Our Laughter Pilgrimage
Every Memorial Day weekend we launch the summer with the same Friday night ritual. Some summers we haven’t gotten to our launch on the actual weekend of Memorial Day because we are too busy or not all here. But we talk about it nonetheless and pretend that we’ve done the deed. Eventually we get to it. Traditions are everything in this family.
I don’t remember exactly why we started, but I know it began on a night we’d consumed an enormous quantity of sushi, what we’ve confabulated to hundreds of dollars, but was probably under one hundred. Whatever. It was more money than we thought made a good gamble on a Funland ride.
Nevertheless someone came up with the idea of going to Funland to “launch” summer. We’d heard the screams swelling like the sound of the ocean, and hearing this siren’s call, we followed the bustle straight through nostalgia, past bumper cars, to the open gondola pendulum of The Sea Dragon. We giggled in anticipation.
When I think back to that day, I don’t remember if I had any prior history with this ride, but I do remember thinking after all that sushi: This. Is. Probably. Unwise. The salmon will be swimming upstream.
On that ride we laughed so hard and felt so weightless: it was magic we discovered. Each of us felt it. And we pinky swore to make it a tradition. And we did. As much as a tradition as Sundance and Drag Volleyball, our summer calendar officially started with our trip to Funland and some shrieking, snorting, howling, laughs.
Summer after summer we would find it never failed to make us be as silly as school kids. We chatted with everyone in line. We sympathized with teary kids still too short to ride. We got more and more excited as we moved closer to the front. We jumped up and down. At least one of us wrung clasped hands heart-center expressing joyful anticipation. Sometimes we even rode twice. Silly pills.
We tested each of our various niblings— nieces, nephews and such—with The Sea Dragon Challenge when they visited Rehoboth from the time that they were little kids. They didn’t all take to it with as much excitement then, but as adults, they still indulge us. They understand the idea of tradition and catch the contagious excitement of celebration when we climb aboard.
We all harvest the joy. We all jockey for the back row, wait patiently for that privilege, and wedge in four or five across. Once airborne, we fling up our hands and shriek as loud as we can. Then laugh. And laugh and laugh.
There isn’t a single thing that makes us laugh. Personally I’m always torn between the Liza Minnelli/Sally Bowle scream for release (then laugh) and/or the torturing of the row ahead of us that we’re about to puke (on them) (then laugh) and/or looking out over Rehoboth and the ocean, as far as possible (then laugh). Or the breathlessness when your butt leaves the seat and there is that short moment of suspension (then laugh). It is always over too soon.
Over the years, we’ve tried other rides. One time some excited young strangers convinced Steve, Murray, and me to ride some centrifuge spinny thing (Gravitron). Mistake. It nearly made our hearts stop, pinned as we were, unable to work our lungs. Right then and there, we swore off anything but The Dragon and its laugh-generating motion, though bumper cars have a special exemption.
We spent more time playing in Funland than childless adults should readily admit. Any excuse, all through the summer, not just Memorial Day. Considering that we rarely step foot on sandy beach, we often stroll down the boardwalk and whack a few moles or race a few horses or skee too many balls. We catapult rubber frogs. We toss a few rings. And just for the heck of it, ride The Dragon.
We’ve been on The Sea Dragon through many weather conditions. Clear. Cool. Steamy. Foggy. Moonlit. At so many different points of our life. In many different moods. We’ve photographed and facebooked and instagrammed and snapchated. We texted absent family: The Dragon! And for those few minutes, our hearts just fly off starward, and we are connected to every other time, every other kid, especially the kid inside us.
The Laughtrek Continues
What a grand tradition, our laughter pilgrimage. Our laughtrek. Like many good things, though you’ve focused on every moment, it is over too soon. Luckily we have always found that it stays with us, this lifting of our spirits, this shrieking snorting howling laughing family tradition.
I am not certain that our Memorial Day tradition will be on schedule this year. It might be too soon. But I know that it will eventually be one of the many memorial activities we are sure to celebrate. They say laughter is the best medicine.▼
Sondra N. Arkin is an artist in Washington, DC and devoted member of the Archibald/Elkins’ chosen family. Snapchat selfie by/with Max Archibald.