It was one summer in the 1980’s. At that time, I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. My two daughters and I lived in Patrick Henry Village, which had all the amenities right at our back door. The building we lived in was within walking distance of the theater, the shoppette, the church, the bowling alley, two schools, a small restaurant, the thrift shop, a tennis court, and a video store. What made our living quarters on post even sweeter was the annual German-American Festival (fest), which was located in a large area in the center of our off-post village and about a stone’s throw away from our building. Preparations were underway to set up the fest, which would be in full swing a few days later.
The day had arrived. Everything was set up and ready for the crowds of kids and adults that would swoop down on the fest. My girls and I strolled over to the site, fascinated as we OOHed and AAHed at all the rides, games and food booths at our disposal. Some of the vendors had started by firing up their portable stoves and candy making machines, which forced a host of meaty aromas and enticing sugary flavors to intermingle with each other in the air. We took in deep sniffs of grilling steaks and onions, sweet German desserts, fresh crepes, German wursts, and miscellaneous other items the vendors knew the hungry Germans and Americans would snap up without hesitation.
While roaming around, my youngest daughter, the born Daredevil of the family, dragged me over to this frightening-looking contraption that resembled an enormous Viking boat. Sizing up this thing, I determined that the thrill of this boat ride was that it swung like a pendulum from one side to the other to heights way beyond my levels of comfort and toleration. I stood watching as the operator started the boat, filled to the brim with kids of all ages and sizes who peppered the air with high-pitched screams and laughter. Many more had gathered around this thing, staring up at it and swinging their heads from side to side and waiting excitedly for their chance to experience the breathtaking enjoyment. A better description in my words would be the onset of a heart attack. Me? I stood there in utter disbelief thinking, “Who in their right mind would get on this thing and subject themselves to a possible seizure?” I almost had a Fred Sanford heart attack just looking at it swing higher and higher. Sheize!
The boat finally slowed down and gradually came to a stop. Then, my youngest daughter, a daredevil with no limits for subjecting herself to danger, coaxed, goaded and needled me into getting on board. In spite of my vehement refusals and whining, which fell on her little deaf ears, she rushed over to the booth and bought a ticket for both of us. Then she returned to my side and had the gall to continue nagging me to get on the ride with her. I don’t think I’d ever showed fear of anything while raising my daughters, but as much as I tried to chicken out of a ride on this killer boat, she pressured me to show more of my grit and get on the boat with her. Worn down to a nub, I gave up, praying as I walked up the tiny metal steps to get in the boat. Damn kids!
Sucking in a deep breath and releasing it with an enormous, audible sigh, I crawled into one of the seats opposite her, hoping that she didn’t see me shaking like a paint mixer. But by that sinister grin on her face, she just knew I was scared shitless. A few more kids got on, and two sat next to her, but one little girl about 7 years old, with long blonde hair and blue eyes, jumped in the seat right next to me. She was smiling from ear to ear, naively anticipating the thrill to come. This was nauseating. Me? I was still scared shitless before the ride even started. The operator came by to check and make sure that the retainer bars were locked securely to keep anyone from falling out. Honestly, I needed a strong pill to calm my nerves, but I knew that the operator wasn’t dispensing any drugs, especially to big babies like me. As the operator headed for the control booth, I wanted to shout, “Hey, lemme outta this damn thing!” Unfortunately, the ship was ready to sail. The operator had already started my nightmare by setting this thing in motion. I gripped the steel bar in front of me tight enough for my fingers to make indentations in the metal. I could even see my knuckles almost poking through my skin. The boat started to sway and to be honest, it felt no more threatening than a leisurely sway in the swing on my grandparents’ porch back in New Orleans. But I knew, I just knew more terrifying crap of unimaginable intensity was yet to come.
The boat got more aggressive, making a loud ‘swooshing’ noise as it rose higher and higher with each long sway. I started to scream as if I were being chased by a Freddie Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street. Shamelessly, I buried my face on the little girl’s shoulder as I howled louder with each whoosh. I remember the little girl saying to me in her softest voice, “It’s gonna be alright.” There I was, a soldier in the United States Army taking comfort on the shoulder of a brave little seven-year-old girl that I didn’t even know. I kept my head riveted to her shoulder until the ride calmed down enough for me to raise my head. I looked over at my impetuous daughter who was laughing like a hyena tickled at watching the Howdy Doody Show. She and her seatmates were having a riot, waving their hands n the air like they just didn’t care. When the boat finally stopped, I remained riveted in my seat. I couldn’t even move my fingers. I think my daughter came over to unlock the retaining bar and pry my fingers loose. She took my arm and helped me down the stairs as if I were a decrepit old lady. I was too traumatized to pop her on the top of her head like I wanted to. I think I just gave her some more Marks so that she could get the hell away from me for the rest of the day while I tried to recover.