Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lets Go To The Ex.....Oh Baby!

My eldest son and my nephew on the traditional first ride each year at The Ex, The Polar Express

Warrior's Day Parade
Every year, since long before I was born, the Pollard family has  gone to the Warrior's Day parade at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE or The Ex for short). The parade has been an annual event at The Ex since the 1920's. My father was a veteran of the second world war, so it was natural to attend, something nobody thought about, we just DID. In the early years the parade snaked along city streets then through the fair, ending inside Exhibition Stadium culminating in a mass pipe band finale. Alas, the stadium is long gone, as are too many of the vets who once packed the parade, and the parade route. The number of veterans still able to march is dwindling, but the respect and love shown to them is as strong as ever. And rightfully so.

Nicole, Chris and Eric on the Flume ride
After the parade, the Pollard horde picnics together on the grounds, then splits up. The older generation heads to "The Buildings". At one time that meant seeing new and crazy inventions, like the colour tv, or video cassette recorders. Now it means dog shows, historical exhibits, market places, gardening expos and a casino. The younger generation head out with their parents to the midway, where another split occurs. The teens go off on their own, and the families with smaller children veer towards the kids park. The adults without kids (not many of those in THIS family) head to the patios or the Bandshell to relax, people watch and listen to live music. Everyone has an incredible time.

Eric and Chris at "The Fountain' 20 years ago
Mark, Sammy, Chris and Eric at 'The Fountain' now- with Scooby!

Annually since time eternal it seems, The Pollards would re-congregate late afternoon around "The Fountain". In the days before cel phones, it was the place you went to if you were lost, if you were tired, or to meet the rest of your group. With the rides out of the way and everyone hungry, we then head en masse to the Food Building. What a glorious place! In days past you could wander through and have a complete meal from free samples alone. These days the big draws are the wild and crazy delights. Each year there is something different. 

Deep Fried Banana w/ Nutella
Nutella sandwich

sweet potato fries w/Nutella
My boys and I began a tradition several years ago. We get 3 or 4 insane foods and have to try at least one bite of each. There have been winners (deep fried slushie was AWESOME) and losers (chocolate covered bacon, nothing special, not great, not gross, so no fun at all!). For our 2013 sampling we decided to go with this year's recurrent theme- Nutella. I sent my youngest son Mark and his friends off and they came back with Nutella covered sweet potato fries, Nutella/sour cream/fruit sandwiches and deep fried banana with Nutella(YUM!).

Last year was the first time in all my life that I missed a Warriors Day parade/Ex Outing. My son Eric, now 20, severely autistic, was in crisis at the time. It hurt tremendously to make the decision to keep Eric home with me while the rest of the family went, but it was best for him. This year, he has progressed enough we were able to return. As usual I rented a wheelchair for him. He has many sensory and safety issues that make it impossible for him to be in such a crowded place without one. I was also able to introduce my 3 year old granddaughter to the annual event for the first time. She loved uncle Eric's 'Big Stroller'. My granddaughter went off with my sister, her husband and her grandchildren to the kids midway and had a ball while I took Eric and the gang to the regular midway. My 83 year old mother came with us. Mom is very good at not showing favouritism (9 kids, 27 grandkids, umpteen great grandchildren), but we all know she has a special affinity for Eric, especially when he overcomes challenges to join in with the group. Mom always tags along with my brood so she can watch Eric have fun. Eric hasn't always been able to join in, so it is very special to watch.

Chris and Mark cooling off quickly while my Mom saunters through the man-made shower with her walker!
When Eric was about 7 or 8 and non-verbal, still not able to go on rides for safety reasons, I was pushing his chair through the games area so he could at least enjoy the sights and sounds. Suddenly, and seemingly without provocation,  MELTDOWN. He screamed as if he was being murdered, slammed his feet on the ground making it impossible to move forward or back, flailing and whipping himself around in the wheelchair. He knocked himself and the chair over onto the pavement. The screaming continued unabated. I tried desperately to help Eric, but I could NOT figure out what was causing the meltdown and things were getting to the point of no return. The man running the game nearest us jumped out and came over to help us. He told me he too had a son with autism. This was back in the 90s, when the general population did not know what autism was, and in moments like this I'd generally have passerby hurling horrible comments at me about my "retard"son (yes, people speak in public like that- to a parent and their child- all too often), so it was an incredible relief having someone who understood. My mother stood off to the side with my older son Chris while the gentleman and I tried desperately to calm Eric. Eric was muttering something while screaming and pointing. After what seemed like an eternity I was finally able to distinguish the sounds "roaaar, imbaaaaa" Hanging from the rafters of the game booth was a massive stuffed lion. Eric thought it was Simba from Disney's The Lion King and just wanted to pat it. With his language deficits he had been unable to tell me. His frustration at his inability to communicate had set off the meltdown. Eric struggled and was finally able to say one of his first names ever, "Simba". To this point he still had been incapable of even saying "Mama", so this was big! The man from the game booth clued in just as I did, and as I was praising Eric for uttering a name, the man had jumped up, grabbed the lion and gave it to Eric. Eric slowly calmed down, hugged and kissed and pet the lion as I watched, smiling through my tears. We were able to go home, exhausted, but happy. Eric really does draw wonderful people into our lives, even if only for a few moments. Despite the horrible-ness of the meltdown, it is one of my life's warmest memories.

This year, Eric became obsessed with the giant Scooby Doo toys we were seeing everywhere. While Chris, Eric and some cousins were prepping to go on a ride, I spoke to the young girl running the game near us to find out how to win the sought after Scooby. I explained about Eric, and she smiled at him as he got on the ride assisted by his cousin Nicole, then she winked at me. Eric loves rides, but the heat had gotten to him and he unfortunately got sick all over himself on the ride. Chris got him off and I cleaned him up as best I could, popped into the washroom nearby, changed Eric's clothes, washed him up, etc. When we came out, there was cousin Bradley standing in front of the game booth, holding the Scooby Doo he had 'won' for Eric. Eric brightened up immediately and squealed "Scooby!!!!"I think the girl running the booth had a bigger smile than any of us!!! All day Scooby was treated like a king. Eric would make sure Scooby was sitting so he could "see" airplanes, rides or whatever else caught Eric's eye. He wore Eric's hat, and snuck into family pictures!
My monkey Eric and his new best friend
At the end of the day, tired and happy, we made our way to the gates. Mum pushing her walker, Chris pushing a sleepy Sammy in her stroller, and I pushing Eric in his chair, we took a back route behind the buildings as a less congested way to exit the grounds. As we passed an open loading door, we heard people calling out to us AND Scooby. There were 5 Mardi Gras floats prepping for the evening parade. We waited a moment and as they rolled out past us we were treated to a hailstorm of Mardi Gras beads. Eric, Sammy and Scooby were drowning in them!
Great way to end the day!

Scooby making himself at home
 Watching my children and now my granddaughter experiencing the same things that thrilled me as a child, feeling their excitement and joy, knowing they love this as much as I ever did, is something I enjoy in the deepest parts of my soul. And I know it is the same for thousands of other familes. The Ex is a magical place. A place for first dates, family get togethers, a cornucopia of fun and wonder, and a true memory factory. 

May the Grand Ole Fair live on forever!

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