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The Angel of the Backyard Carnival

A homemade carnival ride? That got her guardian angel’s attention!

An artist's rendering of an angel rescuing a girl stuck on a homemade ride

Merry-go-rounds! Bumper cars! Ferris wheels!

My little sister, Patty, and I didn’t know where to look first at the Ripley Gala Days carnival in downtown Ripley, New York. Then my eye fell on the carousel horses moving slowly up and down, like something out of a fairy tale. “I want to ride those,” I said.

“Hmmph,” said Daddy. He wasn’t impressed by anything at the carnival. He let us have our fun, but his mind was made up. The Ferris wheel wasn’t high enough. The rickety cars that went round in a bumpy circle were a poor excuse for a ride. The 35-cent admission was “an arm and a leg.”

Riding home in the car, with me and Patty gnawing candy apples in the backseat, Daddy was still grumbling. “A fella could make rides better than that for free.”

Daddy just couldn’t appreciate a painted horse or a slow turn on the Ferris wheel. A truck driver and a World War II veteran, Daddy loved machines.

When my boy cousins came to visit he showed them all his greasy engines in his workshop. They built things and played ball together, and Daddy never had to worry about being too rough.

Once, watching Daddy race across the grass with my daredevil cousin Tommy on his shoulders, I wondered if he didn’t wish Tommy was his child instead of a girl like me who would rather draw than saw, was too scared for roller coasters, thought the seesaw went too high and had the most fun in her life riding that pink pony on the merry-go-round.

The day after the carnival, Patty and I took our stick horses out for a gallop. I’d just thrown my leg over my horse’s broom handle body when the sound of a drill pierced the air.

“What’s that?” Patty asked, pointing to some new contraption that had sprung up on the lawn while we were watching our Saturday morning cartoons. It looked like a car axle with a wheel rim attached. We galloped over to Daddy’s workshop where Daddy was drilling a plank.

“What’re you doin’?” we asked.

Daddy straightened up. “Well’p, I’m making a carnival ride.”

Patty and I jumped up and down. A carnival ride right in our own backyard! I could already see the horses going up and down. I could ride on it all night long if I wanted!

“How does it work?” said Patty.

“When will it be done?” I asked.

Daddy’s broad chest swelled with pride. “It’ll be better than those namby-pamby rides downtown,” he assured us. “Look!” He pointed to the end of the plank where he had attached one of the many lawn mower engines he collected.

I took a step back and wrinkled up my nose. Daddy’s engines were loud, smoky and more than a little scary.

“The carnival uses engines too,” Daddy said in defense. “Little, weak engines. They just hide them inside those colored boxes.” For Daddy, of course, the engine was the best part. Why would anyone want to hide it?

“I wonder what we’re gonna ride,” Patty whispered as Daddy went back to drilling. “I hope it’s horses.”

“Or cars in different colors,” I said. “Or shiny planes. Or angels!”

Our Sunday school teacher said every one of us had an angel to protect us. What could be better for a safe, fun ride? Angels with wings painted white and gold, prettier than the finest carousel. The kids at school would be so jealous. Even Margaret who had her own real-life pony.

But the best thing of all was that this was something Daddy was building for us. He’d never built anything like it for my boy cousins. Maybe he wasn’t disappointed having me, after all.

We followed him out to the axle and watched him bolt the plank at its center. “You sit there,” he said, pointing to the bare end of the plank. The engine was at the other end, near the axle. Daddy bolted a propeller to it.

“Won’t there be a car?” I asked. “Even a seat?” My elaborate painted angels seemed a distant memory.

“Maybe later,” said Daddy, waving the idea away. “First we gotta see if she works.”

He pushed the plank around in a circle. It turned easily enough, about four feet off the ground. But I didn’t even want to get near it, much less ride on it.

Even the carnival rides look plain underneath, I reminded myself. Daddy could add my angels later. He could paint the hub in the center bright yellow. We could string lights or hang pennant flags. Then it wouldn’t look so scary.

I could turn in a slow circle just like on the carousel, safe in the arms of an angel.

“Climb on,” Daddy said, tightening the last bolt and motioning to me. “I’m gonna start ’er up now.”

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I eyed the bare plank warily. Patty looked grateful she hadn’t been named test pilot.

“Just get up and hang on,” Daddy said, pulling the cord.

The engine snorted to life. The propeller spun like a giant wasp. Daddy grinned down at me the way he grinned at my cousin Tommy. I couldn’t disappoint him.

I climbed onto the plank and it began to turn. It was kind of fun in a primitive, deafening way with the engine roaring and the pointy corners of
the board pressing into my thighs. I traveled in a big, slow circle. It was just about my speed. I relaxed a little and even enjoyed myself.

When I came around to Patty, I waved. Daddy watched me proudly, hands on his hips.

I swung around again. This time I didn’t wave. The plank seemed to be going faster. I gripped it with both hands. On the next turn I lay down flat on my stomach, wrapping my arms around the plank for dear life.

“Quite a ride, huh?” Daddy yelled over the din. The board spun faster. My hair whipped around my face.

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My heart pounded. Wood slivers poked my legs. I gritted my teeth in something like a smile and called out, “I want to get off now!”

My view of Daddy had started to blur with the speed, but I could see him looking perplexed. The propeller spun faster and faster and became even louder than the engine. Surely even Tommy would be scared now. “Make it stop!” I shrieked.

Patty backed away fearfully. Daddy looked stuck. He doesn’t know how to stop it! I realized. Daddy was always eager to start up a fast engine. Apparently it never occurred to him to want to stop one!

My muscles ached as I clung to the board. I started to slip. It’s going to fling me off! Would I fly off straight at Daddy? Or curve in an arc into the bushes? Would I land on the lawn? In the driveway? Would I live?

If ever I needed an angel, it’s now! And not one carved out of wood either. I needed a real live angel or I was in big trouble!

“Stoooooooppp!” I screamed as I whirled by. I shut my eyes tight. Patty started to cry.

I felt a thump on the hub behind me. Then the reassuring weight of someone else. Could it be my angel? I turned my head to see. It was Daddy! He’d jumped up on the hub and now, like an old-time wing-walker on a plane, he was crawling to the engine. When he got close he pressed the button that cut off the power.

The engine died. The plank came to a stop. I dropped off into the grass. The yard was spinning, but I could make out more people: my mother and my grandmother, still wearing their aprons from the kitchen. “Just what is going on out here?” my mother asked.

Patty pointed gravely to the machine and me in a heap beside it. “Daddy made a carnival ride,” she said. “And it almost killed us!”

I pulled myself to my feet, and made my way to the house, swerving with every step like I was drunk. Behind me, Daddy told Mama, “Just needs a few bugs worked out.”

By the time my dizziness wore off and I emerged from the house, our backyard carnival was gone. But Daddy didn’t quit making things. In fact, my bravery on the wooden plank gave him new ideas, like a child-sized lawn mower, and the tallest swing set ever. Whatever he made, I was ready to try it.

Oh, I never became as daring as my cousin Tommy. But after my experience with the carnival ride, I was a little more adventurous. I knew if anything went wrong I could trust my guardian angel to keep me safe until Daddy could fix it. You see, two angels are even better than one.

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