December 17, 2007

From Dawn until Dancing

In November of 2003, my wife and I took our two children to Disney World in Florida. This vacation was planned well in advance, and my children were allowed to make up the school work they missed while they were away when they returned from our dream vacation. My son was almost five years old and my daughter was eight years of age. The anticipation they felt was almost unbearable, and when we left to drive down to Orlando from Long Island, New York (a drive I will never make again) we felt that something wonderful was going to happen.

My wife is the most organized person I know. She did more research on Walt Disney World than I anyone I ever knew who planned a trip there. There are countless websites on Disney, each with a treasure trove of information from obscure trivia, to where the best places to find the characters hanging around are. With our itinerary in hand, it took us a little over a day to get to the park and check into our hotel, in spite of a tire blow-out we had in Baltimore on the way. Not letting that mishap ruin the mood, we settled into our All Star Movies Resort hotel room and unpacked in a hurry.

The entire week we were there we got to experience all of the rides, meet the characters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and visit all of the parks and swim in the pools. On the last full day before we were to leave for home the next morning, we decided to toss our plans aside and just do whatever came naturally. That meant no rushing to get to restaurants, or standing on the curb for an hour or more to see a parade, or hopping the monorail to make it to some event by a certain hour. We were free, and very relaxed. By late afternoon, my wife mentioned that we should go to the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom because her brother told her about it and he thought the food was good. We mentioned it to the kids and they didn’t care, so we went off down Main Street to find the restaurant which is across from the Hall of Presidents.

Inside, it wasn’t crowded, but we still had to wait a short while. Since we were under no time constraints, my wife and I were happy to sit on the benches and chat and look around at the d├ęcor. Then, we noticed that our daughter was crying. ‘What’s the matter sweety?” my wife asked.

My daughter continued to cry, not loud, and my wife asked again. “Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” My daughter looked up at her.
It’s just that tomorrow we’re going to leave, and this is our last day here, and we’re not going to come back for a really long time.” She spoke in that hiccup-like voice kids have when they sob and talk at the same time. At that moment, one of the waiters came over and spoke to her.

Why are you crying little girl?” he asked. “There’s no crying in the Magic Kingdom. This is the happiest place on Earth.” There’s a reason why Disney calls their employees “cast members.” This guy was doing a great job of acting he and came to our rescue.

You come with me,” he said “Sit down and have a great, big dinner with your mommy and daddy and your little brother.” Like a scout leader, he turned and led the way as my befuddled daughter and my son trekked behind him obediently to a room off to the side. My wife and I shrugged and followed along. He seated us at a table by a railing which overlooked another dining area a step or two lower than we were, offering a nice vantage point.

Are you still crying dear? This is the Magic Kingdom, and there is magic everywhere…” he said, and then he sprinkled “magic pixie dust” as he called it all over out table with his hand held high above his head, smiling triumphantly. On our plates and cutlery were hundreds of tiny, multicolored Mickey heads. That gesture got the children laughing. He leaned over to me as my children were playing with the pixie dust and asked me my daughter’s name and for the correct spelling.

Then, he left the table, and moments later he returned with a special certificate for our daughter. “This is an official ‘Magical Moment’ just for you.” he announced as he handed our wide eyed girl the placard. It was the size of college diploma, and printed on heavy, stock paper. “This is a magical moment you keep for the rest of your life.” After the presentation, he smiled and walked away.

The magical man left us for good and in the capable hands of a fellow server who hailed from Long Island where we live. He took excellent care of us, and we were visited by all of the characters. I took so many photos and video, that we ran out of film and my video camera’s batteries were almost spent. After our meal and dessert, one of the characters, Meeko, the raccoon from Pocahontas, escorted us from our table all the way outside and bid us adieu.

Before we left, the waiter pulled me aside gave me two birthday cards, each signed by every character we met that evening: Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Meeko, Chip and Dale, Pluto, and “all of the folks at the Liberty Tree Tavern” and he told me to give them to the kids on their birthdays and tell them that the cards were from them. What a guy. Needless to say, both he and the other “magic” server both received generous tips.

Outside, we could barely contain ourselves and our good fortune. Our daughter not only wasn’t crying, but both she and my son couldn’t stop laughing.

My wife noted that the fireworks display was set to go off in front of Cinderella’s Castle within the next hour or so. We decided just to walk over and hang out until the show. The sun was low in the sky and we sat near the front of the castle with other families who were taking in the scenery and relaxing after a day of running around. Soon, the area was full of hundreds of others vying for a good view of the fireworks. Music was playing over those mysterious, hidden speakers which Disney hides in the shrubbery, and it was cool outside. My wife and I sat back on our hands feeling satisfied.

Look at them;” she said “they’re so happy.” There they were, our two kids dancing to the music without a care in the world. They laughed and sang, and rocked out to the tunes. I reached for the video camera and my wife took my arm.

