I was perhaps, eight, maybe nine? I do not really recall my age, but I do recall most of the events that led to my fear of heights and most carnival rides. My Great-Uncle was visiting from Harlem. He was always good to us girls, taking us wherever we wanted to go, letting us do whatever we wanted to do.
But, within reason.
This particular summer, in the Georgia heat, he decided to take us to the country to fish. Three girls, all under the age of ten, to fish. We were excited! What were we going to catch? Would we eat them? Who would we tell first about our find(s)?
I was the eldest, naturally. I am the eldest grandchild on both my Mother and Father’s sides of the family. On the ride to the country, we spotted a small carnival. We delighted in this fact and begged our uncle to stop. He did. What followed after has been a part of my soul’s regret for the last twenty-plus years.
A Ferris Wheel lured us in. We were caught up. It was beautiful.
Although not as big as most of the huge town fairs or carnivals’ Ferris wheels, it still held appeal in our eyes. Our uncle allowed us a ride.
“One ride. Then, we have to go.”
We had enough cotton candy and corn dogs in our system to last us the rest of the journey, why not a go at the Ferris wheel too? I sat to the far left, my youngest cousin was in the middle, and my cousin closest to me in age, sat on the far right. We were all strapped in and ready to go.
The two younger girls below us were not. We made it around the Ferris wheel one full time before it began to shake a little and slowly came to a halt. We rested at the top after a loud thud. Then, another. One by one, both of the girls below us fell far to the platform.
Immediately, I shielded my cousins’ eyes. I do not know how I knew to do this, but I did not want them to see what I was seeing. A bloody mouth, a broken hand? Wailing and thunderous cries reached our ears. I did not cry. I advised the younger ones not to either. We sat. We waited. The conductor of the ride seemed confused.
He had a look on his face that said, “I thought I checked everyone.” I saw our Great-Uncle frantically pacing about the patchy grass, yearning for us to be safe in his arms. The crying. The wailing. It would not stop.
Then, the ambulance.
We were still in mid-air. Twenty minutes later. My legs felt numb. My hands shook feverishly. Soon, my youngest cousin poked her eyes through and caught a glimpse of it all. She started crying. Nothing major, just some crocodile tears. She felt their pain.
While hanging in the balance, I prayed. At such a young age, I knew I could not keep them safe, so I asked for God’s accompaniment.
TO HELP ME, HELP THEM NOT BE AFRAID.
When it was all over, we ran to our uncle. There was a lot of cursing and “Thank Gods,” but we were finally safe. How does a Ferris wheel malfunction in mid-air and cause two of its riders to shake loose?