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Pride In America

Cappy Jack ©2002

My own pride in America doesn’t go too deep. I have certain characteristics that I feel are uniquely mine and I’m sure an American, through and through. One in particular I have to thank my Mom for – sticktoitiveness. You might think of it as tenacity but it is more.

“Everything’s copasetic.”  She OK’ed everything that way. I thought copasetic was a word she made up for the longest time; couldn’t find it or sticktoitiveness in any dictionary. The meaning was clear in our house.

“Then we’re off.” Dad looked at Frankie and me and started out the door. For some reason Mom liked to be the last one out the door, but it was Dad that got us marching.

“Last one out the door is a rummy!” He’d run first, he was no dummy, and we would always follow. My birthday was going to be fun! I was sure of that.

“You’re hurting!” Beverly always got in the way. She and Frankie were a good match. She was quick but he was older, maybe a little smarter, but not always. We were all two years apart and today I was twelve. It wouldn’t hurt if they got along.

“Bev, you can sit next to me.” I didn’t always grant that privilege. I had to sit at a window. Puking sickness, you know. Sticktoitiveness can be a double bladed sword. Neither Frankie nor Bev wanted to sit behind Dad. Even with the window open the smell was too strong.

“Ugh. Who farted?” We all heard about Ben Franklin and we farted proudly. We did expect a certain sensibility, but, if you are driving, well. Frankie expressed his displeasure at the seating arrangements.

“Frankie, If you don’t have something nice to say, well, then don’t say it.”  Mom stuck to that refrain for years. Little good it did.

“Lily, I think we can be at Point Pleasant in one hour fifty five minutes.”

“Who cares.” This wasn’t a question between them anymore.

“Henry, I wish you would invent a child training/growing/civilizing, oh, I don’t know. Sometimes…” She said this a lot more than sometimes.

“Just rest your head on the window, my dear, and enjoy the ride.”

This was his idea to go to Point Pleasant Amusement Park. The onus of fun was on him and me too, since it was my birthday. Dad had been there many times. I heard stories galore and I especially looked forward to this trip. Two hours in the car on a bright June morning wasn’t fun for me but it was worth it.

“I need to stand still in the shade for a few minutes.” Dad saw I was greenish and put me under a tree. A small tree in one of the small islands that made an archipelago in the parking lot. We had to hike over acres of burning asphalt to get to the main gate. It was only ten o’clock. My rest was brief…. felt my “sailor legs” go away.

"I’m ready.” I almost sang this and Mom knew I was OK.

“I have to pee.” Beverly had to pee. What else is new?

“No problem. As soon as we get inside and get reconnoitered we’ll find the restrooms.”  I thought that Dad made this word up. After all, if Mom could make up words then so could he. I knew what it meant like I knew what the other two meant and looked for signs. Bev was hopping up and down. We marched single file dodging the disoriented people who zig zagged in our way. Frankie and I both shared the designated accountant job on this trip and got our wallets out while we walked.

“John, I think you should pay for this one. It’s your birthday.”

“I’m hungry.” Frankie had to have his turn.

“That’s your turn then.” I called him on it.

“No it’s not. Its just food.” This was a gray area in the grand scheme of fairness. Dad settled it.

“If we eat now we may have to wait an hour before some rides.” This was normal for swimming pools but now it applied to rides. Dad knew which ones made HIM sick. Nothing turned his stomach like cheetos just chewed but now upchucked. Mom gave Frankie a carrot stick. Bev stuck her tongue out at me. She agreed with Frankie and eyed the cotton candy stand giving me, ‘Look at that’ eyes. Mom offered one to her, too.

“No, thanks, but when is it going to be my turn?”  We decided to split up. Beverly and Dad got to ride the carousel while Mom went with us for more excitement. Still my turn.

“Look at the roller coaster! I think it’s ‘Dragon’s Breath’. I wanted to go so bad. I enlisted my brother for a ride.

“Come on, Frankie, race you there.”  Mom opened her eyes real wide. I couldn’t tell glad from scared and waved my arm for her to come too.

Taking turns has a flavor of sticktoitivness about it and Mom knew what was about to happen. Standing in line was all about patience, too.

“Will you just stand still.” Mom’s mounting nervousness lashed out at Frankie. He was practicing standing on his toes. He didn’t have to. He was smarter than that clown up at the entrance that could say no.

“I don’t know.” Mom started getting on our nerves with ambiguity.

“Mom, you know this is the one ride I have been looking forward to.” I said this with weight not guessing she’d figured she’d have to go now that she didn’t have to stay with Frankie. He was a sure thing.

“You have your barfing pocketbook, I’ll sit next to you.” Frankie frowned. He wanted to sit next to me, in the front row of the car, too, if we could manage it. I was counting the people. I knew what the car would hold.

"Dragon’s Breath” was the main attraction at Point Pleasant Park. It was a big old wooden roller coaster in a big meadow that used to be a park. Dad rode it when he was a kid and introduced his brother to it. In those days the clown let anybody through and Uncle Dan was only three the one and only time he rode it.

“See there?” Dad pointed out to us before he and Bev made for the calliope music.

“That’s the hill where your uncle peed on me.” It looked scary to me now. Up close I saw the paint peeled back in cups and green at the bottom where it disappeared into the tall grass. The wind must blow from over there from the looks of the general sway of the thing.

