Merry Christmas and happy New Year. I was too busy putting off shopping to write a fresh column this week so please enjoy this lightly edited fatherhood tale from back in the day.
I know how to make a huge impression on a small child: Introduce her to The Giant Man.
Twenty or so years ago, my daughter, who was then around the age of 3, was less than thrilled by most of the wondrous sights at a regional fair, ignoring the midway barkers calling on me to prove my manhood by plunking milk bottles and showing little or no interest in any of the several dozen categories of prize-winning goats.
Perhaps I had played it up a bit too much in the days prior.
“We’re going to the fair Saturday! It will be the greatest fair in the history of the universe!”
Yes, I hyped it a tad, screaming like an over-caffeinated announcer at a monster truck rally for days about the miracles that awaited us.
Once inside the gates, she wore an expression that seemed to say, “This is nice, but when do we get to the REAL fair you’ve been blabbing about?”
She rode the merry-go-round and I stood at the fence and waved like an idiot each time she circled. She didn’t wave back. We rode the Ferris wheel, which stopped at the very top.
“Look at the people,” I said. “They look like little ants. You could probably spit on somebody from way up here, but don’t ever, ever do that נunless you’re sure nobody can pin it on you.”
She looked down at the hustle and bustle of the fair below, unimpressed.
“Gosh, what if the Ferris wheel fell and we went hurtling toward the ground?” I said, using an old fair-scare tactic passed down my father, who could take the safest, most gentle of carnival rides and turn them into terrifying vehicles from hell.
“Gee, Dad, these Teacups sure go slow,” I once said. “Yeah, but I just hope what happened in Cincinnati doesn’t happen to us,” he replied. “Uh ... what happened there?”
“You didn’t hear? A broken chunk of metal from the Flying Bobs flew into the Teacups and decapitated a family of four. Never did find one of the heads. Hey, is that some blood on the seat beside you?”
My daughter was unfazed by any talk of Ferris wheel tragedy.
Then, back on the ground, it happened, her ultimate fair experience. On the midway, walking toward yet another exhibit of prize-winning goats, we encountered The Giant Man.
It was a guy in what looked like a college football mascot costume נoversized body and huge felt-covered head.
This one, though, was a mascot for the U.S. Army. He was decked out in fatigues and flanked by two soldiers who were making sure he didn’t blindly wander into a goat pen. I don’t know why the Army would need a huge, felt-covered mascot. Perhaps it was an experimental battlefield weapon designed to strike fear in the smaller-headed enemy. Tax dollars well spent, in my opinion.
My daughter was amazed.
“The Giant Man!” she said as Col. Huge Noggin stopped and saluted.
She reached out and grabbed his hand, then he moved on to wherever it is giant, fuzzy soldiers go when their job is done.
“The Giant Man,” she repeated in awe as she watched him walk unsteadily away.
For weeks The Giant Man was an important part of her life. A day did not go by without a mention.
“When can we see The Giant Man, Daddy?”
“Maybe next year at the fair, unless he’s court martialed for conduct unbecoming a mascot.”
“Where is The Giant Man now?”
“Fort Bragg or maybe Sesame Street, wherever duty calls. Now, eat all your vegetables and maybe someday you, too, can grow to enormous proportions, cover yourself with felt and be all you can be.”