First Nations just had a post on the amusement park in Portland that she remembers as a kid. I grew up in New Jersey and we had Palisades Park. It was on the Hudson River across from New York City, but up on the palisades not down at water level. I only remember going there once, guess my folks weren’t into it or something. But at least we had a theme song:
You can see many of the rides on the video. Looking closely at it the rides are at assorted county fairs, not really at Palisades Park, but they are similar to what was there. I wasn’t very good on rides, as I would get dizzy and sick very easily. I could absolutely not take the rides that just went around in circles. There are two rides on the video that I remember as being really treacherous. The first is one I think was called the spinning barrel. It looked like a large open top wooden barrel. It sat on the flat end, and people would walk in and stand around the circular outside with your back against the wall, looking across at people standing on the other side. It’s been a while, so I’m trying to remember the details: there were some loops you put your feet into and a strap that went around your waist. When people were evenly distributed around the outside the barrel would start to spin, pushing you back against the wall. After it got up to speed the whole thing would lift up and tilt sideways, with centrifugal force keeping you pinned on your back. You could then look up and instead of seeing the sky above you could see the rides next to you quickly spinning past. The one time I rode it I just looked across at the people twenty feet away on the other side, they seemed to be getting sick just like me. This was not a ride to get sick on, for if you threw up the force would just make whatever came out fly back in your own face. Fortunately I don’t remember getting sick on that one.
One of my favorite rides was the wild mouse. This was a small roller coaster type ride but with little cars made for one or two instead of long ones. The structure was wooden, build like a big cube. The cars were pulled up a track to the top, then they rolled down narrow tracks that wound inside of the cube. The ride was relatively slow, but the track had very sharp turns at random intervals, moving you through the cube like a mouse maze. You would only roll straight for a short ways, then suddenly jerk in a 90 degree turn left or right until you dropped down to the next level, where the track ran flat again turning quickly until it again dropped to the next level. I mainly liked it because you weren’t going around in circles and though you were thrown back and forth in the little cars it was still rather exciting.
The other terrifying ride was the swings. This was composed of a tall mushroom shaped device from which hung a multitude of wooden swings on metal chains. People would sit on the swings and the mushroom would then spin around. The faster it went the farther out the swings would swing. (that sounded good). I don’t remember going on this one at Palisades Park, but I did get on it at a local fair.
I grew up in a Catholic family. My grandparents were from Poland and Czechoslovakia which are hotbeds of Pope Fanaticism. We would go to church every Sunday and on to Sunday school afterwards; my father would drop us off, never stepping inside himself. He would go to the IAPC (Italian American Progressive Club) to sit in the bar and discuss things with his friends that would have also dropped off their families and needed to kill an hour drinking beer (oh, sorry, shot and a beer) before returning in an hour to pick up the crew. Yes, I was an altar boy, wearing the fancy robes and kneeling behind the priest (yes, behind, fortunately our priest wasn’t into altar boys, at least not that I knew about) ringing the bells and repeating back the right words.
This was back before the church was reformed again. The altar was at the front of the church and the priest stood with his back to the congregation. He would say things in Latin and the altar boys would respond back. The priest memorized his part; we had cheat sheets of the script printed on pages laminated in plastic. The priest would be up there talking to himself (sorry; talking to God) and every once in a while would pause. This would then wake us up (usually altar boys did the Sunday masses in pairs) and we would frantically look at the cheat sheets, trying to figure out what he last said and how the stuff on the printed page was pronounced and what matched what he just said and if we had to answer back with something or he was just pausing to do something else. If it was our turn and we took too long the priest would usually look over at us or clear his throat or make some noise to indicate that he was waiting. I did the altar boy thing for several years and never did memorize that stupid plastic card. I got to be pretty good at knowing when I had to say something, but I still had to look down and see what it was I had to respond with.
Being an altar boy was interesting, but at the same time rather dull. The number of altar boys required depended on how ‘high’ the mass was. For weekday or Saturday masses there was only one, for most Sunday services there were two, and for special High Holy Days there might be as many as four, when two priests were up their coordinating their efforts. The altar up front of our church was set about two feet higher than the floor filled with pews and people. There was a flat space for the priest to stand before it, probably about three feet deep and the width of the altar, which was about ten feet or so wide. There were two steps around the sides and the back of this leading up to it where the altar boys would kneel through the whole service. I never figured out why, but sometimes we would be together on one side, and sometimes we would be on opposite sides with the priest between us. You usually got to kneel on a little pillow, but if you forgot to put the pillow out before your mass then you had to suffer with an hour kneeling on the hard step.
