You can never predict how a vacation will turn out, despite the many plans you may make. Clashing personalities, clashing schedules and unpredictable weather ensure that no year is the same. Yet there are traditions that we try to honor. Our family’s tradition is to head to the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, once my cousin arrives in town.

Every year, my parents and I drive eight hours one day and then four hours the next, before spending 45 minutes on the ferry to get here. I settle in at the house for a day or two, maybe ride bikes, paint my nails, or explore Edgartown (Murdick’s Fudge!).

And then there is the familiar sound of tires crunching on the driveway. My cousin, aunt, uncle and grandparents all arrive on the Island around the same time. My grandparents’ car is extremely neat and never has the unnecessary items we always seem to bring — things like a metal detector that we’ve never used, completely unnecessary dressy clothes and what feels like 8,000 pounds of books from home (I despise Kindles).

My grandparents arrive with a small bag each and lots of food in a cooler because they can’t bear to throw away any food out at home. My cousin comes stomping in on her three-inch heeled boots, and my aunt unloads her own unnecessary things (such as my cousin’s mini printer and clothing iron).

While the adults settle in, my cousin, my aunt and I go into town and ride the Flying Horses carousel. While at thirteen years old I feel too old for it now, when I was young the Flying Horses was one of my favorite places in the whole world.

I have been told that when I rode the horses when I was very young I didn’t smile like my cousin and afterwards everyone would always ask me if I was having fun. I always exclaimed “Yes!” but that didn’t capture my feelings correctly. My younger self confused “having fun” with “breathtaking wonder.” The lights and color intrigued me every single time, no matter how many times I went on it. There was simply too much to focus on. The sounds, the lights, the little animals in the horses’ eyes, the real manes on their backs, the intricately painted tableaus on the carousel and, of course, the golden rings. These things overloaded my senses, giving me an experience like no other —an almost magical experience.

My cousin was braver than me and maybe more competitive — she went on the big horses a good two years before I dared to. Or maybe it wasn’t fear. I knew the horses had little leather straps to prevent you from falling off. Maybe I just liked the comfort and wanted everything to stay the way it had always been. My cousin wasn’t like that. She spent her childhood wanting to grow up and learn new things, while I spent mine clinging on for dear life. Every year, fewer and fewer kids wanted to play imagination games with me at recess, but the carousel would forever be a sort of magical realm like the ones that I dreamed up.

When the pandemic began, I was forced to give this tradition up, as I could not go to the carousel for fear of catching Covid. It has been two years since I rode the carousel and I’m no longer a little girl. I miss it and desperately wish to ride on it again. Next year, I hope I can recapture the magic that has delighted me since I was young and ride the Flying Horses once more.

Elle Ruggiero will be 14 years old in November. She lives in Edgartown and Arlington, Va.