My Magic Carpet Ride
The VCR clicks and clacks as we slide in an old home video. I sit with my family on a couch and am immediately transported to a time I can only remember with visual assistance. I see a small, toe headed, round cheeked Morgan crawling in a onesie. My parents laugh and without missing a bit they fill in the missing holes like a director adding commentary to a blockbuster film. They remind me how important food was to me. I learn food was so important to me that I used to stick sugar pops to my pajamas so that I could have a mid crawl snack when my stomach felt the need to encourage my small sticky hands to grab a little yellow sugar ball. As I sit on the couch with a generation prior, I zoom in on the screen. It’s as if my mind takes me on a journey down Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. Memories flash past me and I am all but literally transported to a time I can only barely remember: my play filled early childhood.
The memories start to emerge and I smile as I am reminded of the complete joy I found in childhood. The complete excitement and fulfillment I found from play. Early memories are tough for each of us unless they are significant. The first memory I visit on my journey was significant as it was filled with trauma. I remember waiting in line at Village Inn Pizza with my dad. I had spent all day with him at work and he was rewarding me with my favorite pizza. I laugh as I remember how hard it was for my four-year-old body to find the patience to stay in line. I scooped quarters from my dad’s hand and I ran to the arcade. In my adulthood, I look back at disappointment on the arcade. In my memory, I remember looking into the arcade as if it were bigger than Disneyland. For me, this arcade was the happiest place on earth. I lacked a significant understanding of time and space. What I knew was what was right in front of me and the shiniest item in front of me was a UFO begging me to hop on and take a journey beyond the stars. The adult me hears the clicking and clacking of a poorly made ride for amusement while the 4-year old Morgan hears a countdown. 10...9...8... I know it’s now or never. I could be the first to explore intergalactic space. 7...6...5... time was running out. 4...3...2... my quarters slide into the slot on the machine and I climb aboard what is sure to be the most incredible ride of my life. I feel the spaceship rock as asteroids crash into my ship’s body. I know I can make it to my destination. I see earth shrink and shrink until finally I realize I am in space. The adult me knows what is coming but the four-year-old me has no idea. As far as I was concerned, the only thing that could happen next is my discovery of extraterrestrial life. In my mind, I was nearing the end of my journey, I was ready to get out of my spaceship and explore. In the eyes of the cheaply made ride in the pizzeria, my journey through space was not over.
My imagination disagreed with reality. Any pilot knows never to exit a moving ship. This memory reminds me that that may only be true for pilots older than the age of 4. I climbed out of my cockpit with sheer anticipation and my spaceship grew affectionate for my shoelace. Not only was I less graceful than most kids my age, I was awkwardly large for a preschooler. Like a newborn giraffe I stumbled onto the planet and was immediately astonished by the presence of a merry-go- round. Not unlike the spaceship’s attraction to my shoe, my forehead had a newfound attraction for the galactic merry-go-round. In my adult journey back through time I cringe as I know the next part of this story is accompanied by a lot of blood, my dad screaming “is that your skull?” and a long trip to the hospital. As I watch from a time nearly 20 years later I rub the scar on my forehead that resembles many a Disney villain and decide it’s time to set my journey through time to another destination.
“And now for your feature presentation”. I smile as I am reminded that this prologue to every animated film from my childhood was the very first phrase I ever spoke with confidence. I watch alongside my six-year-old self with anticipation of what may come next. Which character will show up on the silver screen next? If I were a betting man, I would put my chips on Aladdin. For such a young guy, I had a rather serious love affair with the characters of Disney movies. In my best orangutan voice I would stare at the screen in admiration and express how badly I want to be like you, I want to walk like you, talk like you to! Disney created worlds, Disney created emotions, and Disney inspired my curiosity.
As an adult completely submerged in creativity, I look back at the time I spent in front of the screen in awe with total admiration as I know it was those moments that empowered me to ask “what if?” of the world around me today.
I didn’t have to travel far in time to find my younger, less burdened self creating worlds out of nothing. I slow my imaginary time machine just in time to see myself standing behind a desk with a few spoons in my hand in my room. I notice the room is more organized than normal and I hear my younger self tell our mother “that will be $723.00”. It was garage sale day. I would spend the next three hours selling every item in my room for what I thought was a bargain. My mom exchanged imaginary dollar bills for two books and a torn Pokémon card. In my earlier days, I was quite the business man. After a long day of sales, I reward myself with a fort. I run around my house and gather all of the blankets I can find to turn my room into a new world. The full size version of me lays next to the half size version of me in a world and we dream together of what the world could be like. We laugh together because this was one of the only moments in my childhood I wasn’t playing alone.
As I sit under the tent in complete content, I lose my sense of time. There is no clock ticking, I realize there are no ringtones, there are no email notifications and I admire that moment in my childhood. I was free and I was creating. For me, that was all that mattered and I was truly fulfilled. This moment is one that I have spent years overlooking but it is in this moment that I really appreciate how important this moment is. It is in this moment that I realize I don’t have to live in the worlds of Walt Disney but instead I can create and live in the worlds in my head. This moment in my childhood is one of the most life changing moments my pint-sized self will experience but my pint-sized self wont realize the weight of this moment for years. I smile at my much more adorable self and I venture to another moment on the timeline.
