The earliest memory that I have is being pushed in my stroller at Disney World. I was three years old and I remember looking down on the ground and seeing orange and red shapes of Mickey Mouse on the sidewalk. Looking up, I squinted because the sun was in my face and I lifted both my arms to shield my eyes. That’s when I felt the stroller stop and my godfather’s face tower over me. His head blocked the sun and the last thing I remember is his deep voice saying my name.
Years later when I returned to Disney with my parents, I realized we had been walking towards the castle on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom in that early memory. Unfortunately, that’s all I remember from that first trip (I WAS only three after all). My mom has told me a few things, but even she can’t remember details. We stayed at the Contemporary and even though almost everything else is fuzzy for her, she remembers when I first met Mickey Mouse, I looked almost catatonic. I didn’t cry like she was afraid I would, nor did I laugh as my godfather predicted. No doubt Mickey was probably doing his best baby/toddler tricks that he is trained to do such as waving or playing hide and seek, but I was an unmoved baby. I simply stared at him, still and open-mouthed. Now my mother claims that he was bewitching me in that moment and who knows? Maybe he was. I gently poked his nose and that was that.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that my mother decided to take me again. I think it was because I had just endured a horrible summer at day camp and the working mom in her felt guilty for not spending enough quality time with me. It was during The Magic Kingdom’s 25th anniversary and the castle resembled a big pink birthday cake. Sadly, time and my lack of journal entries has somewhat robbed me of these memories as well, but I do remember little things. I remember dragging my mother and stepfather to every single store in each park while I carefully perused the aisles for what was to be my daily souvenir. (I was told that I was allowed only one a day, yet would walk away with a couple of bags. I had only child syndrome). I remember it pouring on our day at Epcot and my mother insisting I wear that obnoxious yellow poncho (yet somehow my parents got away with simply using an umbrella) and I will always remember my mother’s delighted expression when we went on what is now her favorite ride – Small World.
I just have to comment on the green outfit. I was in a matching faze and my mom thought the lime green would be easier to spot in a crowd. I was a hit with Peter Pan. I will not apologize for my Nautica fanny pack though. You know you want one too.
So I admit making my parents wait an hour on the sidewalk for the 3 o’clock Magic Kingdom anniversary parade. It was different from anything else because each section of the parade created a magic moment with guests. My family and I were parked in front of The Little Mermaid float and when some cast members asked for volunteers from the crowd, I didn’t hesitate (the word shy wasn’t in my vocabulary). They ushered a bunch of kids into the center of the street and we did the limbo as “Under The Sea” played. Although the cast members kept singing, “How low can you go,” they still helped a few of us cheat a bit. Afterwards I got an Ariel sticker to which I proudly put inside my autograph book.
Throughout the trip, I skipped a lot, ate too much Mickey-shaped ice cream, was amazed at how beautiful Ariel was when I met her at Ariel’s Grotto and (of course) I will always remember the look on my stepfather’s face when he realized that he forgot what character parking lot we left the car in.
While I did get to meet Mickey for the second time, it was my encounter with Goofy that stands out in my mind. A character meet and greet had been set up in what is now going to be the spot for The Little Mermaid ride in the Magic Kingdom. My parents had sent me in with my trusty autograph book and because it was so crowded and my mother’s feet were killing her, I told her to go take a seat and I would meet them on the other side. Standing in line alone, I carefully chose which page each character would sign. There was a specific order according to my favorites. (The first page was saved for Belle or the Beast, but ultimately given to Aladdin and Jasmine when I couldn’t find them.) When I walked up to Goofy, I smiled and said hello. He did his usual silly wave, shook my hand vigorously and signed my book. Looking down at his signature, he wrote, “To Michelle.” I froze because I had no idea how he knew my name! My parents weren’t with me. I didn’t say, “Hey Goofy! My name is Michelle! Make sure to put in two L’s, OK?” I ran away from him and when I told my parents what happened, genuinely scared, my mom just laughed and my stepfather said that he was a great guesser. I’ve stayed away from Goofy ever since.
Even though I’ve been back to Walt Disney World many times as both a guest and a cast member, I think the most important memory of Disney I have was when I was three, which I think is funny because it’s my very first one. To me, it’s the most momentous because I’ve spent my life chasing after it. I’ve searched for that initial feeling of wonder that I got from Mickey Mouse sidewalks and the security of my godfather shielding me from the sun and saying my name in a way that calmed me. And even though I don’t remember it so clearly, I am always looking for that one thing that renders me speechless as meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time did. I want to be in awe of something. I want to feel amazed and touched by some magic.
I sometimes feel like the older I get, the harder it becomes to experience anything blindly, without worry or suspicion. I want to go back to being that girl whose hand automatically shot up when cast members were asking for volunteers even though she had no idea what they were going to make her do. Disney offers me glimpses of that fearless girl and every time I think of her, she reminds me to take a chance every now and then.After all, adventure is out there.