Saturday, September 24, 2011

Parkinson's, PJ and the Fair

It was not the Parkinson’s disease that caused the reaction.  Crotchety as it may sound, I just dislike county fairs. How many groomed Holsteins, decked out Morgan work horses and suckling pigs does one need to see?  How much gut-churning, barely edible, sugar-coated, deep fried lard must one ingest?  How many rip-off hawkers selling magic mops and labour-saving vegetable slicer/dicer contraptions do you need? Who really believes it is a test of a man's skill (females know better) to plunk down a succession of $5 bills to play some rigged, balloon-popping, mole-whacking or bottle-toppling game in order to "win" a too-big-to-carry-around plush toy ego trophy.  And who really needs to risk 35 seconds on a life-threatening midway ride with a name like "Corkscrew", employing excessive centrifugal force, bone-jarring lurches, and supersonic speed, all controlled by some elementary school drop-out who thinks it's funny when thrill-seekers jettison their cargo of over-priced cotton candy and grease-impregnated onion rings (as beneficial as that gastronomic purge may be)?  No, if I never have to attend another wallet-emptying, crowded, tired and tawdry fair again that would suit me just fine.
So what possible mental delusion motivated me to attend the 2011 Pacific National Exhibition, the largest fair in Western Canada?  Was it knife-wielding "carnies"?   Demonic-possession? Dopamine agonist-induced obsessive/compulsive behaviour? Or was premature dementia at work erasing those carnival-caused scars of my past?  No, it was the totally illogical, impulsive and illusory idea of a grandpa who had his grandson to himself for the day. Who would be better to introduce the lad to the garish and gawdy underbelly of entertainment?

If deep down I was hoping to cure 2 1/2 year old PJ of any desire to ever go to another fair, I was hopelessly naïve.  
He loved it! 

Starting with the livestock barns he was soon spinning, sprinting, dodging and weaving past stalls of prize heifers, coiffed sheep and sleek stallions. Next were the domesticated fowl exhibits. With the attention span of a squirrel with amnesia seeking out a misplaced stash of seeds, PJ squeezed shamelessly to the front of every crowd to catch a glimpse of some blue ribbon ducks, dozing pigeons or exotic hens. In a matter of less than 30 minutes our frenetic farm animal tour had exhausted me. Breaking out of the barns into the late afternoon sunshine we joined the human river in pursuit of alleged amusement. I had no appetite for dashing through the next building with its display of 4H handicrafts.  It became obvious that neither did my whirling Dervish of a grandson.  His eyes, staring almost straight up, were locked on the top of the Ferris Wheel.
"That one, Grandpa, let's go on that one."  Pulling my hand with the power of a small tractor he strained through the crowd with determination. The concept of lining up to buy tickets for anything was a real test of his patience, but especially when the actual process inexplicably required waiting in three line-ups: one to pay for PJ's ride pass voucher, one to get his hand stamped as evidence of payment and one to actually get on any ride. At each end of each queue he voiced an indignant complaint as if he and his entourage of one should immediately be ushered to the front like recognizable royalty. After all, we were wasting precious time shuffling along when we could be racing from ride to ride.

Of course there was a minimum height requirement that, thankfully, restricted access to most of the tummy-testing rides. I say "most" because the first ride for which we were eligible was the "Scrambler" where three benches whirled horizontally counter-clockwise while the whole machine spun clockwise on its axle.  Vaguely recalling the ride as being in the relatively tame category I succumbed to PJ's plaintiff refrain, "This one, Grandpa!"
It was different than I remember. Faster and with a force that felt like it would hurl us into the next block, I hung on to my charge. His expression was one of mixed fear and enjoyment and I prayed his lunch would remain in its proper body organ, whatever  state of digestion it was in. After a long 30 - 40 seconds of spinning we tottered our way to the exit with PJ admitting the "couch ride", as he called it, made him dizzy. Thus began the pinball-like path from the merry-go-round to the boats, to the kid-sized 4x4's guided around a neck-snapping course that mimicked an off-road experience, to the cars kids would "drive" around a track. We did them all, at least everyone that permitted him to ride, and many more than once. He refused to stop and eat (I was relieved) and the hours flew by as I enjoyed the sensory overload through the glee-filled eyes of my grandson.  Images of Pleasure Island amusement park, with Pinocchio and the wayward boys turning into donkeys, crossed my mind.
It was dark before I could convince (a.k.a., bribe) my grandson to leave the fairgrounds with the promise of ice cream.  My Parkinson's disease was making itself evident as I had grown increasingly stiff, muscle-tired and fatigued.  

The ride home was silent, except for the gentle snoring of the sleeping lad, had slumped into the corner of his car seat.  Sneaking a peek in the rear-view mirror I wondered whether he was dreaming about being buckled into another ride. The smile that had widened after each ride was still evident. It was then I realized my own cheeks were a little stiff and sore. But it was not, as I first suspected, my Parkinson's disease at work.  It was my own wide grin that looked back at me from the adjusted mirror as if to mock my smug resolve to avoid midways, sideshows and fairs. Perhaps I would go occasionally...for my grandson.


  1. From one Grampa to another - great post.

  2. What wonderful memories were made that day. May I suggest Disneyland where the fun goes on for days?

  3. I'm in tears -- thank you for this beautiful post. I have a 2 year old son and my dad (who also has PD) recently visited. My dad had his first "babysitting" day and he said it went very well (not as active as your day, but they had fun). If you have a moment, you may want to take a look at this documentary my father and I made: My best to you.

  4. Told as only a Grandpa could. Great blog Bob.