By: Debra N. Diener
I have ridden on the Carousel of Happiness.
I remember everything about it so clearly —
—bright red/blue/green/gold/purple lights multiplying in number as they flashed off mirrors overhead and on every surface of the carousel,
– crescendos of vintage oomp-pah-pah organ music,
- bouncing up and down, swiveling my head to take it all in as I whirled round and round and round … feeling pure joy and happiness.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
You don’t quite believe me, do you?
You’re thinking I’m describing a figment of my imagination; a dream; a fever-induced
hallucination; a childhood memory.
Maybe I’m conjuring up a metaphor for or allusion to an aspirational, wished-for state of well-being.
None of the above —it’s a true story. It really happened. And yes, it’s also a memory. An adult memory. A memory of a day that happened just two years ago yet feels almost “Brigadoon-ish” — Did it really happen? Does that place really exist?
I hold tightly to my Carousel of Happiness memory —as tightly as I held the reins of the dolphin I rode that day.
I’ve thought about this memory often and realize how it has changed for me. How it has
morphed from just a memory of a great experience to something more …something with greater resonance. Can I explain that hold? Maybe. Have I ever tried doing so before? No. Do I want to try? Yes. However, I first have to unspool the memory. So it’s just not as straightforward as
simply writing “…and here are the reasons this memory is so important to me.”
No, some context is needed. And for that you need to join me on a quick trip to
Nederland sits high in the mountains outside Boulder and I was there in August 2018. Arriving there is to be transported back to a more mellow time. Nederland has retained its “hippie-ish” vibe with, among other attractions, multiple stores selling crystals, an excellent Nepalese restaurant festooned with prayer flags and The Very Nice Brewing Company. A setting where no one would be at all surprised to find a merry-go-round named the Carousel of Happiness.
Along with a ticket, I got a brochure outlining the Carousel’s history and the sources of its
components. Yes, information about the 1913 Wurlitzer Band Organ, but most
importantly, I learned about the source of its genesis. A genesis that is really a story of salvation — salvation for Scott Harrison.
Very briefly, this is what I learned. While serving in Vietnam, Mr. Harrison was sent a small gift: a music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse”. He listened over and over to that tune. A tune that allowed him moments of peace and that conjured up a vision for him of a carousel filled with children joyfully riding on it. A tune, a vision that buffered him —even if only momentarily — from where he was, what he saw, the losses he experienced.
When he finished his military service, Mr. Harrison settled in Nederland. To bring his vision to life, he purchased the animal-less shell of the current Carousel and then spent 26 years lovingly and laboriously hand-carving 56 beautiful and fanciful animals (35 of which can be ridden), restoring the Carousel and truly bringing it back to life —and bringing joy to its riders ever since.
All of which is a fast forward to the 2020 to 2021 period, my Carousel ride memory and its hold for me. This timespan is the first time I’ve tried to turn my memory and the feelings it evokes into tangible ideas. Having done so, I see what I missed when I began writing, maybe what I couldn’t get until now, and that’s the duality of my memory. Superficially, it’s the memory of a day that was just sheer fun. On a deeper, more personal level it is the memory of a day that has transported me —if only momentarily — from thinking about the miasma of the pandemic.
It was a day when Scott Harrison’s vision, his salvation, worked its magic on me.
And that magic still infuses my memory and is why I’ve turned to it over and over these past years. It has been for me as much a source of comfort, a balm for the soul, on a far smaller, reduced scale, as Mr. Harrison’s music box tune and vision were for him.
Now I see the hold this memory has had for me. That it is a metaphor for an aspirational state of well-being —not one I want just for myself but a hoped for state of well-being for countless
others. Am I being unrealistic? Maybe.
Yet who’s to say what is or isn’t possible?
All I know is that I’ve ridden a dolphin on the Carousel of Happiness.