The way I remember it, we held hands for the first time on the double-decker.
My hand had held a deep-fried hotdish on a stick right before riding the double-decker Ferris wheel. After all, we were at the Minnesota State Fair, and what could have been more Minnesotan than that – three Swedish meatballs on a stick, with tater tots between them, all breaded and deep-fried?
“The hamburger-and-cream-of-mushroom-soup dipping sauce?” Heidi suggested as we strolled toward the midway.
“Or that the banner above the window where we ordered had ‘Uff Da!’ printed on it?” I asked.
“Twice!” she laughed. “Or that the stand was called ‘Ole and Lena’s’?”
“‘Ole and Lena’!” I exclaimed. “Like all those old jokes my Norwegian nana used to tell! Did you ever hear the one about when Ole and Lena got married? On their honeymoon, they had driven almost all the way to Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee. Giggling, Lena said—”
“‘Ya can go a little farder now if ya want to, Ole,’” Heidi interjected in her best Yooper accent.
“So Ole drove to Duluth,” I finished.
The way I remember it, that was the first time we laughed together – a very new couple sharing a very old joke about a husband and a wife who almost always misunderstood one another.
The way I remember it, we compromised for the first time on the double-decker.
My hand still held half a deep-fried hotdish on a stick. As I started my standard tirade against roller coasters, I punctuated my most important points with thrusts of it.
Artificial thrills,” I sneered, “for folks who are—”
“Not afraid of heights?” Heidi interrupted.
“—bored by their lives,” I insisted. “Admittedly, I’m—”
“Afraid of heights?”
“Of course not,” I scoffed.
“So, you refuse to ride a roller coaster because—”
“—I have no need for artificial thrills because I’m not bored by my life.”
“But, because you’re – of course – not afraid of heights, you’d have no problem riding, say…,” Heidi’s eyes scanned the rides that towered over the rest of the amusements on the midway, “…the double-decker Ferris wheel?”
“Of course not,” I bluffed.
“Well, let’s get in line!” She trotted toward what looked like a rickety Erector Set. Two wheels with eight passenger gondolas each were connected by thin – too thin! – metal beams with holes in them. An axle threaded through the holes in the middles of the beams, meaning that it was not only the eight gondolas on each of the wheels that would rotate from bottom to top, but also the two wheels themselves.
As I stared at the legs dangling out of the gondolas on the higher of the two wheels, I gulped. Then I threw the remaining half of my deep-fried hotdish on a stick into the trashcan next to the head of the line.
“Not feeling a little … queasy, are you?” Heidi asked. “Our feet are still on the ground.”
The way I remember it, I managed to scrape up an appropriate pun. “It’s just that…,” I stammered as I stepped past the carny holding the gondola door open for us and scooted onto the bench beside her. “It’s just that, I want to concentrate my attentions on only one ‘hot dish’ at the moment.”
“Aww,” she said.
Just then, the carny slammed the door and pulled the lever. With a jolt, we creaked skyward.
“Ahh,” I said.
The way I remember it, I mostly stared down at my knuckles, which were white from my compulsive clutching of the safety bar. I felt like our ascent could only last a little longer; I was – yes – afraid we were about to start our descent.
“So…you’re Norwegian?” Heidi asked. “I would’ve guessed German, with a name like—”
“Carl Braun? You would’ve guessed right – at least, mostly.” After a slow start, my answer began to pick up speed – as I was sure we were about to do. “My nana, my great-grandmother, was Norwegian. And her husband, my great-grandfather, was Italian. So, that makes me about one-eighth of each. But I’m about three-quarters German.”
“What does Braun mean in German?”
“Wait. Isn’t Carl the German form of—”
“Charles? Yes. So—”
“Charlie Brown? Sadly, yes,” I sighed. “My great-grandfather – one of the German ones, not the Italian one – actually changed his name from Carl Braun to Charles Brown when anti-German sentiment was at its height in America around the time of the First World War. And, to differentiate himself from his father, my grandfather insisted on Charlie instead of Charles. Until, that is, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips started to appear in newspapers.”
“And your father—?”
“Got so sick of all the football and kite jokes when he was a kid that, as soon as he turned 18, he legally changed his name back to Carl Braun.”
At the moment, I felt something strange. Although, as I had dreaded, our gondola started its descent, our wheel simultaneously started its ascent. I was so disoriented that, despite my – yes – fear of heights, I was about to look up from my knuckles.
But then I saw Heidi lift her left hand off the safety bar and place it on top of my right hand.
The way I remember it, I momentarily lamented that my hand had held a deep-fried hotdish on a stick right before riding the double-decker because it was slightly greasy. But then I let go of the safety bar, so I could hold her hand.
Now, I wonder if she had misunderstood me – if my inability to hide my fear of heights had seemed to her instead to be the height of emotional openness in an Upper Midwestern man?
But, then, I was sure I did not misunderstand her when she informed me, in her best Yooper accent, “Ya can go a little farder now if ya want to, Charlie.”
“Double-Decker” was originally published by Art of This in 2015.