There was a hierarchy, in that the boys with the longest time in service were senior, even if you were younger than a newer draftee. The senior ones got to pick what mass they served at first. There was a signup sheet in the back that covered the following week, and you usually signed up for the mass that your parents were at, saving you having to sit with them in the crowd for one mass then come back to serve at another one. The senior guys were also drafted into doing the masses which only required one boy, as supposedly they knew what they were supposed to do.
Ringing bells was part of the whole process, and the senior guy got to pick whether he was the one that rung the bells. Ringing the bells incorrectly was much more noticeable than saying the wrong response, as nobody in the congregation knew what you were saying in Latin anyway but they sure noticed if you run the bells wrong. So if you weren’t too good at the bell ringing thing you dumped it on the newer guy, who was sure to mess up, providing you with much amusement if you were kneeling across from him and could then make funny faces at him when the priest wasn’t looking. But you had to be sure your folks were sitting towards the back so that they couldn’t see you making these faces or you would get swatted on the way home for having fun in church. (Heaven forbid you have fun in church).
In our church the altar boys didn’t do much. We came in early before the service and poked around a big cabinet trying to find a cassock that fit and wasn’t too dirty. We wore different colors depending on how important the mass was, usually a long red or black robe covered by a white lace top with wide sleeves. We would then go out just before mass started with a long stick with a wick on the end and light the candles up on the altar and on stands around. Again, how high the mass was determined how many candles you lit. I have no idea who made up these rules, probably Jesus as he made all the rules that are important. One boy would light candles and the other would set out the little pillows to kneel on and the plastic cards with our script and the bells. We would then stand around in back and wait for the priest to get ready, walk in behind him, and go stand at our assigned step. Then through the mass we followed the script, saying words in Latin and ringing bells and kneeling and standing as required. Somewhere about the middle of mass the priest would take a break and walk over to the side and up into a little raised place where he would lecture the congregation. At that point we got to sit down while he talked before it was up again and back at it.
The plastic cheat sheet had our lines and little symbols for when to ring the bells, but it didn’t tell you when to stand up and when to kneel. This is a big thing in Catholic services, standing up and kneeling down during different parts of the mass. You couldn’t look at the priest for any clues, because he was always standing up, but fortunately all the old people sat in the front pews and we could watch them. The old people had it all down, some of them going to church every day, so they knew when to do things. When kneeling on the side of the step you could see people in the front row and even though they were slow you could tell when they were trying to stand up. People in church alternated between kneeling, standing and sitting down. As an altar boy there was no place to sit, you just knelt all of the time, unless it was standing time, so there was less movement for us than the congregation.
Another break was during communion. One of the altar boys carried around a gold circle on a stick, and held it underneath people’s chin as they knelt up front and received communion. This was before people got a sip of wine; all our group got was a stale flat white tasteless disk. You weren’t allowed to chew this; it had to melt on your tongue, and if your mouth was dry it would stick to the roof of your mouth and be there for quite a long time while you sat in your seat and tried to pry it off with your tongue. I think we had to hold this under people to catch any crumbs, and catch anything the priest might drop if he missed their mouth. Never happened when I was the holder, don’t know if it ever did or again it was just to intimidate people or something.
You also had to help the priest before communion when he washed his hands. Well, he really didn’t wash his hands, he just held a few fingers over the wine goblet and you dropped a few drips of wine on his fingers (this depended on the priest, some wanted more than others) from the same little glass containers (cruets?) you find in fancy restaurants, then a few drops of holy water. The priest would then wave his fingers in it and drink what was in the cup. That’s why some older priests wanted more wine than the young ones. After communion he wiped whatever crumbs were on the golden circle into the goblet, added more wine and water himself and drank it.
After services you walked around and put out the candles, using the same stick that you light them with but on the other side is a little candle snuffer cup thingie. You also picked up the kneeling pillows and scripts and bells and brought them in back. These were left in a cabinet because the next crew, coming on ten minutes later, had to start the cycle up again by putting them back out.
