I spent years rebelling against Mom because I wanted to be more “adult.” These days, I find myself spending time with Mom to be reminded that I’m still a child, and that life is to be embraced from and to all corners.
On a clear, 75-degree Tuesday in June at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., she exuded girl-ness, screaming down the enclosed, echo-y Amazoom water slide, singing along with “Doo Wah Diddy” in Splashin’ Safari, “Omigod-ing” through every zillion-mile-an-hour hill and face-breaking turn of The Voyage rollercoaster, and, like me, eating not one but two of the four gooey, warm, super chocolate-y, sweet, fried Oreos that made up an order. While some Holiday World guests copped a “cool” pose, bickered, pushed strollers, opted through coaster lines or generally dialed their day in, Mom, 57, probably one of the oldest guests that day, embraced each sound, taste and g-force with a life-affirming attitude expected from a 10-year-old on happy crack.
But, then again, as my fiancé commented, “Let’s face it, your mom is not a normal person, and I mean that in the best of ways.”
Because Mom is not normal (she taught me to explore without bias), I’ve often found myself trekking through exotic Southern Indiana. I’ve made several trips to Huber’s Orchard, Clifty Falls and the Falls of the Ohio looking for warm, ripe peaches, mossy trails with waterfall views or boulders to leap-frog. Then, once I discovered the super-friendly folks at DePauw Memorial Church thrift store in New Albany, and worked with Jenny Rog, the smiling, kind owner of Magdalena’s Restaurant in Corydon, I wondered why more Louisvillians seem determined to stay on our side of the Ohio.
Why do some people seem determined to stay on their side of anything? I understand local pride, or patriotism, even provincialism, but do any of those necessarily exclude appreciating the unknown other? Maybe I am just imagining this stubbornness. Maybe most people don’t cling to what they know, and don’t fear what they don’t. Yet, I imagine that most strangers to Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan might feel less fear or anger and even have their minds changed about U.S. involvement in the Middle East if they sat down to dinner with families living in Baghdad, Tehran or Kabul.0
I know, I know. Connecting childhood, Mom, Holiday World and the Middle East is a stretch, but go with me. Think about being 9 or 10 years old. Consider how much less you discriminated about playmates. Didn’t you just want to play? In my neighborhood, if anyone wanted to play football or hide-and-seek, we gathered everybody. The bigger the group, the more excited we felt. Now, imagine a 57-year-old kid. During our Holiday World visit, Mom spoke with no less than 20 strangers. I often feel like she’s conjuring the character of Maude from the film “Harold and Maude,” who asserts that she “… likes people. They’re her species.” Mom smiles, talks and laughs without prejudice. Any playmate will do. The more people she meets, the better.
Mom even beat me to talking with Blake Payne, a 16-year-old from Atlanta. His family stopped their vehicle in incoming park traffic to let him pick up a stray turtle. I’ve seen a turtle splattered on a two-lane road, so I felt determined to save this one when we saw Blake carrying it toward Rudolph Lake. Blake’s family’s willingness to stop, think about another creature’s life and act on that reflection offers hope. Blake’s dad, a Major, had just returned from Iraq. Maybe Blake’s dad, a military guy, understands that all life is worth a compassionate consideration. While in Iraq, maybe Blake’s dad met and connected with Iraqis. Maybe I am too hopeful. Whatever the case, the Payne family at least stopped in traffic — crossed a border — to help a vulnerable critter in the Holiday World parking lot (no parking fee, by the way).
Visit Holiday World. Mrs. Koch, park matriarch, is the “Queen of Clean” (according to her nametag and the restrooms’ spotlessness). The park is only an hour’s drive west on I-64. Sodas are free all day long, the wooden coasters left me teary-eyed, the waterpark beats any I’ve been to (free SPF 30 sun block included) and — as you eat fried Oreos, slide through The Zinga and happily lose your lunch to The Legend — think about why you never came before, and where else you (all of us) could go. Then, talk to a stranger. Knock on your neighbor’s door. Visit Portland. Cross the river.
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