When I was very young, my grandparents moved to Florida. They lived not too far from Walt Disney World, so when we went down to visit them we’d generally go to the parks as well. As I grew up, my family ended up making the trip multiple times a year, driving from Massachusetts to Florida during school vacations, and we’d all go to Walt Disney World together. It was a pretty big part of my childhood, and (given that I write this blog) it’s safe to say that it has affected my adult life as well. I ended up going to college in Orlando, became a cast member for a bit at the Disney/MGM Studios park, and much more recently had a magical Walt Disney World honeymoon.
In 2008, my grandfather passed away, and early last year my grandmother did as well. This led to a trip down to Florida in order to collect their things, which resulted in me “adopting” a treasure trove of Disney merchandise that they had collected over many years.
So in this post, I’m going to share photos of some of that Disney stuff. It’s personal, but it’s also a collection of history and a showcase of their love for the parks.
My grandfather was one of those types who made silly little jokes (as much to amuse himself as anyone around him) and he was prone to making the same ones over and over again. One of his favorites involved the speakers that were “hidden” in the plants and flowers to play ambient music in the parks. When we’d pass a spot with some foliage, from which music was softly playing, he’d always say something about wanting to grow musical plants at home and wondering what sort of seeds he’d need to do that. It was a fairly constant thing for years, to the point that I’ve caught myself doing it when I’m in the parks.
Back when my brother and I were really young, one of us had a hard time pronouncing the “s” in Disney. So when we said it, it came out like “Di-ney”. As a result, this was the way my grandparents said it for years (long after we could quite easily pronounce the word properly). We’d be at their house for a visit, and when we were planning to go out to the parks they’d say that we were “going to Di-ney”. Every now and again, as an adult, I still have to stop myself from doing the same, just because they did it so much and it became a “thing” among the family.
One day, my girlfriend and I took my grandmother to EPCOT. By this point, she needed a wheelchair for this sort of outing, so we rented one and wandered around the park. We got to Test Track, which was in its first iteration and still sort of new, and we hadn’t ever ridden it before. I wanted to check it out, but didn’t want to leave my grandmother (she couldn’t handle a ride like that), so assumed that I’d have to wait for another chance. She insisted that we go on it, though. We found a nearby seating area shaded by an umbrella, parked her in her wheelchair, and went on the ride. As we exited, we saw the seating area… but no grandmother. We looked around frantically (she didn’t have the upper body strength to really move herself around) and I was panicking. Well, as it turns out, the exit to Test Track was around the side of the building, a bit out of sight from the entrance, and there was an identical-looking seating area by each. We were looking in the wrong spot, but didn’t realize it for a bit. We circled around, eventually came to the entrance and the seating area that we did leave her at, and sure enough she was right where we had left her. Which is good, as I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to my mom that we had somehow managed to lose her mom. We obviously felt a little silly after that, though my grandmother (and my mom) thought it was hilarious.
Over the last few years, when my wife and I would go to the parks we’d set aside some time to meet with my grandmother (as well as the friends of the family that she lived with). Generally, if we were staying on property they would come out on some afternoon or evening during our trip, meet us at Disney Springs, and we’d eat together at Wolfgang Puck Express or Earl of Sandwich and then wander around for a bit. The thing is, the dinner (wherever we ate) was just the appetizer for my grandmother’s favorite part of the meal: ice cream. Going to Ghirardelli and getting a sundae was pretty much a required part of the outing.
My grandparents enjoyed the rides and the characters, but they were particularly fond of the live shows. When we weren’t around and doing a family trip thing (which would generally involve rides and characters) they would often head out to the parks to catch something at the America Gardens Theatre in EPCOT or the Marketplace stage at Disney Springs. They also just liked the ambience of the parks, and one of my grandfather’s favorite things was to sit on a bench and watch people go by. If some of our party wanted to go on a thrill ride, or spend some time in a store, he was perfectly content to relax and observe the crowds. He also (because he was kind of a dirty old man at times) was occasionally heard to remark that when it rained it was like “watching a wet T-shirt contest”.
I’m a Disney stockholder because of my grandparents. Many years ago, they bought both my brother and myself one share of Disney stock each. I don’t know if my brother still has his or of he’s since sold them, but I now have something like twelve shares that I actually keep a casual eye on. Not that I’d ever get rid of them, but it’s neat to watch the ebb and flow of the numbers (I know next to nothing about stocks). Mostly I just think it’s neat that I’ve got shares in Disney. I know that when they first bought us the shares they also got colorful stock certificates with our names on them, which were framed and hung on their wall for a long time, but sadly I haven’t come across them and have no idea where they ended up. They don’t give out those certificates anymore (though I think you can buy them) and it’s the one thing that I was actively searching for when going through the collection. I’m kind of hoping that it turns up eventually.
These items are not only a showcase of Disney history, but a collection gathered over many years by two people who loved the parks. Whether it was going on rides or watching shows, eating at the restaurants or just soaking up the ambience, they enjoyed Walt Disney World.
I miss them, but I have many fond memories of our time together. Many of those include Walt Disney World, and this collection of items represents not only their fondness for the parks but a physical representation of that time together. When I look at the pins, or the pictures, I’ll remember two people who believed in a bit of Disney magic, and from whom I inherited a love of pixie dust.