Last week I got to go to Disney World with my family. It was literally a dream-come-true visit because we got to stay at the Grand Floridian, something I have been dreaming of since they announced they were building it. I could write, a probably will, a ton about what we did and how much fun it was, but today I am going to focus on the power of memory and its effect on me every time I find myself at Disney.
Many years ago, when I was about 9, and Disney was a much younger park, I was surprised by my grandmother with a trip to Disney World with her. I couldn't believe my good fortune. As excited as I was to be going on a plane (my first), staying in a hotel (another first), and of course seeing Disney World, what really had me happy was the chance to spend four whole days alone with the person I loved best in the world. The idea that for that entire vacation I would would be with my grandmother and that the shifting sands of my life would be solid was more than I could hope for.
It was an amazing trip. This was before deregulation of the airlines and you dressed up for a flight and got fancy food during your flight (my first experience with honeydew melon). Nobody frisked you or irradiated you prior to flying, and it all seemed so glamorous. We visited Disney World when there were only two hotels and both were on the monorail, there was only the Magic Kingdom, and there were still e-ticket rides (and e-ticket had nothing to do with e-mail, electronics, or technology). We stayed at the Polynesian long before Lilo and Stitch checked in and indulged in a luau with Polynesian dancers and entertainers. I woke up early, swam in the pool in the afternoons, wandered the park in bliss, and was dazzled by the Main Street Electric Light Parade. One night, we watched fireworks from the monorail as we returned to our hotel for the night. It was bliss, the entire time. What a glorious time we had, enjoying each others company and making each other laugh.
I knew then it was important to me, that I would remember it the rest of my life, and that it was an incredibly large gift from my adored grandmother to me. What I had no way of knowing is that it would be so important to me that every time I go to Disney World I am left weeping tears of joy as I remember and relive that gift from so long ago. Yes, even today, 35 years since I went with my grandmother I dissolve into happy tears when I arrive and do it regularly until I check out. I cry when I see the Polynesian, the monorail, the Castle. I cry when I ride the Haunted Mansion (my favorite), the Pirates of the Caribbean (grandma's favorite), the People Mover, or the Carousel of Progress. Now that they have reinstated the classic Main Street Electric Light Parade, I watched that through a blurry haze of tears too.
Make no mistake, these are tears of pure and unadulterated joy and gratitude. For me, the "happiest place on Earth," is just a little more happy, a little more full. The power of my memories of how happy I was on that trip amplify the happiness I feel whenever I am there. There are moments when I am sure I feel my grandmother's arm on mine, her hand on my shoulder, her smile on my face.
I don't think she had any idea of the magnitude of her gift that summer. To her, I am sure, it was a chance to see a place she really wanted to see and to share it with a beloved granddaughter. She knew it meant a great deal to me, but neither of us could foresee how the gift would just continue on and one through the years.
This last trip proved no less powerful. Here I was, staying at the most beautiful resort Disney has to offer, a dream come true and I was most enchanted by the view out our window. If you haven't guessed, our window perfectly framed the Great Ceremonial House of the Polynesian, along with a view of the sandy beach I watched the water parade from with my grandmother. Every night, I could hear the call and music of the luau drift across the lagoon. It was as if the staff of the Grand Floridian knew just how to make my dream-come-true trip just a little dreamier. In case you are wondering, I cried. Soft, happy tears full of memory and love.
Thanks grandma and thanks to Disney....