As I am mentally transporting myself I hear the tape click. I am abruptly awoken from my journey and I look at both of my parents. They have both fallen asleep. I smile and look over at the stack of similar tapes with dates and concert names and I grab the next. Within a matter of minutes, I find myself running with my middle school self through a field. It takes me a minute to remember where we are running towards. Finally, I remember our destination is a mound behind our house where we had built an entire village. The adult me sees a stack of palettes and a stolen Christmas tree thrown to the curb on January 2nd. I look at the 13-year-old me and the joy radiating off of me reminds the adult me that at that time I saw much more. I saw a place where I would meet with my friends and make decisions about the world. We knew that it was around this table that we would save the world from sheer destruction. The 23-year- old me instantly felt proud and honored to have a “seat” at the round table where missiles would be diverted and children would be saved. But my time at this imaginary United Nations is short. I have to move on.
The sound of tape being fed to the VCR accompanies my journey to my next point in history. It is one of the most vivid and powerful memories of my childhood. I am excited to make a pit stop and experience my first real bout with risky play once again. The sound of the VCR is quickly replaced by the sound of two playing cards running against our bike spokes. I hear my laughter and my cousin’s laughter at full volume as we race our bikes up and down the street. Instantly the moment changes. We both see a jet trail in the sky. Our concept of the spherical nature of the Earth was not yet solidified so the adult me smiles as the 8-year-old me on my “python” bike as I look in astonishment at what is sure to be a violent plane crash. My cousin and I are convinced that the curved flight path and the sudden disappearance of the plane can only mean that there are 100 people in need of saving. Without hesitation, my cousin and I ride as fast as we can beyond our block, beyond our boundaries, beyond our neighborhood, and towards a scene that, if it truly existed, would be traumatizing for any kid that age. After just 10 minutes, the eight-year-old me slams on the breaks of my python bike and my heart is swallowed by my stomach. I look around and realize not only have we failed to save anyone, I had no idea where we were. My cousin and I spent what felt like hours trying to map the neighborhood and find our way back home. Back on my block, the adult me sits on the curb and waits because I know all is well in the world. I know that this story has a safe and happy ending. Within seconds, I calmly look over my shoulder to see a cop car arrive to deliver my eight-year-old self and my cousin to our terrified parents. For the ten minutes I was riding away I felt freedom and I loved it.
Like a series of neurons firing one after another, this memory reminds me of the last place I would like visit on my destination through my childhood. This journey is less a journey through time and more of a journey through space. I leave my suburb childhood home and travel to the country, the Watkins ranch to be specific. This ranch was the home of a different set of cousins. These cousins stared risk in the face every single day. It seemed like they had no fear. Every time I visited their house I experienced perceived risk. From four wheelers to long hikes in rattle snake country my risk meter never had a chance to calm down. As the adult me arrives at the ranch I know exactly where I can find my younger half. I head out to a junk-yard we had named “the pepsi truck”. I stand from a distance and immediately I see myself and my cousin building ramps and racing toy cars. We are sitting under the belly of a giant backhoe. We sat there for hours and play. The adult me pans to the left and I see the four wheeler that we drove for miles to arrive at the perfect play spot. The pint-sized me mapped villages and cities and raced cars with my cousin all afternoon. The sun started to go down and we hopped on the four wheeler. Again the adult me finds myself laughing as I know what the next piece of this story looks like. When we arrive at the house, my aunt looks at me and her eyes widen. My vantage point over the city we had manufactured was so perfect that I couldn’t leave it the entire time we were there. However, I was so submersed in my play that I did not even realize for a moment that the spot I had chosen to observe the construction of my villages was the one spot directly under the part of the backhoe that was leaking oil. My normally blonde hair was as black as a bird in a dawn commercial. As an adult I reflected on that moment from a unique perspective. As an adult, I know the value of risk in play and as a child playing I had worked so hard to overcome risks. I stood as a 23-year-old man in the field and looked at the way the day unfolded. I hopped on the back of a full sized four wheeler piloted by my 10 year old cousin, we rode it at full speed up inclines and down valleys to a junk yard full of hazards and we sat beneath a giant tractor for hours more than three miles away from the house. More than three miles away from adults. The nearest rattle snake or coyote was likely closer to us than the nearest adult and that is why we played there.
The VCR makes one final click and the video sputters out. I am transported for the final time back to my living room with my parents. The clock continues to tick in the kitchen and I smile through my exhaustion because I know that my childhood made me who I am. The pint- sized version of me was strong and adventurous but most of all, that person was creative. As I sit on the couch I am reminded that I am not a different person than that adorable toe-headed toddler sticking breakfast cereal to his pajamas. I still love food and I am still creating entire worlds. If anything, I find myself asking “what if?” more than when I was younger. Lastly, I find myself emotional every time I listen to the music of Walt Disney films as these notes, these words, these melodies bring me wonder by wonder, over sideways and under on a magic carpet ride.