HUNKER DOWN WITH KES
Dollywood In The Thirties
All theme parks today are just an extension of the Carroll County Fair. Oh sure, the rides might be a little higher, and maybe faster. The graphics and infrastructure are a tad more sophisticated. The roller coaster now has fancy names like “Thunder Mountain” and “Screaming Eagle.” And these new permanent places have expanded to ginormous size, and sadly, replaced the sawdust midway with miles and miles of concrete.
But the old Scrambler is still alive and well in these new venues. The Ferris wheel will still get you high above the crowd. You can still throw a basketball through a hoop and win a Teddy Bear. I can still manage to pick the slowest bumper car in the whole field… And the bottom line, whether we’re talking Huntingdon, Tennessee, in 1959 or Dollywood in December, 2017, is to still get as much of your money as they possibly can!
I’m not complaining mind you. You can’t imagine how excited we got each fall as the County Fair “set up” near us. The noise, the lights, the rides, the side shows, the hot dogs, the rush of the crowd, slipping away from your parents…….all added up to about more adventure than a body could stand! We were young boys standing in line to ride the Octopus when Buddy Wiggleton turned to me with wide open eyes and exclaimed, “Kes, the only way to make this better is to make it twice as large!”
I thought of Bud as I was riding the tram up to the front gate at Dollywood. How about twenty times as large! I was thinking it was going to take a lot of quarters to get through this day when Max grabbed me by the hand and said, “Ducks.”
Grandchildren can get you to do things way beyond your scope and range.
Part of our son’s Christmas to his children was a trip to Dollywood. Naturally, to be a real yuletide gift it had to come “as soon after Christmas as practical.” I readjusted my ear muffs, pulled the collar of my heaviest Port St. Joe coaching jacket up around my neck, stomped the concrete to get a little feeling back in my feet and headed off with Max-a-Million to the section where the rides matched a three year old’s size and preferences.
I pulled the seat belt tight around Max in the duck he’d chosen and backed out of the ring. It could be snowing before this ride ends. I told Cathy two weeks ago the Tennessee Mountains didn’t seem like a good idea in December. Of course, three grandchildren were involved…so she didn’t hear me.
If Max had any idea that it was cold, he didn’t let on. I remember those days when I was oblivious to temperature, snow storms and glaciers moving down from the north. But that was yesteryear!
The music stopped, the ducks slowly eased to a standstill and the Duck Master leaned into the microphone, “Parents, you may now enter and pick up your child.” My frozen hands finally freed little Max. As I carefully picked him up out of the seat, he said, “Busy Bees.”
While his older sisters enjoyed the Lightning Rod, Tennessee Tornado, Blazing Fury and the Whistle Punk Chaser, me and Max hung out with the ducks, bees and flying pigs. I’m telling you, it was the Carroll County Fair…updated! There was something for everyone! And you should have seen the light in Addison and Avery’s eyes as they told me how one ride “turned them completely upside down!”
I remembered Buddy’s eyes from the old days. Maybe that’s the connection, the thing that keeps bringing us back. It lifts us above the hum drum of average. Maybe it’s fantasy land. But who—young, old and in between—couldn’t use a bit of fantasy from time to time. I appreciated anew and afresh the timelessness of sharing the joy, the unadulterated fun with family…and ten thousand people I didn’t know.
We naturally couldn’t miss the light show parade. Starting at 8:15! At night! High atop the freezing East Tennessee Mountains!
Cold was bouncing off my rib cage and seeping into my lungs. I was caught in fifteen feet snow drifts and sliding down frozen rivers. While the grandkids waited for the parade, I slipped into the nearest shop, hoping for a momentary respite from the raging winter storm.
It happened to be a women’s fashion store. I pretended to look at the tags so I wouldn’t feel completely out of place. Jesse stuck his head through the door, “You going to buy Mom a dress?”
“Son, I’m trying to find one that will make her look just like Dolly Parton!”