 called Top of the Rollercoaster, a song about riding a rollercoaster on a 30th birthday as a metaphor for life. “It’s the moment of truth, the top of your youth…when you tip the top of the rollercoaster, look down the other side.” (To hear the song, click here.) Lucky for me, it came out several years before I turned 30, so I could listen to it on my 30th birthday and feel like it was written for me. However, unlike the song, which proclaims “it’s all downhill from here,” I didn’t look at turning 30 as the “top of my youth;” I looked at it as a new beginning. And honestly, my life got better after 30. But that’s not really what I want to discuss. I want to talk about rollercoasters, because at the age of 53, I still love them.

Don’t most of us remember our first rollercoaster ride? I don’t mean those little rollercoasters like Thunder Mountain at Disney. I don’t even mean rollercoasters like The Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios or Space Mountain at Disney. If those are the most exciting rollercoasters you’ve ridden, I hate to break it to you…they don’t even count. They’re not thrilling. Sure, they’re a little fun, but definitely aren’t thrilling. When I get off those rides, I don’t have the same “high” as I have when I step off the Intimidator or the Fury 325 at Carowinds…or even Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia. So when I say we likely remember our first rollercoaster ride, I mean a ride on a real rollercoaster…a thrill ride.

The year was 1976. It was the year of America’s Bicentennial, and I had turned nine years old in May…just as school was getting out for summer. I had been to Six Flags Over Georgia countless times with my family, and since 1973, I had been watching people disembark from the Great American Scream Machine, which at the time was the longest (3800 ft), tallest (105 ft), fastest (57 mph) rollercoaster in the world. It was a giant wooden coaster, and for a long time, I was terrified of it. But that summer…the Bicentennial summer…I decided I could ride it. I was standing with my family, watching riders disembark when Daddy asked me if I wanted to try it. I answered, “Yes,” and we got in line. The line for the Scream Machine was always long in those days, and there were no fast passes, so we waited…and I’m sure I changed my mind a dozen times before we ever boarded the coaster, but when it was our turn, I followed Daddy right into that coaster seat.

If you’ve ever ridden a wooden coaster, you know it’s not as smooth as a steel coaster. The first hill seems “rickety,” with the noise of the chain pulling the train up, and the “clickety-clack” of the tracks as you wait to reach the top. I was terrified, but I was excited at the same time. Back then, though, safety mechanisms weren’t what they are now. In my memory, there was nothing tight around my waist to hold me firmly in my seat. I recall a loose chain across my lap and a metal bar that bounced with every bump. Just as we reached the peak of the first hill, the train lurched forward as it started its descent. I weighed less than 50 pounds, and I felt like I was going to fall out of the car. I yelled to Daddy, “Push the bar down!” But he just laughed as we continued the bumpy ride. Once I knew I had survived the first big hill, I knew I could survive the rest, but it was scary…and exhilarating.

The ride ended back at the station after an exhilarating two minutes and twenty seconds. I had survived. I had ridden my first major rollercoaster and lived to tell about it. I feel sure I was giggling as we got off the ride, and I probably talked about it on the walk back up to the top of the hill near the entrance, where my mother was waiting. And then, like any coaster enthusiast, I said, “Let’s do it again!” I’ve never looked back. What an adrenaline rush! And every time I ride a rollercoaster, I remember that day in the summer of ’76.

Fortunately, my own daughter is a rollercoaster enthusiast. When she was a little girl, she would cry, because she wasn’t tall enough to ride the coasters at our local amusement park, Carowinds, which was owned by Paramount at the time, and then purchased by Cedar Fair Parks. As soon as she was tall enough, we rode them all the time…for years. When the old log flume ride was removed from the park in 2010 to make way for the Intimidator, a rollercoaster with a height of 232 feet that goes 80 mph, we had to work up the nerve to ride it, but once we did, we never looked back. And then, five years later, the Fury 325 debuted. Reaching a maximum speed of 95 mph and with a height of 325 feet, it looked daunting. But the first time we rode it, we rode in the second seat. The next time? Front car with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, Hannah…and it was a big adrenaline rush! My daughter was 11, and Hannah was 13…and we loved the ride! In fact, every time I’ve ever ridden it, it has been a big adrenaline rush. I feel pretty sure that if I can ride that coaster, I can ride just about any coaster anywhere.

About 34 years after that Bicentennial summer and my first major coaster ride, I took my daughter to Six Flags Over Georgia. She was six. She wanted to ride the Great American Scream Machine as soon as she saw it. So while my friend, Wendy, and her daughter watched, we boarded the same rollercoaster that was my first major rollercoaster, and it became my daughter’s first major rollercoaster too. The ride was even more bumpy that I remembered, but she loved it. She was laughing when we got off the coaster and wanted to get back in line immediately…like mother, like daughter. Maybe one day, my daughter will have a daughter whose first coaster will be the Great American Scream Machine. A weird family tradition, for sure.

