A Trip to Beech Bend Park

A similar ride at HersheyPark
A similar ride at HersheyPark

Anyone who grew up in middle Tennessee or southern Kentucky is familiar with Beech Bend Park. In my childhood it was the nearest amusement park and also had a raceway. Beech Bend is where I learned that amusement park rides don’t agree with me.

This would have been in the late ’60s, I guess. I don’t remember the exact year, but I know I was not yet 12 years old. Daddy’s boss at Clarksville Base, Earl, was a college-educated engineer from somewhere in the midwest. He thought a lot of Daddy, and occassionally our family would socialize with his family. His wife was a little uptown for Mother’s tastes, but she knew better than to offend the boss’s wife. Their daughter Ruth Ann was a year younger than me. I thought she was a whiner and disliked her pretty much, but I’d been brought up to be polite, so we would play together every now and then. We all went to First Baptist Church as well.

Earl invited us to go with his family to Beech Bend Park on a Saturday. We dressed up in our best clothes that weren’t quite for church, and Daddy wore his new grey Stetson hat, sor of a pork-pie hat as I recall. The boss and family picked us up in their brand-new Cadillace, and we set off for the park.

I made it fine as long as I stuck to the carousel, the bumper cars, and the little-kiddie train which wove around a track. We ate hot dogs and cotton candy, and it was a fun day.

Then Ruth Ann cajoled me into getting into one of those spinning cup-and-saucer rides with her. I knew immediately this was a mistake. Everything whirled around, my stomach and my head went different directions, and I felt really dizzy. When the ride finally stopped I managed to walk over to my parents and try to look normal.

“Are you all right?” Daddy asked me, in Ruth Ann’s hearing. “Fine,” I said with clenched teeth over the rising nausea. I was determined to hold on.

We got into the Cadillac and set out for home. I felt worse and worse, really carsick. I was sitting in the back between Daddy and Mother. “Daddy, I’m going to be sick,” I whispered to him.

“Baby doll, you can’t be sick in this new car,” he said.

“I’m going to throw up, NOW,” I said.

“Well, get sick in this, then,” Daddy said, and handed me his new Stetson hat. I threw up in it. His boss immediately knew something was wrong–it was hard to miss. So he pulled over, and I was sick some more by the side of the road. And Daddy threw away his new hat.

Ever since then I’ve avoided amusement park rides. Disney World holds no appeal for me!


The Mystery of Owls

Growing up on a farm, I was familiar with the sound of owls calling at night.  Most owls really don’t hoot, in my experience.  Screech owls were the most frightening–they sounded332px-171_Barn_Owl[1] like a woman screaming in the woods.  Many a night I heard them shrieking to one another in the distance.

We had a tobacco barn that was about two stories high, at least.  It was used for firing dark tobacco.  There were beams running across from one side wall to the opposite wall, spaced so racks of tobacco could be hung to dry.  When it had dried enough, Daddy would build a smouldering fire with sawdust and keep it going for days, firing the tobacco.  Climbing up in the barn was perilous work but had to be done.  Usually the younger and stronger ones did that and hung the tobacco.

In the spring and summer the tobacco barn was empty, and that’s when the barn owl came to hunt mice, and sometimes just to perch.  One day Daddy called me to come with him and “see something special.”  We trudged down the rocky dirt road to the tobacco barn, trailed by my dog, Dusty.  I named him that because he was the exact color of that dirt road.

Daddy opened the smaller door within the big doors so we could go in, letting a little daylight in to the shady, cool interior.  “Look up in that corner,” he said.  There was a huge barn owl.  It slowly turned its head and stared down at us with yellow eyes.  Dusty was nosing around the dirt floor of the barn, and the owl watched him intently.  Then it spread its wings and flew out through an open hatch on the side wall.  It seemed to fly in slow motion, as if you could see every feather moving precisely.

When I saw this Audubon print it reminded me of that owl.  I can see why owls were Athena’s bird and associated with wisdom.  That level stare implies knowledge and intuition beyond what we know.

Alternate Universes, or, Not What I Had Planned

The Big Bang happens over and over again?
The Big Bang happens over and over again?

Yesterday I was driving around to run various errands.  I was hitting the pre-set buttons on the car radio, trying to find something worth listening to, since I didn’t have my iPod with me.  I landed on WNYC-FM, and began listening to a guy tell a story about alternate universes.  The show was from TheMoth.org, which supports storytelling of true stories by real people.

Anyway, he said that every time there is a decision or a path is taken, two universes exist at the same time–one where you said yes, another where you said no, one where you went left, one where you went right.  I think his last name was Reiser, I can’t remember.  But he told a hilarious story about how, at a time in his life when he was feeling very lost and had quit his job to “find himself”, he dreamed up this whole alternate universe in which he was a professor at Cornell.

He had all the details–married, lovely wife, two great kids, successful career, perfectly happy.  In his current life he felt very depressed by this vision, and went to his “family psychic” (his words.)  The psychic told him the rest of the story.  “You could have taken this path if you had gone to Cornell,” the psychic said.  “But then your wife would have cheated on you with your best friend and left you, taking the kids, and you would start drinking, and you wouldn’t get tenure.”  So it was just as good an alternate universe to be driving around in a beat-up Volkswagen van, having left his job as a database consultant, and not knowing what he was supposed to do with his life.

I’ve been thinking about the story ever since.  The guy really made me laugh.  But I wanted to know, is he happy now?  I think he is doing some kind of new-age thing in Boulder, Colorado (makes sense with the rest of the story.)

As Americans, we’re all about reinvention.  I can’t tell you how many people said to me, when I was out of work, “You need to reinvent yourself.”  And how badly I wanted to slug them in the nose.  I liked the me I was, and the work I did before!  But the world changes, so we have to move on.

So maybe it’s not reinvention I need.  Maybe it’s that alternate universe.  If I had called that made-for-TV-movie producer who gave me his card on the flight to NY, who owned the horse farm outside of Nashville, or had gone to school in English lit instead of business?  Or run away when I was 35?  But it would just be another story, and maybe not a happier one.

I have to think about that some more.  What about you guys?  Do you want an alternate universe?

BTW, I found the guy and his story–Tom Weiser.

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