Lost Boy

The onset of summer often evokes a rush of anticipation for outdoor fun not always possible during the winter months. Picnics in the park, cavorting in playgrounds, swimming in the lake—and around these parts—trips to Kennywood.

“Kennywood’s open!” was a perennial announcement I eagerly awaited each year. Ever since I was a boy, I made an annual pilgrimage to Kennywood Park.

Me with Mark and my niece Missy riding the carousel when Mark was little.

I’m still a kid at heart, so my zest for Kennywood never faltered as I grew up. Going there became even more fun after my wife and I moved to Mt. Lebanon 32 years ago and began participating in the Mt. Lebanon Community Days at the park. When our son Mark was growing up, we attended the Mt. Lebanon School Picnics, adding to our stock of pleasant summer memories.

At the school picnics and community days, we loved bumping into familiar faces at the Fish Pond or the Carousel. We felt the camaraderie of crowding around a picnic table with friends sipping icy lemonades and munching on hotdogs dripping with mustard. Riding the Turtle with neighbors, watching people you knew fly by on the Whip, and strapping into the Kangaroo with our son and his schoolmates were all special experiences.

I remember the thrill of riding the Jack Rabbit as we were alternately laughing, yelling and catching our breaths while we soared into the sky, dove to the ground and reascended towards the clouds—it was truly transcendental. I remember the indulgence of licking two heavy scoops of vanilla ice cream piled high on cake cones while seated on a park bench people-watching.

Me and my son riding the Jack Rabbit roller coaster. I’m the one in the orange shirt sitting next to Mark who’s flexing his muscles.

Not all memories were so delightful. There was the time I almost regurgitated from motion sickness after disembarking from the Aero 360. Then there was the episode when my wife emerged from the Exterminator raging at her nephew for coercing her to ride that blasted thing.

I can’t forget the scene when Mark’s schoolmate broke his cell phone after it fell out of his pocket and he howled in terror, dreading his father’s wrath. Only to be rivaled by the time another friend clumsily dropped his watch, his keys and his wallet while riding the Thunderbolt, helplessly watching his possessions plunge downward to the ground beneath the tracks of the mighty roller coaster.

Now when I am at Kennywood, sitting on a bench, I hear the eerie echoes of millions of children who raucously tore through the park during Kennywood’s 125 years.

I also recall the distinct trepidations I had as a child of getting lost in the throngs of strangers jostling past me in the park. I imagined Laughing Sal as a monster, clowns as devils. Occasional announcements about lost children would blare over the public address system, confirming my innermost fears.

The infamous laughing lady in a glass booth who never stopped laughing and scaring me every time I walked by.

What would a little lost boy do? Surely Mom and Dad would look for me. Surely, they wouldn’t leave without me. Maybe one of my Mt. Lebanon neighbors would find me.

Those apprehensions lingered on into adulthood as we accompanied our own child through the amusement park; first grasping his tiny hands tightly when he was a toddler; then keeping a watchful eye on him and his grade school chums while they played games in the Arcade; finally exchanging text messages to check on him during his teenage years as he roamed freely with his pals around Kennywood’s numerous attractions.Me and Mark on the Carousel when he was a teenager.

My childhood distress about being abandoned in Noah’s Ark and my adult disquietude over misplacing my son between the Racer and the Old Mill found expression in a poem I wrote, dedicated to Kennywood and all the Mt. Lebanon picnics and community days I spent there along with family, friends and folks around the neighborhood.

Lost Boy

Stalking a prey, long black shadows,

creep low and silent.


Accomplices, the wind and the sky,

one stirs, the other growls,


Conspiring in heavy breath

to follow a child.


Faint flashes, a devil dancing,

light the lost boy’s eyes.


The crowd scatters, heads down,

they flee to find refuge inside.


Paper cups and candy wrappers

bounce and scratch the pavement.


The lost boy races down the hill

past the rollercoaster and funhouse.


Face flushed, lungs ready to burst,

he turns to see that face.


A drunken devil, in cracked paint,

smiles and curls a finger.


A stillness like death closes in

as the edges of the sky shut like an eye.


Rain hits the dust, drops like fingernails

fall on the boy’s white neck, he cries.

My wife Diane and son Mark in Kiddie Land when he was one year old.

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