When I was 6 or 7 my grandparents took two of my cousins and me (and, our moms) to Disney World. For part of the trip, I was sick – not sick enough to not be in the parks, just sick enough to have no energy. My youngest cousin refused to let me ride in her stroller when I got tired, so my Pappy carried me everywhere. I don’t remember very much about that trip, but I do remember him holding me.
I also remember sitting next to him in the Tiki Room and hearing him sing along. He’s never had a good voice.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is being in Disney World with him and going on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’ve always been small for my age, so this was my first “big girl” roller coaster. I remember standing in line and watching the train speed around the tracks and hearing those tracks rattle as it moved around. I remember clutching his hand and thinking that I didn’t think anything could go as fast as that train.
I was terrified.
I was terrified, but determined to do it. Pappy had been talking about this ride and promised that I would love it. He would never lie to me, I knew (and, still know). My Pappy, the strongest man in the world, would make sure I was safe.
I remember getting into the train car next to him. I remember him putting his arm around me and scooting me closer. I remember his telling me to hold on tight.
And, I remember him smiling from ear to ear.
We took off into the darkness of the mine. I remember getting splashed by water and screaming and we started to pick up speed. I remember looking over at him as we emerged from the mine and seeing his face filled with joy. I remember that, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore.
And, I remember him looking at me and laughing. I remember that I started laughing, too.
It could have been yesterday: my Pappy and I, him in his brown polo shirt and with his arm around me, racing around a Disney-made mountain and smiling and laughing like we didn’t know how to stop.
Now, my Disney memories are made with The Dude, something I love and would never change. Still, a part of me will always miss being there with my grandfather; I miss seeing that wonder in his eyes as he sees a new show or rides a new ride. Even now, when I go on Soarin’ or see Enchanted Tales with Belle, I think about how much he would have loved it.
My Pappy is still very much alive, but our days of Disney travelling are, I think, done. But, that memory of laughter and safety and joy never will be. Whenever I go on Thunder Mountain or hum the Tiki Room song, I’ll remember all over again.
And, I’ll smile like I don’t know how to stop.