My Daddy. He taught me to ride: bicycles and horses. Born in 1909, his life spanned the horse and buggy days through the space age. He would have been 101 on April 30th. I miss him.
A few years ago, while sitting on the beach in Santa Barbara, I watched people riding the ancient carousel. A child laughed with his grandmother who was holding him on the bobbing horse. A father beamed at his children, who beamed right back. A couple from Japan spoke no English, yet I understood their happiness. As the tinkling music washed over me and I contemplated how much I loved those prancing steeds, it dawned on me that this is what my father did for a living every single day: he brought joy into people's lives.
Dad's first job was running the merry-go-round in Ogden, Utah. He was fourteen. He bought his first ponies as a teenager and sold rides at the state fair. When he moved to California, he brought his ponies with him and added kiddie rides. He traveled with Foley and Burke, the only railroad carnival and the largest carnival in the Golden State. He worked the World's Fair on Treasure Island in 1939 and ran the pony ride concession at Selig Zoo in Los Angeles -- the home of Leo, the MGM lion and other major animal stars. His ponies and rides appeared in many movies, and he lived among the movie stables and stars.
I was born into this world and loved every minute of it, especially the horses. From his carnival dates, I learned how to adapt to every culture and how to enjoy meeting new people. I served warriors in full regalia at Indian powwows as easily as I served kimono clad women at the Japanese festival. We were the first white people into Watts after the riots, working a job that eventually became known as the Watts Festival. It wasn't our first time there nor would it be our last. I still remember the kindness of friends and strangers alike in all the places we were privileged to work.
>From him I learned how to treasure our differences. Some people might have laughed at the tiny old lady with the ukulele who wanted to ride the bombers, a kid ride. Dad didn't. "Let her ride." She spent the afternoon, smiling while she went round and round, strumming an unknown tune on her ukulele, pausing only to adjust her hat every so often. When she finally quit, long about dark, she thanked me profusely. "My parents couldn't afford carnivals when I was a child. I used to watch and wish. Now my wishes have come true." No child walked away with a bigger grin than the woman whose laughter trailed behind her as she walked into the night.
I also learned how to build fences, paint rides, repair saddles and to diagnose an ailing horse. He gave me the confidence to do any job and take on any adventure. But most of all, I learned the importance of caring about those who need a protector. Whether animal or human, we're all in need from time to time.
If I can help just one person stand taller or suffer less, then I am honoring his memory in ways he would be proud.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Whenever I see ponies in the clouds dancing across the sky, I think of you and know I am blessed to be your daughter.