It was a monster.
It heaved and shook underneath the pressure of the wind. It groaned with every passing of its weighted and timed cargo. A mass of steel, wood, and perpetual fear for a small boy…well, a small teenage boy, nonetheless.
“I’ll give you five dollars to ride it.”
The sound of potential cash flow almost overpowered the roar of the coaster train. Unfortunately for my grandfather and my father, the fear of what was to come drowned out their feeble attempt to cajole me on to what would certainly be my ill-timed death.
“Really? Five dollars wouldn’t get you on that thing?”
Another train passed by. The sun beating down on my shoulders was almost as unbearable as the pressure to step up and be a man. My mother, sisters, and grandmother looked on at the situation surely hoping that their respective husbands would recognize the vanity of their efforts.
“Six bucks…” My dad offered.
Lucky for me I inherited his stubborn will. I was not dying that day.
Honestly, if I could have the opportunity to go back and speak to my younger self I would tell me to suck it up and take the money. I could use six bucks right about now.
“Final offer and we’re moving on – Eight bucks…take it or leave it.” My grandfather, who had all but taken a back seat in this conversation, spoke up.
I’m not sure what happened to me in that moment. Had I recognized the opportunity that laid before me I wish I would have pressed the proverbial envelope for more money. However, whatever desire to impress my dad and my grandfather came to life in that moment.
My dad stared, for as much as I can remember, while my grandfather immediately reached into his back pocket and fronted the cash. A man of his word…
The next moments were all but a blur as I followed my father in to the queue for Gemini at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. If you know of it, you’re probably chuckling at the idea of such a coaster being a force of terror for a teenager. If you’re not aware of it, take my word and trust that this roller coaster was certainly nothing to be afraid of.
Twisting, turning, dropping, and screaming. I remember the sensation but I only remember seeing darkness.
“Open your eyes!” My dad had to yell over the screams of the other riders and over the sound of his own laughter.
I did for a moment and then immediately shut them again noticing how high off of the ground we were and the impending drop waiting for us around the bend.
I walked off of that roller coaster a little weak in the legs, but eight dollars richer with the approval of two of the most important men in my life.
There are three specific things that I have carried with me from that day until now:
- A primal adoration of thrill-seeking in the form of roller coasters. That day awoke in me a desire to ride bigger and better despite the fear I would inevitably face. It was all part of the hunt for adventure.
- A common interest that my father and I have been able to share for more than a decade now. I have no better coaster buddy.
- A real and full memory of my grandfather, who has, as of yesterday, passed into the arms of Jesus.
My grandfather, as I knew him, emanated peace. He was a soft man to all of his grandchildren – a bear, if you will. Not to be taken lightly but always able to be trusted.
My sister said it best in her tribute to him…”You see, my Papa felt proud of all of his family. You could see it in his eyes…Papa’s eyes gleamed with love and joy when he looked at us.” As I read that, I remembered and realized that she is correct. Even in his final days, as his words were few, I could see his love for us in his eyes.
There are many things that change in the course of our years on earth. However, one thing with my Papa never did and that was the love he shared for those he loved right until the very end.
So, yes, looking back on that day at Cedar Point I realize that I gained a lot more than eight dollars: a cherished memory, shoes to fill, and a priceless perspective. Sometimes fear is worth facing because of the beauty that may lay on the other side.
R.I.P. Papa. I will always love you.