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Cotton candy in our town

RECENTLY my daughter, Amanda, and I were doing errands in our town when we spotted a small, traveling carnival setting up. Amanda's eyes lit up with anticipation as we shouted out the car windows, asking the time of opening, which was Saturday. But as Saturday rolled around, I became a little cynical about the whole thing. We had a lot of things to do on the weekend. . . . It was hot. . . . a little carnival just wouldn't be that much fun. . . .

And I considered the other big amusement parks we had gone to. We were too sophisticated for small carnivals. We had been to Disneyland, for Pete's sake!

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Nevertheless, we found ourselves dragging Grandpa and Grandma with us to the rides and booths set up in a parking lot near a mall. A barker greeted us with a smile, and people were milling about in an atmosphere of . . . well . . . expectation. There was an intriguing smell, too -- a mixture of cotton candy, hot dogs, greased rails, and hot pavement -- that brought back memories of a much smaller ``Katie'' looking up and around with wonder at a different carnival, long ago.

I looked at my daughter. She was caught up in the fun and wanted to go on every ride. Disneyland was far away. Somehow the idea of pink cotton candy and swirling lights right in our own town was something special. I let my preconceived ideas go. Grandpa and I even rode in the small roller coaster -- the only child-unaccompanied adults on the whole ride!

Amanda went sailing around in a small plane. It was only a painted metal shell with wings, held up by wires, but the faces of the children registered belief in flight. I found myself considering the expressions of the people in the crowd and of the children on the rides. Parents looked on benignly, smiling at their children, shifting tired feet, holding stuffed animals and wrinkled tickets. . . . Some seemed to want to recapture a sense of unrestricted wonder -- to put aside all sense of fatigue and the relentless thoughts that keep pushing us adults into tomorrow and tomorrow.

The children laugh and wave and go by again.

The word ``carnival'' is associated in folk etymology with the Latin words carne vale -- meaning, in translation, ``Flesh, farewell!'' The words probably had to do with the removal of meat during the season of Lent, but the idea of climbing on board a car full of lights and suspending disbelief for a few moments while we bid limitations of flesh and the material world farewell was an intriguing sidelight of the carnival concept. (Perhaps it was during that thought that ``Grandpa'' and I looked at each other and simultaneously decided to ride the small roller coaster.)

When I got home, I thought about mankind on our spaceship earth. The child in us waves and laughs as we spin around and on. . . . We are able to believe that the earth is a ball, even though it looks to us like a plate. We are able to understand that the earth turns, and the sun doesn't ``rise'' -- even though it seems differently. Sometimes, we don't think of anything. We just go around and around . . . enjoying days as they are, and unaware of the greater whole of things.

Sometimes the child in us responds to the wonder. We let ourselves go. We laugh and wave as we go by.

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