Ticket To Ride

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2024 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo by the author.
 Photo property of  the author.

"Ticket to Ride" is a memoir and a true biographical account of a magical summer I spent with my Aunt Betty.

I stared motionless watching the magical Ferris wheel, hypnotized by its clockwise, circular motion cutting through the heavy August clouds.

You gotta have a ticket to ride!” snapped the Carney. “Get a ticket or move outta da way, kid. You’re takin’ up space!”

Here’s her ticket, sir. We three are ridin’ together.”

Not happenin’ lady—only two per chair,” growled the Carney. “One of youz has to ride by yerself.”

No problem! She’s the oldest; she’ll ride by herself.”

Whatever ya say, lady. She seems a bit scared to me, though.”

Your brother and I will be in the seat right in front of you.” Aunt Betty reassured me, nudging me into the chair by myself. “You’re okay with that, aren’t you sweetie?”

I tried to swallow but couldn’t. Unable to speak, I reluctantly nodded yes hoping not to show my fear and doubt. I sat down in the chair, paralyzed and alone, waiting for the ride to start and pushing aside my fear of heights, curious as to why my dear Aunt Betty insisted I ride alone. Just two days earlier I’d stood on the banks of the Mississippi River, eagerly watching the Ferris wheel being assembled on the fairgrounds. I imagined climbing aboard one of the cars; riding the circle of lights; watching the sun set over the Mississippi River; seeing the city’s lights from atop; and feeling the chair sway in the summer breeze. But now my fascination had turned to fear—fluttering in my stomach like crazy butterflies.

Single rider!” yelled the Carney. “Put down the bar so we can all go!”

I snapped the safety bar into place, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. The Ferris wheel bolted into action and turned, slowly gaining momentum. I opened my eyes and looked down; the earth below me moved and became smaller and smaller; then the chair rocked back and forth, and I came to rest high upon the apogee—stranded and alone. I squinted my eyes and looked out across Cape Girardeau until I saw some familiar landmarks—the Old Mississippi River Bridge and the Old Lorimier Cemetery.

Above me soft white clouds drifted by. Below me, a Mississippi steamboat—reminiscent of the one that Mark Twain piloted—glided its way through the mighty river’s current. I followed the muddy river as it snaked its way through the countryside below me. Every inch of the legendary waterway brought something new into view—odd little islands, hills, woods, and towns. For a brief moment I thought I saw LaSalle standing atop the bluffs mapping the river’s course.

No longer landlocked, I sat silent between anguish and ecstasy—suddenly empty of fearful thoughts and full of soothing thoughts. Without warning, the Ferris wheel jolted forward and resumed its circular journey, slowly turning round ‘n round. I closed my eyes, and the rhythmic rat tat tat tuh of the Ferris wheel’s machinery freed my mind lifting my spirit high above the ground and carried me to heaven. Inspired and unexpectedly shaken from my self-imposed fear and cowardice, I was forever transformed.

The rhythmic melody slowed then ended; when my chair approached ground level, the Carney released the safety bar and growled, “Careful, girlee. Ya looks a bit dizzy.”

I tried standing up but crumpled like a puppet who’d suddenly been released from its strings, then fell backwards. Dazed, I stared up to find Aunt Betty smiling down at me.

Yahoo, sweetie! I knew you could ride alone! Stand next to the Carney, and I’ll take your picture. Okay, smile!”

Later that night Aunt Betty gave me that picture and said, “You were so brave today! You’re ready for another adventure. So, tomorrow you’re going to work with me. Get a good night’s rest!” The following morning, she took me to the office where she worked; escorted me to a musty-smelling, poorly lit back room; and sat me down at an antiquated, wooden office chair that creaked like an old man’s stiff, arthritic joints. She rolled me in front of a vintage manual typewriter; placed my hands on the home keys; and demonstrated the reaches. “You can read, can’t ya, Sweetie? Follow the instructions on each page of this book. Remember, sit up straight and keep your wrists up.”With that, she abandoned me—just as she’d done the night before. For the next several days, I silently sat perched at the keyboard, practicing until my wrists ached and my fingers numbed. When boredom set in, Aunt Betty handed me a shoebox full of picture postcards and old family photographs.

Look inside, Sweetie. Aren’t these pictures interesting? You love to write, don’t you? Why not use ‘em to type and create some stories? I’d love to read ‘em when you’re finished. How’d that be?”

I nodded, relishing her suggestion like a new pianist who embraces reading sheet music for the first time. By summer’s end, I typed several stories carrying them home in a shoebox I aptly labeled Shoebox Stories.

The years since, like summer days, have burned and melted away, leaving me to wonder whatever became of my Shoebox Stories. One morning while cleaning out my parents’ attic, I came upon a somewhat dilapidated shoebox that smelled dusty like memories waiting to be explored. I gingerly lifted the lid and sniffed the yellowed, timeworn paper. I opened the folded pages and immediately recognized the faded ink of the stories I’d created long ago.

The discolored, worn photograph of me and the carney ignited memories of the enchanting Ferris wheel and my summer of bravery and creativity when Aunt Betty gave me more than a ticket to ride a Ferris wheel. As I rode alone high above the horizon, she unknowingly gave me a ticket to ride beyond my comfort zone—past my fears—into a life filled with anticipation, adventure, courage, resourcefulness, and a level of inspiration and creativity enjoyed only by those who have had their spirit set free. Although the Mississippi River inspired Mark Twain and gave birth to his creativity, the magical Ferris wheel transformed me and gave rise to my imagination—ever flowing like the river—ever turning tales to be told.

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