Sally’s first ride on the carousel in Humboldt Park was for her third birthday, June 12th, 1937. It was a real family affair with Mom, Dad, grandmas, grandpas and all the assorted uncles, aunts, and cousins. It was one of those beautiful days that happens in mid-June, just warm enough but not hot. Sally’s mom had curled her blond locks and had let Sally wear what she called her princess dress; it was all pink with ruffles. A picnic lunch of fried chicken and fixings had been enjoyed. The chicken wasn’t the Colonel’s special recipe but Grandma Sharp’s; KFC hadn’t been invented yet. A homemade angel food cake by Grandma Sauder made it an official birthday party. Sally opened her gifts after the candles and cake. They were mostly small toys and clothes; times weren’t the greatest when it came to the riches of the world, but the riches of heaven flowed between the members of the family in a never ending stream. The last present was very small; Sally’s dad presented her with a small red box with a blue bow. Sally opened it carefully, as if it contained the very keys to the kingdom of heaven. Inside was one small golden ticket; it was a ticket for the carousel.
Every carousel in the world has the characteristic of being like a time machine. Young boys become bold and adventurous cowboys or knights who are riding off to do some daring deed. Young girls can easily imagine themselves as a princess or queen riding regally upon their mighty steed or in a carriage of gold. The magic can even affect adults, making them almost childlike again, as they make the circuit in the carousel’s embrace.
The Humboldt park carousel was counted as being very special among these mystical machines. It was hand built in Germany before the turn of the century. Hand carved jumping horses and carriages were arrayed in its three rows. The crown had hand-painted murals of mountains and castles. The finish work is done all in bright reds, blues, and gold leaf. The pipe organ, which is hidden from view in the center of the carousel, fills the whole park with its music. The best feature of the carousel, however, are the horses; each one is unique in its carving and colors. They seem ready to break the bond of the carousel and go galloping around the park.
Sally looked up at her parents with one of those wide eyed looks that conveys the sense she knows something good is happening but is not exactly sure what that something is. “It’s a ticket for the carousel Sally. Do you want to go?” Sally’s mom asked pointing to the horses. In a hesitant manner, she answered, “Uh-huh.”
“Should Daddy go with you?” asked mommy. That received a much more definite “Uh-huh.”
Daddy took Sally’s hand; Grandpa Reeser grabbed the Kodak Hawkeye camera, and the whole troop strolled over to the entrance gate. The line wasn’t very long, so Sally and Dad were able to get on the very next ride. When the gate opened, Sally handed her ticket to Sam, the conductor, which he validated and handed back to Sally’s mom for a keepsake. Sam had held this post for 28 years since the day that the carousel was installed in 1909. He got down on one knee and asked Sally, “Is this your first ride Miss?” Wide eyed she replied, “Uh-huh.”
“Would you like me to pick a horse out for you?” asked Sam.
“No, Daddy,” stated Sally firmly.
“You want Daddy to pick out your horse?”
“Yes,” she said squeezing her dad’s hand a little harder.
“Ok, you have a fun ride Miss,” Sam chuckled.
To Sally, the horses and carriages looked huge and a little frightening, but Daddy was there with her and he was bigger than they were. Sally’s dad picked out a white charger with a red bridle, blue saddle, and gold trim. The horse’s mane was like flowing gold; it had black hoofs and a white tail. Sally’s dad placed her up on the charger and stood next to her while the rest of the passengers took their places for the magical flight. To their right, outside a short white fence, stood the family all in a group. They were waving and calling at Sally who was preoccupied with looking at the other horses.
Sam closed the gate, walked up to a lever, and gave it a pull. With a little jerk, the carousel began to move, the music began to play and soon Sally began to feel her horse move up and down. Dad kept just enough hold on Sally to let her know that he was there. Sally had a death grip on the pole. As they completed their first circuit, the family called, and Grandpa took a picture. During the second circuit, she relaxed some and began to look around a little more. When they came around, she looked at the family and Grandpa took a picture. By the third time around, she was beginning to enjoy herself; the fourth time around she managed a little wave at everyone, and Grandpa took another picture. And finally by the fifth time, around she gave them all a big wave and an even bigger smile. Unfortunately, Grandpa was changing the film. Sam pushed the lever and the carousel began to slow and soon came to a stop. Reluctantly, Sally let her dad help her down. Hand in hand they walked back through the gate. “Did you like your ride Miss?” asked Sam. Sally gave a very enthusiastic, “Uh-huh!” Looking up at Dad, she asked “Again?”
“Not this time Sally. How about we go over to the playground?” suggested her dad.
“Not in those clothes you don’t,” warned Mom. Both father and daughter looked at her with an “oh mom,” but they didn’t say anything.
Sally got a golden ticket for every birthday thereafter. She would also get other opportunities to ride when her friends had their birthday parties or sometimes just when her parents thought she’d earned it. Each time she’d choose that same white charger, even if it meant waiting for the next ride.
There was something very different, though, this afternoon. Usually rides were happy, joyous occasions, but today when dad asked if she wanted to go on a ride, something seemed odd to Sally. On the other hand, she would never turn down a chance to ride the carousel. Sally and dad got in the Chevy and drove down to the park; it was a quiet ride. Dad spent a lot of time looking around. Sally just sat there,not quite able to get a handle on the reason for the occasion.
“Hi Sam, two tickets please.” Dad handed him the coins; Sam stamped the tickets and handed one to Dad and one to Sally. There were only three or four others in line. Sam opened the gate. Sally climbed up on her white charger and Dad stood beside.
“Dad, you don’t need to hold on to me anymore.”
“I know, but let me stand here this time, ok.”
“Ok,” again that curious feeling of uncertainty.
