Sunday, September 03, 2006

Something change doesn't change

Growing up in the northeast, and now raising a child here, it shouldn't shock me to learn I have a special fondness for places that remind me of my childhood.

I shouldn't be surprised at the delight I take in enrolling my child in the same nursery school I attended as a tot, or even the calm of knowing that she won’t attend the high school I wished I'd never seen from the inside.

It's the kind of comfort that comes from a smidgen of experience and a smackerel of pride. But such comfort is deceiving. What I never count on is change.

As she napped her way to the North Country, unaware of our advance to the Great Escape -- a late-in-the-season theme park visit, only the second of her lifetime -- my mind processed the road signs and mile markers as I drove, and yet my thoughts were clearly steering toward Storytown USA.

Of course I knew about all the transformations that have taken place since a theme park chain attached itself to Charles Wood's creation a decade ago. Mr. Wood himself made enough big-time changes during my own adolescence to keep the park viable as tastes and generations changed. But somehow, traveling up the Northway on a fall-coming afternoon, the movie in my mind was running the Mother Goose stories, swan boats and pumpkin carriages of my own tiny tot-hood on a Technicolor loop.

It's a good thing I was trailing a friend or I'd never have found the entrance to the new parking lots. Gone were the gravel-strewn acres with attendants in orange vests and folding chairs, waiting to show us where to dock our car. In their place was a landscaped, black-topped expanse that meanders past a new swanky resort-style hotel and little guard shack, where a woman collects my $10 parking fee.

None of this was here two years ago when the park turned 50 and Ittybit turned 9 months old.

As I mourn the loss of the simple things, yet again, I realize I'm probably lamenting something that never really existed in the first place.

As we constantly weigh it, change tends to comes up wanting. But you can't deny change, and sometimes change is good. The pedestrian highway overpass, looming large over Route 9, is a case in point.

After looking down at my squirmy wormy stroller screamer, I gaze up at the bridge thankfully. For that bridge alone I’d have happily forked over half a day'’s pay to park and gain admission had it not been for the special coupon my friend had procured.

It's a slow day inside the park. The threat of rain and cold temperatures had taken their toll on attendance. At a number of kiddy ride stations one operator is operating two. The lines aren't long but our timing is rarely perfect. Often we wait in a line and watch the operator move to the neighboring ride. Minutes don’t seem to matter. We chat and watch, and try to keep our kids from howling too loudly. It doesn’t seem to matter if the rides are new or the park is bigger.

As we pass Cinderella's castle my adult mind begins to doubt its childhood memories. It wonders about a photograph in my parents' collection: the one of me peeking out of a great orange carriage, waving with the shadow of celebrity beside me -- the graceful curve of a neck against a chignon twist, and the shadow of her gloved hand waving in the background has always seemed unreal and ghostlike, as if it were all illusion caused by stray lights.

As is usual, at least from recent experience, Cinderella's castle stands oddly vacant behind wrought iron fencing; locked up tight and no carriage in sight. As I look around at the throng of ittybits holding on tightly to the hands of their own mommies, I realize how near hopeless it would be to wait in line for a fairytale dream come true, even on a slow day.

I momentarily regret pointing out the castle to Ittybit knowing her love of the storybook princess may render me deaf. And in that moment Cinderella comes from around a corner, or out of nowhere, wearing a blue sparkling dress. She bends to give Ittybit a hug, telling her sweetly to have a magical day before she floats away.

"Was that Cinderella?" she asks me in a whisper.

"Yes, baby, it was."

Then it dawns on me: Perhaps the simple things will always be simple like this; something that change doesn't change.

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