No, no, just watch them.” She said. And, we did. Hand in hand the two of us laughed along with them as the sunlight faded and their shadows grew longer and splayed across the brick sidewalk. There was no need for video. That scene plays out in my head whenever I need to remember what it’s like to be happy. For my wife and I, that was our magical moment.

Happy Holidays from Mr. Grudge & family!

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josey said...

AWESOME, mike!! that story brought a few happy tears along with some tingly goosebumps for me :) what a perfect family moment. not only will it be something your kids remember happily their whole lives, but you and your wife also! i dont know many families who make the trek to Disney and have a story like that to tell :) you are truly blessed!!

enjoy your holidays =) may you have many more magical moments and happy memories to make in the new year!!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Josey,
Yeah, that was a good time. We went back again last year months before my mother died, and even though we had a terrific vacation, it wasn't the same experience as the first one. We even went back to The Liberty Tree Tavern to re-capture the "magic" but it seemed like just plain, old ordinary magic, if ya know what I mean. I'll still go there again; but that first time was so awesome. I'm glad you enjoyed this story. Have a very Merry Christmas, Josey, for you and your family. Stay happy and healthy. All the best to you. -Mike.

Teige Benson said...

Keep making those memories and have a great holiday season!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Teige,
Thanks, and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. -Mike.

Anonymous said...

Great story Mike. Very touching. Nicely done.

Like you I'm going to be laying low for the holiday season. So, without further adieu I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Safe, Happy New Year!

Spirit said...

Awww, what a wonderfully touching story. The happiness of a single child can set a whole forest of smiles alight. That indeed is true magick. I'm happy for you.

Mike French said...

Mike you told that story beautifully, thankyou for sharing it with us all.

I told my wife about 3 years ago, that if i ever made any money out of my book The Dandelion Tree I would take her and my 3 small kids to Disney in Florida. (We live in the UK)

Well one day. One day.

Then I hope I have a story as touching as yours.

Happy Christmas Mike: Have a good one!

Anonymous said...

Truly wonderful piece Mike. Well written as usual and very heartwarming. You've managed to capture that feeling perfectly. Well done!

I want to wish you and your family Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May this holiday season bring you bountiful joy and happiness.
All the best to you and your family dear friend.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
Thank you for you kind words. I want to wish you and your family a very, Merry Christmas too. I'll be back on Blogging Duty next week. See you then. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Spirit,
Yeah, my daughter's happiness that night certainly made everyone else happier. Thank you so much for your kindness and support, visiting my blog, reading my essays, and making thoughtful, constructive and kind comments. I look forward to continuing our blogging friendship as soon as I return from my little Christmas vacation. I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy yourself and be happy, Spirit. Thanks for stopping by. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike, my blogging friend from the UK (I knew that), My heart tells me that you will be making a lot of money from your writing, and very soon too. You have the talent and the drive to do so. You are a terrific writer, Mike; and it is my pleasure to converse with you in the blogging world. Thank you so much for supporting this blog and for the recognition you have given me. If you ever do make it to the US, ring me up, mate. I want you and your family to have very, Merry Christmas. -Mike.

Mike French said...

Thanks Mike, and re the phone call: you're on!

Happy Christmas

AntiBarbie said...

I can't wait to bring my girls there one day. I want them to have a magical time like that too. :)

I went myself when I was twelve but I was to old to enjoy it as much as a child that still believes in fantasy and allows us adults to get swept away in it too.

Kathy Frederick said...

Oh, Mike. This was a beautiful post. I got goosebumps reading it. I'm so glad you had those special moments with your family. Thank you for sharing it with us. Now I want to go back to Disney!

Have a Merry Christmas and looking forward to more posts in 2008! You are one of my favorite stops in BlogLand. Well done, my friend.

Jack Payne said...

I'm mad at your robot, Mike. I commented the other day, wishing you a Merry Christmas, and it never showed up.

Amazing what a little Pixie Dust will do, right?

A charming tale, indeed.

Jack Payne said...

I just had to come back and read "From Dawn Until Dancing" again.

Nice touch.

Kimchihead said...

It's great to hear that your kids got to enjoy their Disney experience as kids. :-) I didn't get around to Disneyland until I was 21. It didn't do a whole lot for me at that age.

Kristyn said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful memory, Mike. You nearly made me cry, not an easy feat. I hope you have the happiest of holidays. To you and yours, Merry Christmas.


