After reading Cara Bailey’s post about family vacations (epitomized by Clark W. Griswold), I added a comment that I never visited Disney World as a child, and I don’t have any desire to visit it as an adult.
A friend replied that I should really give The House of Mouse a chance, particularly the parks that offer more than stroller-to-stroller traffic and two-hour lines to ride two-minute rides. I blamed my hatred on annoying princesses that ruin $29.99 buffet breakfasts, but that’s not exactly fair or factual. The truth is…I’m scared of amusement parks.
And with good reason.
When I was nine years old, my parents and I loaded our suitcases in one of the first generation Dodge Caravans for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. My mother said that she would grant me a day at Busch Gardens IF I toured a few historical battlefields with her in Old Virginny. My father said that he would grant me a day at the beach IF I toured the naval base in Norfolk with him. No one had any idea that Mother and Country would be the theme of the experience.
Now, these were the days of tri-fold brochures that you requested by postcard mailing, pulled from the back pages of a well-worn Southern Living magazine. My parents didn’t fully understand the scope of Busch Gardens — home of the thrill-seeker’s mega coaster. The park was (and still may be) divided into European territories with the Rhine River separating that great land. The minute my hypertensive father took a look at the size of twisted steel and looping tracks, he made it very clear that it would be a short day. Due to his medical conditions, stressful fun wasn’t going to be possible. My mother, fearful of heights and the width of her bouffant hair, offered to ride the train. But anything else on the park map would have to be ridden alone…or with another singleton in line.
They spotted a familiar attraction near the front entrance of the park — a gondola ride that resembled something in the Swiss Alps. Still a tad too high for my easy rider dad, they put me in the car and waved as I took off, high atop the trees. The ride seemed to take longer than the one at Camden Park — you know the one — the ski lift that carries people above the parking lot, providing a view of rotten boards once nailed to the Big Dipper. When my #19 car lowered to the ground, I stepped out to slightly different scenery. Nothing looked familiar. No one looked familiar. No one spoke the same language.
I had traveled abroad — not around, as we all assumed I would — from England to Germany. Miles and miles away from Mum and Pop.
Did I mention that I was nine?
As a mother to two children ages eight and five, just typing the words “lost in Busch Gardens” makes my heart pound louder than a team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses. A nine year old girl — lost in an amusement park — separated from her parents — last seen getting on a gondola ride — the car returned empty. The first assumption was that I had fallen out.
I remember searching the crowd for my parents. I remember the rush of fear after realizing that I had been dropped off at the wrong stop. I remember asking the teenage attendant who opened my door where I was. I also remember that he didn’t offer to help me get back to my starting point.
So, I walked. And walked. And walked.
For three hours, I walked.
I don’t remember park police or seeing anyone dressed in uniform, but there were plenty of people dressed in costume. I saw George Washington. I saw Benjamin Franklin. I saw Thomas Jefferson. And thank God, I saw Dolly Madison.
I asked Dolly how to get back to England, and she told me to keep following the brown-planked road. I remember passing the Loch Ness Monster, the yellow-nightmare of a coaster that dipped riders’ feet into the river as they pulled back up to the Williamsburg-blue sky. I remember worrying that I’d never see my mother again.
Why is it always the mother we search for? We love our fathers in ways that can’t be explained…but when it comes right down to it…we need our mothers.
Sometime later, I climbed the steep hill that welcomed me back to England. And there were my parents — still standing in the place where I left them. “Here she is!” my mother screamed. And then I cried.
After being reunited, I discovered that park police had been alerted, officers were out looking for a nine-year-old girl with brown hair and hazel eyes wearing a red Polo and white shorts, last seen on a flight to Germany. My dad had searched the entire park, but my mother had stayed put. She wasn’t going to leave without me.
Our next stop was to a pub for the largest lemonade ever poured. I gulped every drop and then asked if we could leave. My parents were in total agreement that we had been through enough for one day — and there would be no touring of battlefields after the 150 acres I had just crossed. It was back to the Fort Magruder Inn, where we stayed for the next five days, in the shallow end of the swimming pool.
And the rest of the vacation was history.