Mack Williams: The opening of Auntie Em’s door
Thinking back to some vacations years ago, a place on Beech Mountain came back to me; not the ski slopes, but a summer vacation place: “Land of Oz.”
It was a more contemplative and musical theme park, no wild rides, just a walk down a “road.” I have its brochure, long slipped into the pages of some book in storage. Such books also serve as pressing places for a casket spray’s rose or a wedding’s boutonniere, both sometimes kept company in death by a similarly “pressed” silverfish.
I had seen some internet sites dealing with old dilapidated, deserted shopping malls, so I googled “Land of Oz,” Beech Mountain, North Carolina to see if some scenes of a no longer extant theme park might also be posted.
Of the several websites appearing, one was Wikkipedia, and another was “Autumn at Oz.” Wikkipedia chronicled the park’s history, its closing and falling into disrepair, with some of the bricks from the “Yellow Brick Road” being pilfered over the years (just for souvenir, not for rebuilding, as with the Roman Coliseum).
All my life, I have picked up Nature’s rocks here and there; and just for old times sake ( if I could get away with it) would probably purloin one of those yellow “man-made” rocks once trod upon by Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Toto, my late wife Diane, daughter Rachel and me.
The site, “Autumn at Oz” told me that the “Land of Oz,” (what remains) is open once a year for the public to walk “the walk” again.
The website had a picture of the “Yellow Brick Road,” strewn with yellow, orange, and reddish-brown leaves. Autumnal feelings of nostalgia brings back parental memories of “young parenthood.” Now-grown children, accompanying their parents again on the “Yellow Brick Road, think back to youth in general.
The land of Oz trip standing out most in my memory was when my daughter Rachel was just a toddler. She was born in 1977, and this trip was in 1979, just a year before the park would close.
We went there in latter July-early August of that year. My late wife was a school teacher; and she enjoyed taking vacation trips not long before the time for teachers to report to school, the reporting of their students still a week- or -so away.
Taking family trips at that time of year, the Summer heat was a constant, along with sporadic thundershowers. Meteorologists and seafood restaurants both use the word “popcorn”; the weatherman meaning these “pop-up showers,” the restaurateur meaning “shrimp.”
In the theme parks with outside, cooling “mist pipes,” we took advantage of them, along with the purchasing of ice-cold, souvenir, “character sippers” (Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear at King’s Dominion).
That day, we had gone inside Dorothy’s (or rather, her Auntie Em’s) House, witnessing its tornado-wreaked “topsy-turviness” (to be honest, its “catty-corneredness” made me think of Blowing Rock’s “Mystery Hill” where one could “see water run uphill!”).
We walked the Yellow Brick Road, experiencing Broadway-esque performances of the park’s main characters along the way, topped off by an on-stage group performance at the end.
It could be said, that unlike other stage productions, much of this show had already been taken “on the road,” prior to appearing “on the boards.”
At the end of our walk, we arrived at seating in front of the stage where Dorothy and Friends were to perform a final song.
Earlier in our walk, the partly- clouded sun had been overpowered by the tree canopy; but in the end, the overhead forest opened up to a clear space of bright hot sun with waning clouds, although not before one of them dropped a few drops on us (the shower’s sunlit brevity perhaps meant that the Devil, instead of giving his wife a full-fledged thrashing, was only administering a smack).
I remember a scene of my young daughter Rachel in that solar glare, her eyes half sealed with a squint, while using a tiny hand for shade.
Suddenly, the Yellow Brick Road seemed golden, and all other previously shade-hampered colors were revealed in fullness.
I thought back to the 1939 movie, where a black-and-white world ended with Dorothy’s opening of Auntie Em’s door, after which the rest of the film was seen in Technicolor glory.
Sitting there, drenched in light and color, after walking a “road” of tree-blocked, cloud-blocked sun, it seemed as if Auntie Em’s door, somewhat slow to open that day, had finally swung wide atop Beech Mountain’s “Land of Oz.”