Going back to David Wilcox’s song, maybe when he said “it’s all downhill from here,” he didn’t mean it was all going to be bad. Maybe he meant it was all going to be fun…a rush…exhilarating. Now that I think about it, I prefer that version. Because honestly, I’ve done my best living after 30. Well…there were those four college years in the 80s, between the ages of 18 and 22…those were pretty awesome too. But there’s something special about being over 30. And if you haven’t turned 50 yet…just wait…it’s great too.

Are rollercoaster rides good metaphors for life? I don’t know. But I do know rollercoasters are fun, and they make me feel young! I’ll be glad when Carowinds is open again! Till then, maybe we’ll even make a trip down to the Atlanta area to visit Six Flags Over Georgia and ride the Great American Scream Machine again…they’re open on a “reservations only” basis! They’re even offering BACKWARD rides on the Scream Machine for a limited time!

We love rollercoasters!

If you’d like to virtually experience the Great American Scream Machine, click here.

Saying Goodbye To Celebrities

Yesterday, we got the news that Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame had died after suffering a massive stroke last week. Friends all over Facebook were posting about how sad they are. They were posting about how Dylan McKay, his character on the show, was their “first love.” And I get it…

When the original Beverly Hills, 90210 debuted, I had been out of college for a year. I was working for an airline and living in Atlanta. It premiered on October 4, 1990. I was 23 years old, and life was good! The target audience for the show was teenagers. I was older than most of their viewers, I think, but I loved it! Who didn’t want to live in Beverly Hills then? Heck, I want to live in Beverly Hills now! If you’ve never seen the show, you can start with the pilot on Amazon Prime Video here.

I’m not surprised to see how many people are mourning the loss of Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. It’s sad. He was only 52. And I’ve done it lots of times…felt sadness at the loss of a celebrity. I felt it when Prince died a few years ago…I was having lunch with my friend, Linda, at Fenwick’s in Charlotte, when we heard the news. Sometimes, we remember where we were when we heard the news, because strong emotions lock events into long-term memory. I’ve learned that the hard way; my husband has no short term memory (a tumor and brain surgery to remove it), but he has long-term memory.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve thought about how we mourn celebrities, and I’ve decided that when I’m mourning a celebrity’s death, I’m not really mourning the loss of the individual as much as I’m mourning the loss of a certain time in my life. I didn’t really know the people. I knew how they made me feel. Maybe sometimes, we mourn the fact that we never got to meet the celebrity, but we don’t really know these people. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think, when I mourn a celebrity, it’s because I’m mourning the loss of a time in life, or because I never got to meet the person.

For example, I hadn’t kept up with country singer Roy Clark’s career over the last couple of decades, but when I heard he had died last year, I was sad. Roy Clark was one of the hosts of Hee Haw, a show we watched when I was a little girl. Lots of kids watched Hee Haw in the 70s…maybe it was just southern kids, but people watched it. If, right now, I started singing, “Where, oh where, are you tonight…” people my age would chime in. Someone from my generation would immediately sing, “Why did you leave me here all alone?” We all remember getting excited about that segment of the show… and the raspberry in the song. To see it, click here. Roy Clark, as the Hee Haw host, was part of our childhood.

When Dean Martin died in 1995, I reminisced about his variety show that I loved watching as a child. Of course, watching those episodes as an adult, I realize I probably didn’t get most of the jokes, but I enjoyed the show. And I thought Dean Martin was handsome. In fact, I still swoon when I watch videos of him. His death is one I mourn because I’ll never get to meet him.

Penny Marshall…Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. When I heard she had died this past year, I was transported back to third grade, singing, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…schlemiel! schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” You can see it here. I still make references to Laverne and Shirley regularly. When Penny Marshall died, I lost a piece of childhood.

Marlin Perkins died in 1986. Who is that? If you were born around the same time I was or before, you likely remember him as the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. If his show hadn’t aired right before The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, children likely wouldn’t have known who he was, but when he died in 1986, children who were born in the 60s and early 70s remembered spending Sunday nights in front of the TV, watching Marlin Perkins tell Jim Fowler to approach an animal or two. Mother let us have TV dinners on Sunday nights…and only on Sunday nights…while we watched those two shows. Of course, we had to pick our TV dinners from the grocery store on Saturday, because back then, in Alabama, grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays, due to blue laws.

When Patrick Swayze died, I mourned his death, because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year after my daddy died from the same disease. I didn’t know Patrick Swayze, but when he was diagnosed, I remembered how terrible it felt when Daddy was diagnosed. Obviously, I didn’t relive the pain of my daddy’s diagnosis, but I knew the pain his family was feeling. When I was in college, we loved watching him in Dirty Dancing, and when he died in 2009, on my daddy’s birthday, September 14, it hurt.

