Jason Davis: Making lifelong memories just takes a little time

Apr. 07, 2014 @ 12:17 AM

March 21 was an amazing day for me, perhaps one of my best as a parent.

As a member of Leadership Sevier’s Leadership Tomorrow program, I was afforded a spot at an early preview of Dollywood’s 2014 season. The invitation said I could bring one guest. Making that choice was easy.

My son, Rogan, is 4 years old and loves everything about firefighting.

For the last two years, he’s been enthralled by all things fire service related — from the British kids TV show “Fireman Sam” to documentary programs on firefighting to visiting our area fire departments. He even remembers the specific volunteer firefighter, by name, that showed up to a traffic accident my father-in-law had in Seymour when he was a passenger.

So figuring out who I’d take with me for a first ride on Dollywood’s new FireChaser Express was a no-brainer.

A tip of the cap to old-school volunteer fire services, the new ride hearkens passengers to the Appalachian fire brigades of old with its decor and on-ride storyline about “Crazy” Charlie Cherribaum and his troublesome gas station and fireworks emporium. It’s also designed to be family-friendly, allowing kids 39-inches tall and up to ride with their parents and older siblings.

Rogan has talked about the ride since it was announced last year, saying how he wanted to ride it when it opened, despite the fact that he’s never ridden anything even approaching FireChaser’s size and scope. Shoot, he wouldn’t even ride the kiddie coaster in the park’s country fair section.

But he’d often requested to watch the preview video Dollywood had up online of the FireChaser, and, I figured, he understood exactly what he was requesting.

About a week prior to the day of the event, I broke the news to him that we’d soon be in line for new ride.

He was thrilled.

Our “boys’ day” was looked upon with great anticipation. Each night after I’d get home he’d express his gusto, asking “Are we going to Dollywood tomorrow?” By the time Friday rolled around, the excitement in the air was palpable.

Wearing his FDNY T-shirt from the New York City Fire Museum, we got in the car and headed to Pigeon Forge to make some memories.

I’d be untruthful if I didn’t say I thought he’d be a little intimidated when we actually saw the coaster, but when we saw the giant, family-friendly ride, he was anything but scared. He was almost jumping out of his skin with eagerness to board.

After we actually boarded the ride, however, things changed a bit. FireChaser Express is, after all, a roller coaster. After the first hard curve, he was clinging to my arm like his life depended on it. I constantly reminded him throughout the ride that he was OK, however, and we made it through, somehow.

As I told a few parents of similarly-sized kids in the park, the only thing that excited him more than getting on FireChaser was getting off of FireChaser. Still, he was thrilled to have ridden it, and has already said he wants to ride it again — when he’s 5.

After a few rides on the bumper cars, which are much more his speed, I took him to another fire-themed attraction — one that’s been around since I was his age, Blazing Fury.

Unlike many of us, who’ve ridden the ride dozens of times over the decades, he’d never experienced it. Seeing his reaction to the dated animatronic characters and dark tunneled drops was a highlight of the day. And it was a ride he said he’d do again on our next trip to the park.

We then left Dollywood earlier than normal and went home to watch the Tennessee-Mercer NCAA Tournament game, which was great, and then played about a half-hour of hoops on his Little Tykes goal before bed.

It was a very special day. As a busy working father, there aren’t many times my son and I get a day of one-on-one, father-son time.

That night as I tucked him in, the typical “I love you, dad” meant just a little more.

It wasn’t the places we’d gone or the things we’d done that made the day special. It was the time. Honest to goodness time together, enjoying each other’s company. As my only child grows up, I look forward to more days like that one.