Wind blowing inside.
The death of my father.
When I was a child I harbored a secret obsession with the Skee Ball arcade game that was standard fare in all the amusement parks and arcade establishments in Philadelphia and the Jersey shore.
My father and brother always hurried off to experience the slickest, fastest rides. I watched my mother laugh as they smiled and waved to her, while she safely stayed on the part of the earth that didn’t move.
Rides never interested me. Not even the Teacup ride that was the only one that came in “mom speed.”
I was the littlest member of the family and while the men braved the rides, I was permitted to wander off to the nearest arcade with a fistful of coins and watchful visits from my mother to play Skee Ball – and there I’d stay until called to rejoin the family for the next adventure.
The intense, blinding summer sun made me squint and sweat as I approached the arcade.
I loved the signage and the musty wooden smell and the sound of the creaking floorboards as I stepped into the black, cavernous building and was automatically hit by a blast of Arctic cold that made me shiver.
I stood quiet and still as if visiting a sacred site, until my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Although the men in our family preferred the ocean amusements of Atlantic City or Wildwood on the Jersey shore; my mother was no friend of sand and successfully steered some of our weekend family pursuits to Willow Grove Park, outside of Philadelphia.
The park opened in May of 1896. Utah had just become the 45th state. The Civil War that had almost ripped the nation apart had been over for about 30 years. People were focusing on progress and pleasure. John Philip Sousa gave weekly concerts in the Park from 1901 to 1926 in a specially-built music pavilion that was torn down in 1959.
Whenever I could, I’d hide my bicycle in the bushes and take the bus to Willow Grove Park with money I earned recycling bottles for the purpose of secretly playing Skee Ball.
The arcade at Willow Grove Park was enormous. Before entering the vast arcade they called “an amusement gallery,” I would spend a long time looking at the old photographs placed in front of the building.
Photographs of smiling women in long dresses with leg of mutton sleeves, wearing large, flowered hats and carrying sun umbrellas.
Costumes that were totally inappropriate for the hot, humid and hazy Philadelphia summers.
I’d wonder – “Where are they now?” — and try to visualize them still walking arm-in-arm in the same spaces where I was now standing and where others who were more appropriately dressed were also standing and walking around me.
I would imagine the sound of their voices and the music coming from the concerts.
Where are they now?
When my father passed away, the thoughts of that small child at Willow Grove Park came rushing back to me as I sorted through old family photographs of my dad standing distant and frozen in time.
Photographs are thieves. They steal the life force and leave us with two-dimensional imprints of lives torn down like Sousa’s music pavilion.
In the piercing grief of a fresh loss – searching – searching.
Photographs are like old trails from feet that have touched the earth and have left just enough behind to hurt.
Photographs are thieves. They always take the best part.
© Carol Horos, June 3, 2015