Oom pah, pah … oom pah pah …
The sound of the calliope is a siren’s call to the little girl. There, in the middle of the big park, the magic ponies go up and down. Up, down, around and then around again.
“Can I ride Mommy? Please?”
Mommy nods yes. There’s no harm in a carousel. It’s just wooden horses, traveling in a circle, going nowhere, eternally and forever around the calliope as it pumps out the same songs. A good place to be on a bright summer day, a happy place to bring a five-year-old girl who loves horses. She can dream of real horses while the park spins past, green and sunny.
Years fly. The girl has grown into a young lady. Sixteen, if you please. “I’m not a child!” she cries to the world, but especially to her parents. “I will do as I please.”
What she pleases is to have a boy friend. To be in love, to make love. She has no future plans, not yet. Just the fresh bloom of love which must be eternal. Because in books, love is always eternal, always fresh and smelling of roses.
Today she is meeting her boy friend, her lover. They will be meeting by the carousel in the park. She loves the carousel, has loved it since childhood. It’s a magic place for her, one of the rare places that holds only happy memories. The calliope is playing the same songs it played when she was so little. So long ago, or so it seems. When she rode the big wooden horse, pretending she was riding a gallant steed, galloping off to protect the world. A little Lone Ranger going round and round in Central Park while the music played.
Life goes on. The next time she is able to visit the ponies, she is holding her little boy by the hand. “I rode those ponies when I was your age. Listen, the music is still playing. Just like it did when I was your age.”
“Can I ride Mommy?”
“Of course. That’s why I brought you here. To ride.”
And the painted horses go up and down, round and round. And the park spins by all green with summertime. We will be young forever, she thinks. This is our forever summer as she watches her little boy dreaming as he rides the merry-go-round.
Years fly. So many years. The next time, she holds her granddaughter’s hand and they watch the horses. Her little granddaughter is a tiny thing, but brave. Like grandma, she has a passion for horses. She too is a dreamer. She rides and rides and finally, it’s time to go. Long shadows lie across the sidewalks and the carousel is about to close for the day. The woman is not old, but she can feel the shades of long future years and wonders if she will ever be here again. Will she will ever hear the calliope play? Ride the wooden horses? Will she still dream of what might yet be?
Most of her dreams have come true or been abandoned. Will there be new dreams, better or different dreams yet to come? It seems unlikely.
A decade passes quickly. A busy, difficult ten years before the woman, older, walking slowly with some difficulty can return to the old carousel in the park. Her son is with her again but he’s a middle-aged man. And the tiny granddaughter has morphed into a sullen sixteen. For all that, magic continues to live in those horses. Despite — or maybe because — of how many years have passed.
Three generations stand by the carousel while the calliope plays. Amazing. Most of the old carousels are gone, broken up into pieces. Sold to private collectors, their magic broken too.
But these horses, this special carousel. It is still alive. Its magic remains intact. It’s good to be alive on this summer day in Central Park, as a soft breeze is blowing. It is bringing memories of the past and hopes of the future, though the future isn’t quite as long as once it was. But it’s still there, bright and shining. Limitless in its possibilities at least for those still full of dreams. The old woman has few dreams, but many hopes, wishes. And that’s enough for now.
The sullen teenager transforms, however briefly. As if the music wakes the little girl she used to be. It reminds her of a time when she was happier. Carefree.Ten long years of her life. It is a very long time between six and sixteen. It’s an eternity or seems so.
Her son, the father, remembers too. It has been most of a lifetime since he was last here. He remembers the last time he rode those horses. He remembers the horses. Getting hot chestnuts to peel and eat, then riding the painted horses. The memories are soft as if seen through muslin. Fuzzy. He’s almost too big for even the big horses, but he’ll ride anyway. Grandma remembers the first time. All the times. Even the days when she came here alone to ride because it was just a subway ride, a single token. The boy friend. What became of him? She’ll ride, oh she’ll ride with joy. She would never miss a chance to ride.
No more real horses in her life, but today she is young. She feels a bit weird, like a distorted fun house mirror image of the child she used to be. Are these the same wooden horses she rode as a little girl, when she still thought anything was possible? While she formed her dreams of what she could be, would be? What life might be?
Around and around, the calliope, the green trees, the sunlight playing across the walkways and the memories. It’s always summertime here. It always will be.