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Visiting the Ghosts of Good Times Gone

March 14, 2010

Disneyland is a work of love We didn’t go into Disneyland wjust with the idea of making money.
• Walt Disney

I’m hoping to visit my hometown this week. I was born in Springfield, Illinois, but I don’t consider it my hometown. I’ve spent time in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, California, Georgia, and Oregon, but none of the multiple towns I’ve lived in in those states is home for me. My family has scattered. No one lives where they used to. There’s no ancestral homestead to visit if your family moved and moved and moved again. And again. And again.

My hometown is Disneyland. And yes, I know it’s spawned a bajillion commercialized opportunities for parents to waste money on things that kids would be better off without (please don’t get me started on the whole princess thing), it’s still my hometown, the one mostly unchanging place in my peripatetic years.

I first came to southern California when there were still orange groves in the hills above Santa Ana, when I could ride my bike safely for miles, and when the highways were not yet the multi-level monstrosities they’ve become. The small town I lived in in Georgia is almost unrecognizable two decades after I left it. Progress has turned just about everywhere I’ve lived into unfamiliar territory. You truly can’t go home again—whatever once was has often been rendered unrecognizable by the creeping sameness that afflicts much of the country.

Five years ago, my husband and I took a sabbatical trip so that I could collect additional data for my research into fun in learning. We traveled for more than two months in our van—12,000 miles on back roads across the United States and back—and even though we avoided interstate highways whenever possible, there were many times even in rural areas when we could have been anyplace and everyplace.

The same big box stores with the same architecture and the same satellite restaurants can be found from sea to shining sea, although the architecture seems to divide itself into two primary influences: colonial and Spanish. The east features mostly columned and bricked colonial and the west loves faux stucco and red tile. Mostly. There’s overlap and the occasional outlier of cheaply fashioned modernity.

But then there’s Disneyland. It’s true that it’s changed over the years. Lands and attractions and rides have been added and some of my favorites have disappeared: Captain Nemo’s submarine, the one you could walk through from the movie, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; the PeopleMover; and Peter Pan’s Pirate Ship (not the ride, but the actual ship that you could walk onto), the place where we cousins often used to eat the peanut butter sandwiches mom and Aunt Mildred smuggled into the park since feeding all us kids Disney food was a budget-breaker.

But here’s what’s the same: that feeling of anticipation as I hand over my ticket and spot Mickey Mouse’s flowered face with the Main Street train station above him. The delight of rounding the corner and seeing Main Street stretching ahead with Sleeping Beauty’s castle at the end. Knowing that the benches near the Mexican restaurant where four generations of my family have waited for one another are still our “if we get separated from one another” meeting place that looks the same after all these years.

Riding “It’s a Small World,” Grandma Wilkins’ favorite ride, is an homage to the woman who loved us all and spent much of her time at the park sitting somewhere with whichever child was too small to ride on whatever it was the older kids wanted to ride on. Everywhere I turn at Disneyland there are memories of my brothers and sisters, my cousins, my children, my mother, my aunt, my grandmother. My family lurks on the rides, in restaurants and shops, and on the paths that lead from one land to another.

It is these memories—the ghosts of good times gone—that make this place my hometown. It is the anticipation of creating new memories with those I love that keeps me going back.

Where is home for you? When you need to renew your spirit, where do you go?

I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want them to feel they’re in another world.
• Walt Disney

Note: My postings will be erratic since my access to technology will not be reliable this week. I’ll still be writing, but as always when I’m traveling, I’ll get it posted as I get connected.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Zinn. So nice to read your voice. Love you,Pravina


    • Lovely to see your name on the incoming! Hope all is well with you. Z



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