gold ringMy grandmother (Nana) used to take me to Balboa Park. We would wait at the corner for the #7 bus which would drop us off in front of the zoo.

We would stroll through the rose garden, me walking the curbs pretending to be a tightrope walker. Nana close by, ready to act as my safety net if I fell from the high wire.

In the rose garden were several ancient and enormous ficus trees. Thick roots and low branches perfectly designed for a small girl to climb and explore.

Eventually we would make our way to the carousel. Ten cents a ride. Nana would buy me a ticket and I’d wait impatiently for the carousel to stop and riders to dismount.

As soon as the platform stopped spinning I would climb aboard and eagerly run around the outer ring to choose just the right mount. It had to be one of the horses that galloped (went up and down).  The stationary mounts were to be shunned if at all possible. I had my favorites; a big white beast with blue and gilt tack and gold flowing mane and tail, or the ebony beauty wearing red roses in his mane.

It was a sad turn when all the steeds on the outer ring were occupied and I often would jump off before the ride started rather than ride on the inside. That was because you could only reach for the rings from the outside.

I loved the anticipation as the rotation brought me closer and closer to the ring holder. Adjusting my hand on the pole, setting  my angle on the saddle and hoping the rise and fall of my mount would put me in range, I would stretch out and grab the ring. If the ring was steel, I would aim to toss it into the bin set up to receive them. If it was gold it meant I won another ride.

There were days when I grabbed a gold ring on every ride. I would go round and round for what, I’m sure, felt like hours to my grandmother. Never having to leave the platform. Handing my gold ring to the attendant and running back before a new rider could claim my mount.

I was in heaven, riding a mighty steed, leaping and galloping free. The landscape flying by in a blur, being able to focus for only a moment to make sure Nana was still sitting there, on a bench in the shade, waiting for me to finally miss the gold ring. If it happened too soon, she would give me another dime so I could try again.

After a few rides, though, it was gold ring or go home.

We would stroll back through the rose garden, me still in a state of excitement from speed and motion. Somewhere along the line Nana would stop and buy  me a sno-cone. A hard icy ball soaked in sticky sweet syrup cradled in a flimsy paper cone. It didn’t take long for the ice and syrup to soak through the bottom of the cone.  As we waited at bus stop for our ride home she would try to clean me up using a tissue and spit.  My shirt was always a lost cause.

The memories of those days shine as golden in my memory as  the gold rings I reached for so eagerly.