"We have a winner." Cheers of excitement drown out the voice of the amusement park worker. Standing in her gray and red polo with coconut emblem, she tries to force the crowd backwards in order to let the man who rang the bell claim his prize.
"Get the Scottie Dog" a little blond haired girl exclaims, tugging on the hand of the man. He smiles at her affectionately before glancing toward the identical blond haired child to his left.
"No Daddy, the Princess doll." The two siblings peer around their father, two pink tongues waging war at each other.
The father shakes his head with a hearty laugh before turning towards his wife. "What do you think honey?"
The petite woman rubs her protruding belly softly with her left hand while pointing toward a tiger with her right hand. "The boat Eddie, it will be his first stuffed animal."
I smile as I watch the family gather their prize and head toward the kiddie swings.
Man, I used to love those swings. Back before I grew up and motion sickness decided to adopt me. Yep, that was me-Callie Jean, the queen of the swings.
Every year Nanna would bring my brother Dare and I to Coconut Bay Amusement Park. We would line up at the gate 20 minutes before opening. Clutching our gold and blue park passes in our hands, Dare and I were like soda pop bottles shaken to the point of exploding. No one could wipe the smiles off our faces.
Promptly at 10 am the gates would open and a park employee would count down 3-2-1...Time to Coco Loco.
Dare and I would run ahead while Nanna followed behind, always keeping us in her sight. She knew exactly where we would beeline-the swings. And then the Double Loop Scoop. And eventually the Thunder Ridge log flume where Dare and I would always end up being soaked and somehow Nanna would make it out fairly dry.
But first, it was always the swings. We didn't leave room for exceptions.
Well, unless you were choosing chocolate sprinkles or rainbow-colored ones. Or going without sprinkles. But really, who doesn't want rainbow sprinkles on a twist cone?
Latched in and ready to go, the swings were like having wings and flying. Dare was Superman and I was his twin. The air would rush past my face, whipping long auburn locks into my face. Faster and faster we would fly, legs flailing back and forth. I would throw both hand up in the air and shout with glee.
I was Strong. Fearless. Happy.
Maybe we thought we were invincible because we were spoiled by youth. Maybe the sunny days and frozen lemonades brainwashed us. Either way, we were fearless.
Until the summer before fifth grade that is. Because change doesn't give you are warning sign. It pops up out of nowhere like a skittish deer, frozen in the headlights. You don't want to hit it and it doesn't want to die but there's nothing you can do.
Nanna passed away that summer. It was an incredibly hot day, not a cloud in the sky. That humid Thursday, Dare and I had begged Nanna to go to Coconut Bay. She was tired and didn't want to go but we didn't let up. We begged her for what seemed like an hour.
"We are so bored Nanna" Dare complained, the older and more confident of us siblings. "Dad and Mom are working late again."
"Please Nanna" I pleaded, "they won't even know we were gone and we will be back before dark." Nanna hated driving in the dark. She blamed it on her age and aversion to bats. I'd never seen a bat before.
Eventually she smiled, slipped on her moccasins, and drove us the hour drive to the park. We made jokes and ate greasy slices of pizza, never thinking this would be the end.
Eight hours later she was dead, a stroke from the 102 degree July day.
Everyone said it wasn't our fault. Nanna hadn't been feeling well for a month and it was a matter of time.
But it didn't matter, Dare and I knew the truth. Our selfishness had killed Nanna. It was our fault she was dead.
I can't even believe I'm here today. Of all the ways to spend the 20th anniversary of her death, I choose here-at Coconut Bay Amusement Park.
Families rush past me, clapping hands and high-pitched laughter echoing across the midway. The line for Double Loop Swoop is long, winding down the concrete path and past the white picket fence gating the ride off from the main pass.
Nanna loved the Double Loop Swoop. It was the first double loop roller coaster Wisconsin had ever seen and used to be the crowning jewel of Coconut Bay. Now faded yellow, red and orange paint coat a ride which has seen better days.
But the wheels are greased and the ride inspected daily for safety. Thousands of people still buckle up and scream their heads off, knowing they can have a thrill but still come back to Earth.
I feel a bit odd, being alone in a sea of couples and families. My husband offered to make the 300 mile trip back home to Coconut Bay but I declined. This is something I have to do by myself.
For my Nanna.
I wait in line until the front seat is open. Sitting down onto the cracked black vinyl, I buckle up and grip the lap bar. As the cars make their first ascent I raise my hands in the air and look up into the clouds.
"I miss you Nanna. I know now it was your time but I wish we would have had more." Two tears trickle down my cheeks but I continue my whispered words. "If you can hear me Nanna, here's to all the Double Loop Scoops and ice-cream fueled tummy aches."
My heart thuds painfully abasing my chest as we crest the hill. I yell as we speed down the hill, headed toward the first drop.
"I love you Nanna! This ones for you."