So yes, celebrity deaths affect me, but it’s not because I love them like I love my family. No celebrity death could ever carry the same weight as the death of my family members, but they’re memorable…not because I knew the celebrity, but because they represented a time in my life…a time I can’t return to. Or maybe I’m sad because I never got to meet them.

So, Rest In Peace, Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. You created some great memories for us, and you’ll always be a part of my youth. And apparently, lots of my friends considered you their first love…

 

 

 

 

 

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Bluebird of Happiness

When I was cleaning out my mother’s house in January (she died December 30), I came across three little glass bluebirds…one was a little bigger than the other two…like a mother and two babies.

I realized those bluebirds had been on a side table in her living room for a long time, but I’d never asked her about them. You know how you see something a million times but never bother to find out about it?

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For the first time ever, I picked them up. I turned them over and there was a sticker on the larger one that said “Bluebird of Happiness” and the telephone number of an art studio. I knew they didn’t have any monetary value, but now that I couldn’t ask Mother, I was wondering what kind of sentimental value they had for her. Where did she get them? I felt sure someone had given them to her, so I put them in a little Ziploc bag and brought them home to Charlotte with me.

I placed them on top of a mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I’ve seen them every day for about a month, but earlier this week, I decided to investigate and find out who gave Mother the bluebirds.

The first text I sent was to an old family friend who lives in Florida. She and Mother became friends in 1961, when they were both working at Sunland Center in Marianna, Florida. Mother was a nurse, and this friend, Cynthia, worked in Activities, I believe. For whatever reason, they became great friends. In fact, Cynthia says Mother inspired her and encouraged her to become a nurse too. She did, and she continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…and she gives Mother much of the credit.

Promptly, I received a text back from Cynthia telling me she had given mother the little bluebirds. She said she didn’t need them back but that she would like to have a memento to keep near Mother’s picture in her room. I texted back, “Let me mail them to you.” So they should be delivered to her right away. Now, every time she looks at the Bluebirds of Happiness, she will think of Mother.

When I was growing up, Cynthia was like a “cool aunt.” She was a little younger than my parents, and she always liked to have fun. My parents liked to have fun too, but Cynthia liked to have fun while driving a cute, little Triumph convertible. Parents didn’t drive Triumph convertibles. But Cynthia had one, and when she visited, I got to ride in it…with the top down!

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In fact, Cynthia was so trusted by my parents that she was our designated guardian if something had happened to them while we were minors. They knew she would love us as her own, and we would love her too. We have great family, but they all have children of their own. Cynthia didn’t have children.

Of course, now I want my own Bluebirds of Happiness, so I looked at the bottom of them again and got the telephone number for that art studio. As it turns out, it’s a studio called Terra Studios in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and according to their website, they are the “home of the Bluebirds of Happiness.” They also have the Pink Birds of Hope, Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…Mother would have loved those too.

Apparently, these sweet creations are quite popular, and the proceeds from the sale of the birds goes toward “using art to create a better world.” After looking at the website, I’d love to visit Terra Studios, where they have a coffee shop, glass demonstrations, American arts and crafts, and they are a popular Northwest Arkansas tourist attraction. Now, I’ll need to plan a trip.

So, Ive ordered some Bluebirds of Happiness…a mama and two babies for myself…and then I ordered more. According to the Terra Studios website, “the lovely, plump, sweet singing Bluebird has inspired more songs and poems than any other bird.” Terra Studios offers different sizes and variations of the Bluebirds of Happiness, the Pink Birds of Hope (offering hope to cancer survivors), Wise Owls, and Grace & Gratitude Angels…and the prices are right. I think they make lovely gifts. In fact, I think the bluebirds would make lovely hostess gifts. With Easter just around the corner, you might consider adding the bluebirds, pink bird, or angels to an Easter basket. The Wise Owls would make great little additions to graduation gifts or favors for a graduation tea. You can purchase them all here.

Interestingly, on the same day I picked up the Bluebirds of Happiness at Mother’s, I was going through some papers and found a certificate naming my maternal grandfather a member of the North American Bluebird Society. Who knew? I had no idea there was such a society, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought my grandfather would be a member. I know he and my mother loved birds, but it never occurred to me he loved them enough to send in money. Having come through the Depression with some liquidity, he wasn’t free with his money. I love knowing he found bluebirds to be a worthy cause. I was so intrigued by his membership that I checked out their website and found it fascinating. If you’re interested in the North American Bluebird Society, you can see their websitehere.

So I guess bluebirds are a thing in my family. If you see me wearing a lot of blue in the next few months, you’ll know why. And if I see you and think you’re feeling “blue,” I may just give YOU a little Bluebird of Happiness to cheer you up.

As soon as my new Bluebirds of Happiness arrive, I will place them on the mirrored  box in my bathroom, so I can see them every single day and think of Mother and Cynthia. I’ll save the extras for  friends who need “a ray of light,” as mentioned in the song, Bluebird of Happiness.

 

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