Holding my grandfather's hand, I leave the darkness of the entrance tunnel, heart beating fast and stomach full of fluttering butterflies -- we are finally here.
Everywhere I look there is something moving either up and down or in circles. The colored lights and music all blend together to make an abstract painting I will never forget. I want to just stand and watch everything.
One Kennywood ride is stopping, another is starting; people are laughing and screaming, holding hands, always moving. It is 1944. I am 6 years old and this is my first time at an amusement park. Looking up I see a smile on my grandfather's face, and holding my hand he leads me into the park.
We walk over a small bridge, up a ramp and stop. There are people in front of us talking and laughing.
"Why are we stopping?" I ask him.
"We have to wait in line for our turn," he says.
Looking up I can see lights flashing on and off and heavy chains hanging down with silver and orange cars attached to them. My grandfather bends down and tells me they are called rockets because of their shape. I see a man moving around the cars, opening doors on each one.
As I continue watching, the man motions with his hand and two people move forward. He helps them in, slams the door shut and motions for two more. I start pulling on my grandfather's hand. He bends down, and I tell him, "I don't want to go into one of those cars -- we might not come back."
He laughs. Still holding my hand, he has us move out of the line. He picks me up so that I can see the cars going around.
The cars are now flying out over the lake under the ride, the colors reflecting off the water. I can hear people screaming, and I feel afraid. We stand and watch as the ride slows and finally stops.
Again I see a man move toward the cars and start opening doors. I watch wide-eyed as people get out of the cars and walk away, all of them alive, laughing and talking to one another.
We stand and watch as people again get on, go around and get off. Still smiling, my grandfather asks, "Would you like to ride now?" I look at him, look back at the ride, slowly shake my head from side to side.
"Maybe next time," I say. He laughs, puts me down, takes my hand, and we move on to check out the next ride.
My grandfather and I went back to the park later that year and we did ride the rockets. I went to the park many times after that year, with cousins, friends, boyfriends and my own children, and the first ride was always the rockets.
No matter who I was with, once I got into the seat and fastened the safety belt around us, it was always my grandfather who was in that car with me. Kennywood removed the ride in 1978 and replaced it with another that I never rode and can't even remember the name of.
There were not a lot of thrill rides back then like they have today, but at that time in my life that was the entire thrill I needed. The end of that first night at Kennywood came with me sitting on a brightly colored horse going up and down on a carousel.
I will always remember it, along with the reassurance of knowing that my grandfather was there waiting for me, holding my cotton candy and waiting to take me home so I could tell my grandmother all the wonderful things that became treasured memories.intelligencer
Patricia Begandy, a retiree who lives in Port Vue, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.