Disney Mystique: Part 1

There was a time…

My life started out in the Navy. My father had escaped small-town Iowa by becoming a career sailor in 1959 when he graduated high school. He traveled around the world and ended up in Dunoon, Scotland, where he met my mother while he was stationed in the Holy Loch.

Life was pretty good up until about the age of four. I remember huge chunks of that life. My earliest memory is me, being whisked onto my mother’s lap while a camera takes a picture of the three of us. I was scooped up from a chair, my older brother was pulled in tight, and the flash bulb went off, embedding the episode in my gray matter forever.

We went from Maryland to Iowa (for a tiny sojourn, as opposed to the later exile), and off to Guam for two years, where we lived on a naval base. I had a Captain Crunch t-shirt, beautiful clothes from Sears (even then, the costumer lived), and a generally happy life in our typhoon proof home.

My father did two tours of duty in Viet Nam. It was the case then that after two tours of duty, a sailor rotated out for a tour, but Viet Nam was special, and Dad was offered a third tour of duty. This time, in a little 4-man boat going up and down rivers.

My dad decided in 1969 that his career with the navy was over. We went to California while he left, and then we returned to Iowa, where we reverted to the traditional dysfunctions of my mother and my father’s family. Upon retrospection, I see this decision as critical to my life thereafter. Things were very different pre- and post-Navy. Of course, my parents would have been my parents, regardless of where they were, but I see the Navy days as halcyon, my mother sane, my father that nice man who smelled of soap who visited sometimes.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about Disney. And I have to give you that background, so you can begin to understand my fascination.

As we left California and returned home to Iowa, I sat in the plane with my mother, Mrs. Beasley in my lap. I loved traveling. I loved the smell of diesel fuel, and the little trays of bad food, all of it. My mother pointed out the window. “Look,” she said. “See those lights down there? That’s Disneyland.”

There was a sea of sparkles and lights out the window as I looked down on diminishing California. I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful in my four-year old’s experience. This was coupled with the fact that at that time, I couldn’t see (I would begin wearing glasses at five), so the whole thing took on a gauzy, fairy-tale experience.

“Some day we’ll all go there,” said my mother.

And of course, I believed that. Because everything my mother ever had told me had happened.

I wanted to be part of that. It ignited my imagination. It activated my wish circuit. I already knew Mary Poppins lived there. And Cinderella and Malificent. I wanted to be there too.

Then we went to Murray. Iowa can be a wonderful place to live. Murray probably could have been as well, except I was in my family. There were two Holy Grails of my childhood: the idea that we would visit my grandparents in Scotland (we did this once) and the idea that we would go to Disneyland. Later, I would have been equally happy with Disney World.

Neither of these trips happened. Of course not. We were terribly poor. I didn’t believe I was entitled to go there. I wished for it. I saw it on television, and thought how cool the experience would be. I was always haunted by the image below, from the plane. In retrospect, I am so very glad we didn’t take my dysfunctional family into what would have been a day of dissatisfying fights and pressures to Disney. But as a kid, it was a dream unfulfilled. I would try to fill in that magic in other ways. It’s one of the reasons I started writing stories–to escape to that magic place I imagined when I was small.

In college, I met Bryon. His family, while honorable, was very poor. He had never gone to Disney either. He had this thing about adventuring, about Captain Nemo, about the Haunted Mansion. The two of us knew, when we could finally afford it, we were going to Disney World.

Next up: Young people in love visit the Haunted Mansion.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Disney Mystique: Part 1”

  1. This is one of the most beautiful entries I have ever read. You have a real gift for writing ( as if I haven’t said that before!

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