Merry Go Round

My mom made it a priority to take me and my siblings to the Smithsonian to visit the touring exhibits that came through the D.C. museums. I am the eldest of four, and amidst our collective moans and groans over another trek downtown from the suburbs in her diesel station wagon, my mom promised a ride or two on the lone carousel on the National Mall as a treat.

I loved the carousel; I remember when it was installed in 1981. We were delighted by what seemed a whimsical addition to the stately mall. A blue and orange striped circus-like tent top covered the elaborately decorated horses – years later a sea dragon was added to the menagerie. A single occupant ticket booth collected $1 per ride and a food cart was stationed nearby. I remember sitting on a bench in the shade of a sweating hot summer afternoon munching on warm, salty popcorn while my younger brothers waved at me, my sister, and my mom, each time the carousel circled in front of us.

The Weathered Carousel

Many years later I sat on the same bench with my husband. We watched as our children, Iz and Mack, waved at us from the carousel and made funny faces to make us laugh. I smiled and waved remembering my brothers doing the same all those years ago. Like my mom, I had promised a ride on the carousel and a treat after we visited the Air & Space Museum. By then the carousel was weathered, charged $3.50 per ride instead of a $1, and was “adorably janky,” as one reviewer aptly described it.

During a recent trip to the Smithsonian, I darted across the mall avoiding puddles in between rain storms to visit the carousel up close. It has permanently shut down, but it was still there, and had the air of a once-grand house surrounded by a black iron fence. The sea dragon, with teal blue scales and maniacal eyes, was always in high demand. I don’t think my brothers, Mack or Iz ever got to ride the dragon. I lingered behind the fence for a while and allowed the memories to burn through me.

Merry Go Ground

Paint was peeling from the horses and the roof was sun-bleached, the carousel had frozen in time. I realized that I, too, could have frozen after Mack died suddenly in 2012. There were many times I resented that time did not stop when time stopped for me. The relentless march of time, in and out of seasons, and through the calendar of holidays, comes round and round. It is unstoppable.

Slowly, tentatively, I climbed back on the merry go round of life. But, I don’t hesitate to give myself permission to hop off and buy some warm popcorn to munch while I sit on a bench to rest in the shade.

Visit Elizabeth Brady’s website:

Read more from Elizabeth Brady: Re-imagining the Advent Candles – Open to Hope

Tags: , ,

Elizabeth Brady

Elizabeth's son Mack died suddenly on New Year's Eve 2012. Elizabeth teaches at Penn State and her essays on learning to live with loss can also be read on The Compassionate Friends (TCF), Modern Loss, She has participated on the panel "A Flower Picked Too Soon" at several national TCF conferences. Elizabeth served on the content advisory board for the Public Television documentary "Speaking Grief" that seeks to help us all get better at grief. (

More Articles Written by Elizabeth