“Do you think it’s safe, Henry?”

“Just as safe as the day it was built.” Oh, boy, now she was stuck.

“We’ll meet at the snack stand.”

“When?” Mom wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure she wanted to go but I didn’t know that.

“After lots and lots of rides, all right?” I was quick to pipe up.

“Yeah! Take your time, Beverly.” Frankie was in a hurry to go but one more dig at Bev wouldn’t hurt.

“Come on, Dad. Let them dash their brains out.” Now Mom got panicky. Bev was supposed to be on her side. She composed herself with her mantra.

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But conviction wasn’t in her throat. I picked up now that she was afraid. So did Dad but there was no way out now.

“Stick to your guns.” He liked to say that. She didn’t like to hear it.

“Sticktoitiveness, Henry, please.” She walked a condemned walk up the ramp with us. There wasn’t much to give her hope. The platform where they launched the ride hadn’t changed in a hundred years, I bet. The guy with the big wooden hand brake looked like he had been with “Dragon’s Breath” most of that time, too. He really put his back into stopping the coaster when it came screaming around the last turn. I had figured out how to ride in front.

“Let these people go by us.” Mom was relieved at the reprieve.

“John, if you don’t want to ride then let’s just go down.” I had to hold my face from laughing at that one. I wanted her to have a good time, after all.

“No, Mom, it’ll really be worth it.” The riders screamed in our faces coming to a stop and we were next. Mom clutched her puke purse like a life preserver. I held her arm. I thought she might bolt. Frankie was hopping up and down.

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” This was her final attempt.

“No, no, no, come on let’s go.” Frankie went first. Mom and I sat in the second seat. I felt sorry for her. Frankie beamed liked he had won.

“Don’t worry, Mom. Everything is going to be fine.” I had learned that this comforted her when she went into shock. Her pale face and blank eyes looked like she was there now.

“Who’s gonna ride with me?” Frankie was surprised. He thought Mom would ride alone. He thought she was mad at him for being exuberant. Now he was scared. His pale face quickly matched hers.

Now Frankie was better than I was on long car trips. We sang songs and it was usually me that sang the soft solo first.

“Stop the car. I’m gonna be sick.” But he’d had his share of them. Grandma gave mom’s puke purse to her and Dad always looked cross eyed at it. It was an old patent leather purse that wasn’t helped by my shoe polish Mother’s Day gift. It was deep, had a wide mouth and snapped open fast. The long handle would fit over your neck like an oat bucket. I felt fine. I wouldn’t need it. I wasn’t sure about them. The track swayed back and forth with the car as we made our way down the small slope to the hill.

“Does it feel level to you?” Mom was right. The jerking climb up the track didn’t disguise the lean the whole hill had. Frankie seemed to be over compensating.

“How are you doing up there?” I shouted to Frankie. He could hear me but stayed hunched over clutching the lap rail. Mom clutched the black bag handle like a garrote, leaning far forward to right herself. I leaned all over the place and looked around. We made it to the top but what a grind.

“Did you hear a pop?” Mom was hearing things now. She was ready. The car shivered at the top, swayed a bit and sent us diving down. I heard screams behind me and, I swear, Frankie grunting up front.

The first curve was fine. And the second wasn’t too bad although I slammed into Mom pretty hard. She didn’t flinch. Frankie’s neck looked green.

“I think I’m going to be sick.” I heard garbled through saliva. Quick as a flash she had the bag open and over his shoulder.

“Here. Put your head down.” He put most of breakfast into it in the first launch. He put his head back to get some air.

“Watch out.” Mom gave the warning. Frankie didn’t care. The next volley went up and over his head. Lucky we were in a slow curve after a buck up and bump down.

“Ewwww.” I heard a few voices at the back. I smelled it more. I started salivating.

“Oh, no. I’m not sure.” Mom snapped the bag over to me. The coaster slowed up an incline, slammed back and forth in the next drop slopping puke back and forth in the gaping mouth brought close to my face. Frankie was slumped over and moaning. Mom’s hair stood on end. I thought it was the wind at first but she moved the bag back and forth between us and I knew she felt sick too.

“Don’t do that.” I couldn’t tell if she was talking to me, to herself or to the coaster. The car slammed us once more against each other but slower. The whole structure seemed to move to slow us down with a wag here and there. We zipped around the corner hoping the brakeman was still alive. I felt saved at his toothless grin at our car. He thought it was funny. Mom snapped the pocketbook closed and tried to appear dignified.

“Ohhhh.” Frankie and I were in harmony with that as we staggered down the ramp scaring the next in line. The splattered couples in the last seats were angry with closed noses which appeared even more dignified.

“No, thanks. That doesn’t look fun”, said a boy next in line and started kicking his Mom to get out of there. We ran for our lives. The clown didn’t know what to do. The old brakeman took a towel off his shoulder, wiped up the mess and waved his arm for the next riders. He must have known my Dad.

“What happened?” Dad saw green all around. No one answered at first. Beverly stuck out her tongue at Frankie and pulled a piece of cotton candy off her beehive and stuck it in her mouth.

“We made it. We all stuck together and we made it.”  Mom sounded relieved.

“Well, that’s great. That’s what I call sticktoitiveness.” Dad beamed looking at all of us. He flinched at the barf bag on Mom’s shoulder but she didn’t notice. I felt great.







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