For three summers, Timmy had eyed the slow, ratcheting climb of the "Jackrabbit," seen it inch almost silently over the high hillcrest, and watched it swiftly disappear amid faint, far-off screams. He'd tense and look up at me apologetically: "Not yet, Mom."
I didn't push him, though the old "woody" roller coaster had been a favorite of mine since I was about his age. It has been refurbished, but its essential structure and character remain: The initial torturous climb and spectacular fall still usher riders through the delicious curves, twists, rolls, and swells I remember from childhood. The cars leap along the track as if running scared, then take a final rushing plunge in the pitch black of an underground tunnel. The Jackrabbit lives up to its name and electrifies riders, just as it did in the 1950s. I wanted to share its wind and glory with Tim, but I wouldn't push him. He had to be ready.
The Seabreeze Amusement Park, perched on a bluff above Lake Ontario, is a favorite summer day's outing for Tim and me when we visit my childhood home.
For me the thrills are nostalgic. For Tim and his cousins Beth and Meg they are fresh, and some are much fiercer than any I'd ever experienced.
One of the gentlest rides I remember from childhood is gone. The beautiful, historic carousel burned not long ago.
A new coaster, the "Quantum Loop," now rears its glossy steel over the lake. Its vertical circles turn riders on their heads twice in quick succession. I won't touch it. I like a steep drop but prefer to keep head and feet in their natural hierarchy.
Beth and Meg enjoy the Loop, striding to the cars like diminutive Apollo astronauts heading to the launch pad, stomachs calm, thumbs up. They emerge grinning, eager for lunch. Tim and I stand in awe.
The Jackrabbit is different - a coaster whose sinuous lines flutter stomachs without upending them. It has style. While the Loop almost dutifully whips riders around its towering circles, the Jackrabbit transports, like a mechanical carpet.
Summer after summer I have ridden "Jack" with Beth and Meg, who also love its steep hills, tight curves, and old-fashioned allure. Summer after summer I have hoped Tim will want to join us. I respect his caution - the Jackrabbit, the Quantum Loop - we all have our limits. But while mine have become fairly fixed (I will probably never board the Loop), Tim's continue to expand with years. Last summer, at 9, he was game. "Let's do it, Mom."
The straight, relentless climb he'd so often watched at a safe, grounded distance unnerved him, but now there was no escape. White-lipped, Tim turned his face up to mine. "This is tough, Mom," he said simply, his voice poised at the edge of panic. His small hand sought mine as the hillcrest loomed.
The plunge took his breath away. I'd learned to save my own, and expended it in a gleeful "Wheeee!" to reassure him. Around we went on the powerful throbbing currents.
Beth and Meg, from their seat ahead of us, grinned back encouragement at Tim, as if it were only another well-executed test launch, nothing extraordinary.
When we plunged down into the tunnel, Tim sensed his deliverance at hand. He'd heard the shrieks of passengers nearing the ride's end.
The swiftness of the final fall again took his breath away, but he quickly recovered as we emerged into the light and coasted to a stop. He looked at me with a broad, shaky grin.
That was the first of many rides that day. By the third time around, Tim's hands were triumphantly over his head, palms open in the air as we crested the first hill, and he joined Meg and Beth in their theatrical screams of delight in the tunnel. By then I needed a rest.
"Come on, Mom," Tim urged, "Just one more!" Of course I did, and then I had definitely had enough.
The Jackrabbit's high wooden skeleton carried a new generation, yet the old coaster was more alive than ever, clattering above the sparkling waters of the lake. It had won Tim over completely; he had it under his belt.
And after a few rides, I was content to watch and listen for the shrieks from the tunnel.