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike,
Sell your book and come on over the the US! Merry Christmas! -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Antibarbie,
My family didn't take us to Disney World until I was fourteen years old. Epcot wasn't even open yet. Still, I enjoy it today because of the kids. I was in Orlando this June on business, and the company I was working with gave me and the folks I was with tickets to Epcot. I walked around, watching all of the families in their dream vacations, and I didn't have my family with me. It was a very empty feeling, like eating alone in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. I want you to have a very Merry Christmas. See you in Blogging World after the holiday. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kathy,
I am so happy to have made your acquaintance over the past few months. My wife enjoys your blog too and she shares your sense of humor. This indeed is a special memory for me, and I feel guilty sharing it because I know that there are others less fortunate than me. But, my whole life is for my family, and if they are happy, then I feel I've done my job as a parent...maybe. We've been back to Disney since then, and as much fun as we had, we never had another one of those magical moments in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle. You should definitely go back. I am sure there would be many stories to put in The Junk Drawer. I am sorry I have not been able to catch up with your blog and others this week. My dad fell ill and was hospitalized. It sucks to get old. I look forward to reading more of your fine columns in 2008! Merry Christmas! -Mike
P.S. The Santa Fireman came to our block at 10:25 PM this year...I still have welts on my face from getting hit with candy canes.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Jack,
As far as your Merry Christmas comment is dog ate it! I'm kidding. I want to thank you so much for stopping by and reading my blog posts, Jack. It means a lot to me and I want to wish you and your family a healthy and a very Merry Christmas. I'll see you after the holiday with more posts. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kimchihead,
I didn't make it to Disney until I was fourteen and there was no magic for me then, either. Bringing kids can be a hassle too. I saw a lot of families struggling with tired kids, screaming because they were hungry or scared of the rides. We were lucky and hit things just right. I want to thank you so much for stopping by my blog and taking the time to read my stores and essays. It means a lot to me. I enjoy your hard-boiled writing and your blog brings me back to my former cop-world. You should put out a book of all your posts. I will see you again after Christmas. meanwhile, have a Merry Christmas! -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kristyn,
I want you to know that I'm a fan of your blogs and that I really appreciate the fact that you come around and read what I write. It means so much to me. I want you and your family to have a very Merry Christmas. I will see you again after the holiday. -Mike.

1st Lady said...

What a lovely family moment that I'm sure the children will always remember. Have a lovely Christmas Mike, and don't overdo it the celebrations at Hogmanay ;)

The Red Stone by Craig Smith said...

Hey Mike,

Before I read your post I thought of Disney World as just a another theme park but your experience I would say it does have a little magical quality to it!

And thanks for posting on my blog :). I hope you and your family have a really good festive season too!


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi 1st Lady,
I'm glad you liked the story. I want to wish you and Lady M. a very Merry Christmas and have fun at Hogmanay too. Being an American, and specifically a tyically uninformed Long Islander, I had to look up Hogmanay to see what it means. What a great word for he end of the year. I will introduce my friends to it. I will not overdo it at Hogmany, but I will raise a glass and offer you a toast. Many thanks for visiting,
1st Lady, and a Happy new Year to you and yours. -Michael.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Craig,
Thank you so much for stopping by. I still believe that Disney is just a massive themne park; but that experience was indeed special. We've been back since then, last year in fact, and it wasn't nearly as memorable. I want to thank you for being at regular here, and next year I will do more to support my blogging friends. It has been a pleasure to make you acquaintance. Have a very, Merry christmas and a very Happy New Year! -Mike.

The Red Stone by Craig Smith said...


footiam said...

This is a delightful story, Mike. I would think it has a beautiful ending and perhaps would add another myself if this is a work of fiction. Would it be all right if I add that the head of the family decided then to bring back the magical kingdom home so that all the children at home and in the neighborhood can experience the joy of a magical world? The head, having been touched by some of the glitters, suddenly realized that he was in fact, a magician capable of creating his very own happy kingdom. A story can have two happy endings, can it not?

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Footiam,
I'm glad to welcome you back to my humble, little blog. This is a TRUE story which actually happened to me and my family. I'd be uncomfortable if someone fictionalized it and created an alternate ending. I appreciate you coming by and reading my post and I am glad you enjoyed it. Have a terrific holiday, and I will chat with you again in the new year. Merry Christmas! -Mike.

Bob Johnson said...

Awesome story!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bob,
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my post. I am glad you enjoyed it. Have a very, Merry Christmas to you and your family as well. -Mike.

Stevyn Colgan said...

And happy holidays from Merrie England! I went to Eurodisney once and it was awful ... everything was militantly in French, some angry farmers had blockaded the main gates and the typically Western European weather meant that the parade of lights was quenched by torrential rain and high winds. It's not funny trying to be a happy dancing Baloo when your costume has absorbed 30 gallons of rain! A happy new year to you and yours!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Stevyn,
Greetings from Long Island, New York. I love how you say that your visit to the Euro Disney in France being militantly French. I have nothing against the French, but they have a bizarre way about them, if you will. Just go to Cirque de Soleil and you’ll agree with me. Your story is funny and I remember seeing news reports of the protests at the Disney gates there. If you think it was rainy in Western Europe, in Orlando, Florida, it rains nearly every day; but, being a sub-tropical area, the rain comes and goes in brief showers. That is, except when we returned back in 2006, and it rained almost everyday...all day. It was amusing to watch the characters in the Main Street parade scurrying for shelter as it poured on them and lightning and thunder crackled overhead. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Stevyn. I enjoyed the Stan Laurel post I read, and I look forward to more. Have a very, happy and healthy New Year! –Michael.