Quietly, and without a word she reached out her hand in support and I took it and held on tightly thankful for her knowledge.
Every year we go to the fair with Netter’s family. We have a route we follow, meeting at the Cardinal, onto Dinky Donuts, a stop in the grassy area near the Rhodes Center, then through the sheep barns, next to the pigs and the horses and the steers, onward to Fine Arts followed by lunch at ODNR. It’s all very scripted, but somehow new and fresh every year. A good time with family. We visit. We laugh. We have fun.
One year, I decided that I would take all of the kids on the Giant Slide. The 7 of them, and me. It was my thing. I bought the tickets. I called for the lineup. I took over at the top of the slide to make sure we all got to go at the same time. “Uncle Jim’s Slide” was an annual thing. Something I looked forward to very much. The kids all knew how much it meant to me and even as they were getting older they still humored me and went along for the ride. They got it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think their parents ever did. Each year, despite my insistence that it was my treat, my thing, Netter’s sisters and their husbands would insist on trying to pay for the tickets, and each year she would tell them “It’s Jim thing. You don’t have to pay. He wants to do this.”
And I did. I really, really did.
Last Saturday however, marked the end of an era for Uncle Jim’s slide ride and I found out just how much the slide had become part of the routine.
You may have heard me talk a bit about K’s involvement with the All Ohio State Fair Youth Choir. K loves the choir. We all love going to listen to her sing and visiting her as often as possible. But one of the things about visiting K is that we have to follow the Choir schedule and guidelines for being able to see her. This means among other things that we have to walk to the dorms to pick her up. It’s a very good idea actually. The Choir kids are not to be alone on the fairgrounds for safety reasons. Usually, this means a little extra walking, but it’s a minor inconvenience and I can use the exercise. On the day that the family comes to the fair though it can throw a major wrench into the routine.
So on Saturday while Netter and I hustled to get K from the dorm after the 4:00 parade the family went to buy slide tickets and the kids went on the slide without us.
We arrived just as they were ascending the stairs. K and I really didn’t know what to do. “We didn’t know you were coming,” my mother-in-law said.
Sure enough later I would look at my phone and see that while we were running across the fairgrounds to get to the slide, my youngest, D was texting and calling and I just didn’t feel the vibrate.
Still, at that moment, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. My tradition, one of the things I most looked forward to at the fair had been taken away. Uncle Jim was very disappointed.
I spun around, and kicked the air. I think a blue word or two escaped my lips, but I tried to stay clear of the family because I didn’t want to argue. I knew that when rational thought took over I would see their reasoning and everything would, (eventually) be okay.
I asked Kailey if she wanted to ride the slide. She said, “No, well only if you do Daddy,” and I decided that I didn’t. She needed to eat something before her next concert and I had promised her some fair corn. I told her to tell her Grandma we were getting something to eat and asked them to wait for us to come back and we walked away.
A lump formed in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes. I thought to myself, Well there’s nothing special about the slide at the fair anymore. The kids were all growing up anyway. I’m sure it’s not big deal. But it was... And then it happened
My little girl reached out her hand to me. My little girl once more. Not a word was spoken, or glance exchanged, but the meaning was clear. K, oh wise K, knew that her Daddy needed her, that he needed to walk with his little girl.
Yeah, the lump in my throat got bigger, but that was okay.
Hand in hand we walked to the corn stand, and with a final kiss in the air we let go our hands and continued our day. We finished our corn, and K said goodbye to the family before I returned her to the dorms to line up for the next concert.
I talked to Netter about the slide a little bit. We both agreed that nobody meant any harm. They were just trying to follow the plan, the routine, and they obviously had no idea how much that meant to me.
It’s all good, as they say.
While I did lose something that day, just for that fleeting moment in time I had my little girl once again.
I’ll take the trade.
1 hour ago