Once in a while there were different things to do. At some special services they brought out this metal container on chains and a stick that incense was put into and it was waved around by the priest. I again have no idea why this was done, but the junior boy held a little container with the incense and the senior boy got to use a little spoon to put some into the burner on top of the burning charcoal. Before the services a charcoal piece about the size of a hockey puck was lit and put into the burner. The incense we used looked like different colored crystals, clear and white and pink and yellow, and I thought smelled really good. Usually the priest walked around the church waving the burner, followed by the altar boys. When the smoke got thin you would spoon some more crystals onto the charcoal so the priest had something smoky to wave around. You had to be careful about how much you put on, too little and there wasn’t enough smoke, too much and it put out the charcoal. And you didn’t want to pile it on too close to the end of the walking around part, because you had to put the burner on the step next to you for the rest of the service, and if there was no breeze you would be left with burning eyes and a runny nose from all the smoke hanging around you. But you did get to go home smelling nice for the rest of the day.
We also jumped to sign up for wedding ceremonies. Some couples would have fancy ceremonies, with a full mass as part of it. The couple getting married had to kneel behind the priest during most of the mass, and so we would have a pretty girl to look at where normally it was just your partner on the other side. And usually the best man would give the altar boys a tip, so there was some chance of money. I remember one wedding ceremony where I was in charge of the little pillow that the bride’s ring was placed on. At the start, after everybody walked up to the front of the church, I would walk over to the best man and he would put the ring on the pillow, which I held until I had to hold it up for the priest to bless and hand to the groom to put on his new wife. One time the ring came in a little plastic folded pouch, and I had a heck of a time getting it open to get the ring out. I had to hold the pillow with one hand while I untied some ribbons holding the pouch closed with the other hand, and then open it and take the ring out. Unfortunately this was a quick service, and I barely got the ring ready before the priest asked for it.
Now what was I talking about . . . oh yes, rides. Well, the church had a fair every summer, in the big dirt lot out behind the school. Some traveling company brought trucks filled with rides and booths and games and stuff, and they split the profits with the church. One year they brought a copy of that big ride with the swings on chains that I so dearly hated. This was the first (and only) time I tried it. I bought a ticket and got on a swing and was spun around and around and around and around. As we normally do, we hit the food booths before we got back to the ride area, and I was stuffed with whatever greasy items were available back then. I remember going around a few times, and getting so dizzy that I couldn’t look out any more. I closed my eyes and prayed for it to stop, but unfortunately the ride didn’t stop before my stomach did. One of the good things about this ride is that when you hurl it’s blown away by the wind, as long as you remember to turn your head first and not just throw up in front of you. I have no idea if it hit the people behind me on the ride or people down below or the operator, but as soon as it stopped and I got off I wandered away: well, it was probably like in one of those cartoons where the dizzy guy walks in circles and dotted lines as he staggers off. I don’t remember much about the fair after that. And I don’t go on any of those types of rides any more.
Back to Palisades Park: looking for that song on YouTube I also found this one, a commercial I remember hearing on TV every summer for years:
OK, I guess that Church part was in response to Wide Lawns, who discussed her families’ Passover celebrations. I discussed my altar boy times, but in school most of my friends were Jewish. This was of great pleasure when in mid and high school. As in most school systems we were on break for the Catholic holidays: Christmas and Easter provided us time to attend church and have those big family meals. But even better were the Jewish holidays. School wasn’t closed for those, but I remember one year, I think it was seventh grade, where I was the only non-Jewish kid in my class. All of the Jewish kids stayed away from school to attend services or whatever, and I was sitting in class all by myself. Why should I skip school and have my mother harass me for staying home? I just carried around a stack of books and got to sit in class all day and read whatever I wanted to. I think this was when we first got to Greek myths, and we had a real thick book full of them. It was really interesting to me, so I had a chance just to sit and read through all of those stories of vengeful gods and storms at sea and bulls and stuff. I don’t know how many Jewish holidays there are, but I do remember several times during the year that everyone was away from class but me.
That was a nice thing about having Jewish friends; they never tried to convert you or anything. Our neighbors on one side were Jehovah’s Witnesses; they were always bringing around pamphlets and the Watchtower newspaper and trying to talk to us. When I heard that there were no gifts or fun holidays and not even birthday celebrations I figured it was a religion that wasn’t going far, at least as far as I was concerned. Out here in Las Vegas we frequently have two guys in short sleeve white shirts and skinny black ties coming to our door to talk about God. Sometimes we get a pair of little old ladies (they always travel in pairs, like the guys with skinny ties) holding bibles trying to get us to discuss the Lord and why we should believe that their version is better than my version, not caring what my version is. That and getting great pastrami sandwiches on rye with sweet and sour cabbage soup at a real Jewish deli. And egg cream, can’t forget the chocolate egg cream, made with real Hershey’s syrup. DZ Akin’s in San Diego is a great deli, if you every get down there.