The Central Park carousel had been missing something for a while.
Ever since Harriet the Rabbit was stolen in 2006, never to be seen again, there’s been a gap, an empty space, among the whimsical animals that populate the Flying Carousel of the Delta Breeze.
Rachel Peres remarked on it when she visited the carousel a few years ago with her young children.
“She talked about how unfortunate it was,” said her mom, Linda Brant, a longtime Davis resident who teaches at the Davis School for Independent Study.
“She wondered if they could afford to replace it — if we all went in on it,” Brant recalled.
But a couple of years passed, and there was no replacement. Not until last week anyway, when the hole left by Harriet’s theft was finally filled. And it was filled thanks to Rachel.
Bill Dentzel, the original carousel maker, returned to Davis to install his latest hand-made creation in Harriet’s old spot: a bright green sea turtle. Hanging amid the older, well-worn carousel animals, the sea turtle stands out as the brightest and shiniest of the lot. But even when time and weather and children take their toll as they have on the other animals, the sea turtle will always stand out for Brant and her family.
The reason is there in the small brass plaque affixed to the shell of the turtle: “In loving memory of Rachel Brant Peres.”
Rachel, who grew up in Davis — attending North Davis Elementary School, Holmes Junior High and Davis High School — died in October at the age of 39 after a 20-month battle with leukemia. She left behind her husband of 12 years, Rob, as well as her son, Evan, now 8, and daughter Kate, 5. The family lives in San Jose.
As donations poured in from friends and relatives in the wake of her death, Rachel’s family decided to create two memorials in her honor, both in Davis. One is a bench near the playground in Northstar Park, not far from Brant’s house and within sight of the soccer fields where Rachel played as a girl.
The other is the sea turtle now hanging at the carousel.
Rob Peres chose the turtle, Brant said, because of how much his wife loved the sea turtles in Hawaii.
She also loved children, “and having the turtle at the carousel for children to enjoy would make her very happy,” Brant said. “It would bring a smile to her face.”
Watching Evan and Kate on Wednesday would no doubt have brought a smile to their mother’s face as well.
They came to Davis for Picnic in the Park and their first chance to ride the new sea turtle.
The carousel was being run that day by DSIS, so Brant and her colleagues, as well as parents and students, were on hand to take donations and provide the pedal power. As they did, Evan and Kate, as well as their cousins Josie and Finley Brant of Woodland, took turns riding the sea turtle.
On the way up in the car, their great-aunt Mary Dee Dickerson said, Evan quietly figured out that the next day, June 13, would mark eight months since his mother died. Kate has already figured out her mom would be 40 now.
“They’re doing well,” Dickerson said of the children. “As well as can be expected.”
They were laughing and smiling with their cousins as they rode the carousel on Wednesday, but their grandmother wonders how long they’ll be content riding a pedal-powered carousel, especially since just the day before, they were enjoying the thrill of upside-down roller coasters at an amusement park.
But when they do feel too big to ride the carousel, they will still have the bench.
“Rob and I thought someday, if they want to just go sit on the bench and think about their mom, they could,” Brant said. “(Rachel) spent many hours at the Northstar playground and the memorial bench is in the exact spot where we sat, talked and watched the kids over the last few years.
“She was a creative, patient and loving mom,” Brant added. “I’m grateful for the many memorial donations from friends and family that made the turtle and bench a reality.”
The Davis Schools Foundation, which oversees the Central Park carousel, plans to hold a dedication and celebration in Rachel’s memory later this summer. Family and friends will be invited, and there is sure to be many of both in attendance.
Rachel was a self-described “Air Force brat” who lived in five states before the family settled in Davis in 1981. She loved sports and played both varsity soccer and volleyball for Davis High before graduating in 1991. She went on to earn a degree in communications from Santa Clara University in 1995 and married Rob Peres in 2000.
After her diagnosis with leukemia in February 2011, Rachel started a blog on Caringbridge.org, drawing thousands of visits — some from complete strangers — who came back again and again thanks to her alternately witty and moving writing.
For a year and a half she chronicled her life: the effects of cancer treatment — from hair loss to chemo brain — and the ups and downs, misery and occasional hilarity of life in the cancer treatment ward. There was the sadness over missing her daughter’s birthday — and missing her children in general — the relief of remission and the heartbreak of relapse. Readers commented that her entries frequently left them laughing and crying at the same time.
Rachel had hopes of turning the blog into a book, her mom said, a book about surviving cancer.
That was not to be, but her words left an impact nonetheless, including through the many people who donated blood and signed up for the national bone marrow registry thanks to her repeated requests.
Now her memory will live on: in her family and friends; in a comfortable resting place in Northstar Park; and in the form of a bright, colorful sea turtle, carrying smiling child after smiling child around and around on the Flying Carousel of the Delta Breeze.
Read Rachel’s blog at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/rachelperes
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy