Bells tinkle. Boats circle around and around and around. My son smiles, and I snap pictures. His first amusement park ride; his first time at Knoebels.* We've come here since I was his age, and my mother before me once rode these rides, as well. Today, she rides a rented motorized cart.
Knoebels Amusement Resort looms large in my memory. Nearly every one of my 42 summers, I've made a pilgrimage to the old-fashioned park, where you pay no admission, instead buying tickets to use on the rides. Earth-toned tickets, on thick paper, good for any year. This makes it convenient for the thrifty (and perhaps for time travelers).
The boats sail to a stop. I hold KFP's hand as we weave through the crowd to the fire engines. He trips and misses his chance to ride in front, but fortunately, there are steering wheels in back, too. He rings the bell. Clang, clang.
Although Knoebels adds new rides almost every year, the place is timeless. Indeed, it's easy to believe the normal rules of time do not apply here.
We pass the pavilion, shaped like a pink birthday cake, that my mom fondly remembers from girlhood picnics. It rotates slowly, like a fat pink planet spinning on its axis.
My husband picks up KFP, putting him on his shoulders as we walk by the building which has an ingenious garbage chute, shaped like a pig. "Feed the pig," the sign proclaims. A little girl with short, white-blonde hair, who's wearing a white shirt embroidered with psychedelic flowers and 1970s-style flared corduroys, stuffs a wax-paper ball in the pig's mouth. She looks slightly horrified when the pig sucks it up. But she is too big to cry, so she grabs her little brother's hand instead, as he's about to reach for the pig, and tells him to let Mommy do his trash.
At the Grand Carousel, we wait in line for my son's first time on the painted horses. My entire extended family is meeting here: for once, we're all in the same state. As we wait, a short-haired blonde teenage girl with huge glasses that dwarf her oval face, dressed in a 1980s outfit of stone-washed jeans and an over-sized bright-pink T-shirt, leans out as far as she can reach, grabbing for the bronze ring but getting a steel one instead. She slips it neatly over the middle finger of her other hand as she readies herself for another trip around.
I'm really good at grabbing the rings (though I only got the brass ring once in all these years). For my son's first carousel ride, I take pictures while my husband steadies him. His eyes, full of wonder, take in the gold-painted swirls of wood, the turn-of-the-century cartoons around the ride's still center, the horses dancing up and down. A gorgeously refurbished Orchestrion pumps out circus music.
Next, we head for the gasoline-powered cars, which putt along a track on the far side of the park. As we pass the wooden roller-coaster, I spot a college-age woman in a grass-green tie dye and mirrored granny glasses. Her long, blonde hair is naturally wavy, pouffing out and making her head seem larger, dwarfing her pear-shaped body. She leans against the wooden fence, toying with a book of tickets and talking animatedly with a brown-haired, slightly younger guy who has a "farmer's tan," as evidenced when he pulls up his sleeve to scratch the pale skin underneath. From their body language, I can tell they are brother and sister. Soon, I lose sight of them as they move up the line.
At Gasoline Alley, a park employee delivers a car to us: a forest-green Model T-style jalopy with no windows. The cars have a brake but no ignition switch and are kept running constantly while the park is open. We squeeze our adult bodies into the car that once seemed huge. My husband and KFP ride in the front while my sister and I take up the back seat. In the car ahead of us, I see two bright-haired young women, both with long hair, chatting breezily as they putt around the track. The older one looks like a slightly heavier version of the woman I just spotted at the roller-coaster, while the younger one looks a lot like my sister when she was a teenager.
Walking to the Pioneer Train, we pass a honey-haired woman in her 30s, wearing Bermuda shorts and a tasteful brown V-neck shirt, shooting video of an antique Wurlizer organ, which plays slightly off-key band tunes to the passing crowd. Near her is a ponytailed man, as tall as my now-short-haired husband, who waits patiently for her to finish.
The Pioneer Train, our last ride of the day, takes us on a loop through a wooded area of the park, past the summer houses and cabins we'd always wanted to rent. When we enter the dark tunnel, everybody screams, "Aaaaaaa!" The voices of my family rise in chorus with the other passengers, our voices -- young and old -- echoing louder than seems possible. It's as if our voices are doubled, tripled, quadrupled by the voices of the children we have been or the adults we will become.
* Locals pronounce the "K" -- making it "Kah-nobles."