The way back machine!

The Day I Discovered Black People

I saw a video today about a black kid and white kid that seem to be great friends. See it by clicking here. It brought back a great memory from when I was very young. Interestingly enough, I can still remember my very first encounter with a black kid because it was profound (at least for me at the time). Now I won’t say it was the very first time I’d seen a black person, as that is a memory I don’t recall, but it was definitely the first time I really interacted on a personal level. 

When I was growing up, my world was incredibly white. Didn’t think about it much, as it was just my reality. Back in those days I had no reason to think about who I knew or didn’t, what I had or didn’t, or even what mattered and what didn’t. My world was just what it was and I was glad to be in it. Life was about having fun.

Now, there is fun and then there is FUN!!! You see my dad was a kid at heart and nothing pleased him more than to have fun with his kids. And the absolute pinnacle of fun when I was a very young man was a place called Fountaine Ferry Park. It was just a fantastic place with tons of character and rides galore. It was also back in the days when fun was a lot more important than safety, LOL.  So, as a kid you sometimes got a chance to “push the envelope” so to speak (which now reminds me of one of my first pony rides and what happens when you kick horses like did with spurs). Just read this little excerpt from the history to gain some perspective on that fun without boundaries feel.

 “Problems with Fontaine Ferry Park began in 1941. On November 7 of that year, allegations of the rides being too rough began. People were cited for standing up on the roller coasters. The Comet roller coaster tossed a rider while two others were killed on the Racing Derby. Another child was thrown from one of the smaller rides inside a building. Roller skaters were even hurt along with a swimmer. An aerialist fell 25 feet, missed the net, but was not hurt. Also during this time accusations were made that the waters of the Tunnel of Love were infested with snakes. The story was believed by the public and Fontaine Ferry was forced to replace the tunnel with the Turnpike. Later, the snake story was proven false.”

Legends, myths, and reality, all blended together to help you understand when people thought the roller coaster was scary it was for good reason. It was Nirvana for a kid that liked “going just a little bit further” every chance he got. “Danger” was part of the appeal. 

But if Fountaine Ferry Park was heaven, there was one place that was the palace in the kingdom and that was the world within a world called Hilarity Hall. And why was this place so special? Well, throughout the rest of the park every ride required a ticket, which in my family meant even if it was your favorite ride the answer was gonna be “we already rode that, let’s try something else”. On rare occasions you might be lucky enough to score 2 rides on your favorite thing but that was a rare occurance. One ticket, one ride was the general mantra. Not so in Hilarity Hall! This won’t mean much to kids today but it was huge for us. You see, in Hilarity Hall your ticket got you in and you could stay as long as you liked, do whatever you liked, with no ticket required. So unlimited fun! Ah, sweet freedom at last. 

Now there are memories forever etched in my mind that will remain until my last days. Not the least of which were the 2 incredibly creepy heads over the entrance to Hilarity Hall which laughed out loud constantly and without end. Here is one of them. Let’s just say this is where nightmares come from.


You see another interesting aspect of Hilarity Hall was that it was a full contact destination. You weren’t ushered into your “compartment” to enjoy the ride, you were thrown in with humanity to fend for yourself……over and over again.  Like many things in life, you got out of it what you put in. One example was “The Sugar Bowl”.

You and everyone else would climb down a ladder into a big wooden bowl. It would spin at an ever increasing pace and you’d be forced up and onto the side of the bowl. That might mean you are plastered up against someone you don’t even no. Didn’t matter, centrifical force didn’t discriminate and soon you had no choice but to go where the force took you.  Everyone had a common experience and it was understood when you rolled up onto someone you had no choice in the matter. Full contact, your embarrassment didn’t matter and was part of the fun.

Other examples abound. “Barrel of Fun” – a spinning tube filled with kids, the “Bumpy Slide” – essentially a bunch of carpet rolls you’d slide on and pound your whole body, and “The Double Slide” where you’d take a burlap sack and choose the angel side with its series of soft ups and downs or the devil side which was straight down. And on more than a few occasions your burlap sack would crash into someone else’s.

So, it was here in Hilarity Hallwhere I had my first encounter with probably anyone of a different race. It was on “The Wheel of Fun”. 

You see, “wheel of fun” was a test of survival and as I have come to understand, a metaphor for life. Probably one of the first times I got on this, I soon learned its purpose. You would crawl up on this mound, along with other kids and wait for your coming fate. You see someone had decided that loading up kids on a disk, getting that disk spinning at an increasing rate and hurling kids off in all directions at a high velocity would be a good idea. And you know what they were right! It was a waxed surface with little to hold onto so it was just a matter of time before you were hurled away from the center. And then it would stop and you could do it all over again. 

There were only 2 ways to stay on the whole ride. #1 Be the sole individual at the top center, or #2 find some help. This is where my black friend came in and taught me the ropes. You see while I was loaded up on the wheel a whole bunch of new kids came running in. As I was sitting there my new friend rushed up, plopped down next to me and locked arms with me. I’ve never even talked to a black kid and now he is locked on and holding tight. I was entirely sure what he was doing. But, in short order we had enough kids to go completely around the ring with locked arms. Suddenly, you could now stay in place at twice the speed. Now it was no guarantee you’d go the distance, as a weak link would become exposed, a kid would peel off at significant centrifugal force, and shortly there after kids were flying everywhere. Dude, it just didn’t get better than that. And on occasion, everyone would hold it together until the spinning stopped (but that wasn’t as much fun and consequently kids breaking the chain were quite common.

So I took away a life long memory and some lessons. Black kids were just like me, want to have fun while the world spins you around. The closer you get to the top the greater your odds of success. If you try to go it alone you probably won’t go far. And people working together and looking out for their neighbor can allow what looks to be impossible happen. 

Now heaven forbid we let our kids have this sort of fun today. Why, they might get hurt, or the place might get sued. You see, we grew up with a little real danger. Not all kids get that privilege today and they end up softer adults because of it. Go ahead, get your kids or your grandkids and find some envelopes to push. You will both be the better for it. 


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