Sam pulled the lever, the music started, and around they went. The ride went by fast. Dad didn’t say much; he just watched Sally as they went around. Sam pushed the lever, and the carousel slowed and stopped. Sally got down, and they walked out the gate. Strange, Sam usually asked about the ride. Dad walked up to the ticket booth, “Two tickets please. Don’t stamp them Sam.” Sam looked up, their eyes met and a thought passed between them. Sam understood, even though Sally didn’t. Dad put the tickets in his pocket. “Let’s go sit over there for a minute,” he said.
They walked hand in hand to a green bench underneath one of the many oak trees that grew in the park.
“Sally, I’m going away,” he said while asking again for wisdom to explain all of this to an eight year old?”
“Do you understand what war is?” He continued.
“Kinda,” she replied, but then she looked down and admitted, “not really.”
“Sometimes people, other countries, other leaders,” he said searching for the words, “do things they shouldn’t or try to take something that doesn’t belong to them. Does that make sense?”
“Yea, I think so, sort of like when Jimmy Johnson took my pencil box?”
“Yea that’s right, and what happened to Jimmy?” asked Dad.
“I told the teacher, and Jimmy gave it back to me and got in a lot of trouble.”
“Well when that happens with countries, then other people and other nations have to do something to make them stop what they are doing and make things right. There are a lot of bad things going on now, and they decided that they need your daddy’s help, not only my help but a lot of other men.” He pointed at Sam. “Sam’s grandson, Chad, is going to help too, along with some others from town. Do you understand?”
Her lip began to quiver, “Are you going away forever?”
“I don’t plan to, and that’s why I bought these,” he said holding up the two tickets. “I’m going to keep one and give the other one to you.” He handed her the ticket. “Now you keep that somewhere safe, and when I get back, we’ll go on a ride together, ok?” He looked long at her and prayed that the Lord would keep her. Sally looked at the small golden ticket and quietly said, “Ok.” Now she understood.
There was a knock at the door of Sally’s home. “Sally can you get that?” hollered Mom.
Sally opened the door and on the doorstep was a young soldier dressed in a khaki uniform.
“Hi Sally remember me? I’m Chad, Sam’s grandson.”
“You’re back! Come on in,” she said, holding the door open and inviting him in. “Mom, Chad’s here.” She escorted Chad to the living room and invited him to sit on the sofa.
“How long have you been home?” Mom asked as they each took a seat.
“Just got in yesterday,” he replied.
“Would you like some coffee or something else to drink?” Mom asked.
“No thanks, I just came to pay my respects, and I’ve got some things for you from Dan.” At the sound of her father’s name, tears began to well up in Sally’s eyes. “We were in the same engineering company. Did the Army tell you what happened?”
“When the Captain and Chaplain came by, they only said that he was killed in action somewhere in Belgium and that because of his actions he was awarded the Bronze Star,” Mom replied.
“I was there. He saved my life. Not only mine but also the lives of two others as well.” Chad looked at Sally. “Your Dad was always talking about his three loves: Jesus, his wife, and you. In a way, your dad became an unofficial chaplain for our platoon. When someone got bad news from home or a buddy got hurt, they knew they could always go and talk to Dan about it. I know of at least three guys that became Christians by talking with your Dad.” Mom’s and Sally’s faces began to change from pain to pride.
“Chad, can you tell us what happened?” mom asked.
“We were building a bridge across a small river. I lost track of where we were. All I know for sure is that we were somewhere in Belgium. There were four of us doing the work on this particular job: me, your dad, Joe from Illinois, and Jim from Ohio. We were just setting a cross beam when a German patrol attacked us. They must have crossed the river upstream. Someone yelled, “GRENADE,” as one of those potato mashers landed right in front of us. Time seemed to freeze, and then I saw your dad throw himself onto the grenade. He saved us all.” There was silence for a few moments as they sat pondering the news. “We went through your dad’s belongings, and we found these.” from his uniform pocket Chad took out two envelopes. He handed one to Mom and the other to Sallly.
Dear Sally, If you’re reading this then I’m not going to be able to keep my promise to ride the carousel with you. Enclosed you will find my ticket. Someday, when you’re grown, you’ll fall in love and start a family of your own. When that day comes, before you go off on your honeymoon, take our tickets and go on that ride. I love you, Dad
“Chad, thanks for coming. I don’t know what else to say,” said Mom.
“You’re welcome, Mary. Sally, you know that since my grandpa died my dad is running the carousel, and I’m going to help him. Anytime you want you can come down and ride it.”
“Thanks, but somehow I think it will be a long time before I can do that,” replied Sally.
Dear Dad, I’m taking that ride today. His name is Frank Zimmerman, he’s from Smithfield and is the Pastor at New Grace Community Church. Dad, I think that you would really like him. I went to college and I’m teaching 3rd grade at Smithfield’s grade school. Chad, Joe and Jim are going to walk me down the aisle, one on each side and the other holding the train of my gown. We are having the reception in a big tent in Humboldt Park right in front of the carousel. I miss you, Love Sally.
From a big red and blue tent came a crowd of folks in tuxedos, suits, and fancy dresses. A man in a black tux and a lady in a white wedding dress approached the ticket booth to the carousel. In her hand, she carried a small red box with a blue ribbon. She handed the box to the groom who opened the box and handed the two golden tickets which were inside to the conductor. With a huge grin, he stamped the tickets and handed them back. They were put carefully back into the red box. The conductor opened the gate, and the couple walked in and chose a horse, a white charger with a red bridle, blue saddle, and gold trim. The horse’s mane was like flowing gold, and it had black hoofs and a white tail. The groom helped his bride onto the horse and stood along side holding her hand. The conductor pulled the lever, the carousel began to move, the music started, and everyone cheered.