Late August and into September means more than back-to-school shopping. For many of us, it means the annual harvest fairs that unite our communities, events like the Saanich Fair and the Cowichan Exhibition.
Sue and I knew something special was up when mom told us we better behave lest we spoil a surprise.
We are separated by a mere 15 months that invariably had us with our arms wrapped together in a hug or our hands in a death grip on each other’s throats.
Mom played her classic risk-reward gambit to perfection with the patience of a chess master, deftly dangling the carat in front of us repeatedly throughout the seemingly endless day. Despite a few minor skirmishes, we managed to stick to the terms of the treaty until dad came home from work early, an occurrence as rare as Trump telling the truth.
We knew somehow that something very special was in store when he loaded us into the car for a road trip without our older brothers.
Montreal’s only amusement park at the time was only about 20 minutes away, but it felt like another galaxy the moment dad purchased tickets and ushered us through the gate into Belmont Park for the first time in our six and seven odd years or so of existence.
There was so much to take in that it felt like our senses would explode; the squeals of laughter and terror from the coaster that rolled high in the sky above us, the endless flicker of neon lights on rides we never imagined existed stretching in all directions as far as we could see.
Dad guided us over to a machine shaped like a giant wash basin spinning pink clouds of cotton candy, the sweet smell an appetizer before the sticky pulls melted into something that danced on our tongues.
The little Toy Story-like cars snaking around wooden tracks, boats moving in circles around the murky green moat we dipped our hands into when dad wasn’t looking remain ingrained. Each ride seemed to top the one before in a way that raised our excitement in a rising tide of wonder.
After as much excitement as our little legs could handle, dad had one last surprise tucked in his sleeve. Instead of heading home for supper, he sat us down on red leather stools that surrounded a huge outdoor grill covered by a tent-like tarp. We spun around in dizzying circles, shielded from the warm, gentle summer rain that began to fall.
We watched in wonder as the vendor arranged the hotdogs in rows that looked like the rollers at Steinberg’s that guided your groceries to the boy dad would tip with some loose change once the purchases were packed in large paper bags.
Next to the wieners steamed a heap of onions cooked to transparency, except for the brown and black edges poking from the pile. A flock of buns, the kind I’ve never been able to find in B.C., filled the rest of the grille. They resembled folded slices of bread, the crusts facing outward while the white sides browned in a splash of simmering butter.
I don’t remember the drive home, but the grins remained fastened to our faces long after we finally fell asleep.
I wish I could watch my father read this, but he died on July 31, 2008. I miss him, and the furrows that creased his forehead whenever he held a newspaper in his hands.
The Rickter Scale is back after a short summer vacation. Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired Vancouver Island journalist.