When you’re a kid, everything seems to big and so far away. You never realize how simple and wonderful things are until you grow up and are forced to leave childish wonder behind. Until you’re too old for childhood mysteries.
When I was a wee nipper, there were signs that dotted the landscape of my town up and down Highway 41. See Ruby Falls. As a child I always wondered what it meant. As I sat in the car waiting for my mother to come back from paying for her gas (before the days where one could simply pay at the pump) I would stare out the back window of the car at one such sign. I’d lay in the front window of the used bookstore in town while my mom talked to the shop owner, and I read the latest Charlie Brown’s Encyclopedia volume the shop got in – and often we’d be there all day. I’d lay there with my new book, my lunch and my drink, and watch the trains go by. Some of the cars plastered with red and white paint declaring VISIT RUBY FALLS. On our way into a local vegetable market, nestled between a dense patch of pine trees and a steep hill, I’d look up to the hilltop only to see again the big red and white sign… SEE RUBY FALLS.
I didn’t know anyone who even knew what Ruby Falls was. The only words I ever heard were about a tourist trap. But I was too young to understand what that meant. The phrase tourist trap always inspired fear and dread as I imagined a great Venus Fly-trap creature, eating people who came to see it. Burping up fishing hats, Bermuda shorts, and sunglasses. Anyone else who tried to puzzle it out figured, rightly, it was likely some third or fourth rate attraction that didn’t matter at all.
But that did not deter my imagination from firing questions that during that age I longed to have answered.
Where is Ruby Falls? What is Ruby Falls? Is it a waterfall made up of rubies? Who is Ruby and why is she falling so much? Where did the rubies come from? Was it pirate booty? If there were a ruby falls, was there a sapphire falls? A diamond falls? Did they have sandwiches there? Was it a big waterfall or a little one? Did it have fish? Could I eat the fish? Was it real rubies or fake rubies like what momma got from Avon? Could I go swimming in it?
There were so many more over the years that I’ve forgotten most of them. But every time I saw one of those signs, I had to wonder, with eyes wide and mind cranking away, what the big mystery about Ruby Falls was, and why I had to go see it so badly.
I never did get to go. I might still someday, as while searching for a picture of one of the signs for this post, I learned it’s still in operation. I had to question that, though, before simply because all of the signs in my town are gone. They disappeared. Nothing sat in their place for a very long time until as if overnight the words SEE ROCK CITY appeared in dark blue and white.
I realized, when I first noticed that all of the old places that heralded the great mystery that had been Ruby Falls had been replaced, that I don’t recall when I lost that sense of wonder I had as a child. I suppose it was a gradual loss. We all go through the change. Some sooner, some later. Some more, some less. But we all do. It’s part of the process of becoming an adult. Many who come to the same realization try to seek out what is lost to the passages of time, only to find they can never have that time back. They’ll never see the world through the eyes of a child again, because that’s not how growing up works. But we can learn through the loss of our own wonderment to teach our children to imagine. Teach them to look at the world with fresh eyes, and never to stop asking questions. No matter how silly those questions may be.
So, as I sit and lament the fact that the signs for Ruby Falls have been completely replaced with an equally ambiguous sign saying SEE ROCK CITY, there’s still one thing that bothers me, and will likely always bother me in the wee hours of the morning…
Who is Ruby, and why is she always falling down so much?