Grandpa Story 12
DISNEYLAND, KNOTTS BERRY FARM AND DISNEYWORLD
Ed Turpin was his name. He was a dedicated, loyal, introverted church trustee at St. Mark’s Methodist Church who fixed our broken parsonage toilet more than once. Every day, in the wee hours of the morning after the last parent and child had left, he swept the parking lots in Disneyland with his huge industrial sweeper. So, guess what? Back in those days we had paper tickets, A, B, C…all the way to J. A was for the Matterhorn ride, and J was for bumper cars and Tea Cup rides!! Ed salvaged tickets strewn around the parking lot, and he gave us a big bunch once or twice every year. Needless to say, there were many more J-tickets left on the parking lot than A’s!!
We lived in Buena Park at the time, in the 60’s, close enough to hear the train whistle at Knotts Berry Farm, and less than five miles from world-famous Disneyland.
Disneyland opened its doors in July of 1955. Six thousand people received special tickets to this gala opening. Unfortunately, twenty-two thousand additional people came with counterfeit tickets. The next day, open to the public, it cost $1.00 to get inside. The plumbing didn’t work; it was a very hot summer day. Women’s high heels sunk in the new asphalt. Thanks to his contracts with movies and TV, Disney made enough money to finance and complete his first dream park. The rest is history.
I remember vividly, December of 1966, when Walt Disney died. Flags flew at half-mast. Tears flowed. One man who shared stories and gave us songs about a duck and a mouse disappeared overnight. Even today at this keyboard little warm tears still hold that moment in memory. And yet, as I walked along Main Street last week and watched the fascinated faces of little children and happy parents, I knew that the soul and vision of that one man was still very much alive…spilling over on all of us.
Living in Southern California was like living in a perpetual vacationland. Countless tandem rides with our young children to and from Knotts Berry Farm, always including the country store with cherry liquorish; plus climbing rocks along the seashore at Laguna Beach; Tinker Bell, Tiki Tiki Room, and Mickey Mouse; sitting among the swallows at San Juan Capistrano Mission; fishing for albacore in the Pacific, visiting Universal Studios in Hollywood, snowball fights two hours up in the mountains, visits to San Diego Zoo and picking deliciously fresh oranges off the trees in Don and Jean Dornan’s orchard. And there were individuals whose lives deeply influenced us.
Lorraine Plummer, a financial planner, taught me a workable method with my income (which was $6,000 a year at that time). I have never veered away from her very simple formula: Save 10%; Give away %10; live on %80. Wise lady. She gave this 30 year-old pastor a lifetime financial plan which now provides my retirement. She also bequeathed us her magnificent shell collection when we left. Some of her shells, in our living room today, were once displayed in the Santa Ana Seashell Museum.
And dear Ken Kenneth Smith. A New York City lawyer, he was Senior Warden in 1935 with Dr. Sam Shoemaker at Calvary Episcopal Church near Gramacy Park, when an alcoholic named Bill Wilson was transformed and founded what has now become a world-wide movement we call AA, the greatest recovery program in the world for alcoholics, now called the AA Twelve Step Program. Ken spent countless hours teaching me the simple spiritual genius, principles and stories that formed the foundation and guidelines in AA. He also introduced me to C G Jung’s famous Word-Association Test.
Before Ken KennethSmith died, he instructed his daughter to ship a special oriental rug to our home. Originally it belonged to Dr. Sam Shoemaker; Sam’s wife, Helen gave it to Ken; and that rug will be given, when I die, to Sam Shoemaker’s namesake, son Sam.
The Wedaas. Ray and Zoey and their four children. They often invited us to enjoy their beautiful Lake Arrowhead mountain cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which, you may remember, burned to the ground in a forest fire. We were extended family to each other. Years after we relocated to Chicago, Ray lost his entire life savings. They also lost their beautiful Anaheim Hills home and their retirement. They now live in a simple condo in Mission Viejo. I don’t think Ray will ever get over those tragic losses.
The Dornans. Don and Jean and all those wonderful children who endeared themselves to our four children. Again, shortly after we moved away, We were shocked to hear that Don was killed instantly by a drunk driver hitting his car sideways at 80 miles an hour, at an intersection near their home. Jean raised those kids and sold their orange orchard, moved to Oceanside and eventually married an Episcopal bishop.
Bob and Wanda Duncan wandered into St. Mark’s Methodist and became our good friends. We were surrounded with extended family–Ken Kenneth Smith and all the Wedaa family, and Helen Warmer and Lorraine Plummer, and Larry and Cathy and Lincoln and Karen. Our six years in First Methodist Santa Ana and St. Mark’s Anaheim were also blotched with the bloody assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and the passing of John XXIII, the beloved pope who opened the windows of opportunity and transformation during his Vatican II.
I still recall the first time we met Cathy and Larry Davis, at a Faith-At-Work Conference in our church in Santa Ana, in 1965, the year Joanna was born. The entire conference sang “Jesus Loves Me” to little Jo. We did not know that this was only the beginning of our life long journey with Larry and Cathy, and now George. Cathy has become an icon in our lineage.
You may remember, Bob and Wanda were the only two Hollywood writers at that time who were not divorced or remarried. They invested in fifteen years of marriage therapy, became active at St. Marks and remained lovers the rest of their lives. They wrote for several TV programs, including Lost in Space, Ironsides, Land of the Giants and the movie, Black Gold, a story about Oklahoma oil fields. Shortly after we moved to Chicago, they decided to return to their beloved Oklahoma; they lived in their 48-foot house trailer on 50 acres until their farm house was built. They raised 50 cattle. When they sold and slaughtered the cattle, they also included their beloved Gertrude. However, no one could eat her hamburgers; they were all grieving too much. One day, the story goes, Wanda looked out her kitchen window only to see Bob driving his tractor and mower through their wheat field writing I LOVE YOU to Wanda. Rachel, you remember Chris! He had a crush on you and the Duncans had high hopes for the two of you. Later on Chris died from a motorcycle accident. His death depleted Bob and Wanda for the rest of their lives.
Our six years in Southern California gave us these wonderful memories and stories. Now, decades later, Disneyland, Laguna Beach and Knotts Berry Farm appear like distant scenes from a former life.
Last week I was in Disneyworld, Orlando, for the third time. First, when Sara and cousin Kate were young energetic teenage girls; then about three years ago, alone with Rachel who was in Orlando attending a teacher conference; and finally with Jill and her brother Dan and Robyn, and their delightfully fun and adventurous children, five year-old Mark and three year-old Johnny. Rain and shine, we had a very good time together.
Of course, every visit to Disneyland and Disneyworld we always go to SMALL, SMALL WORLD. There’s something archetypal (deeply meaningful) about that place—happy little dolls all dressed up in costumes commemorating children from all around the world, waving and dancing and singing, “It’s a small world after all, it’s a small, small world.” And it certainly is! Yes indeed, our world does get smaller and smaller as we continue to evolve as a global family, especially with cyberspace and jet travel.
Oh, I don’t know why, but Small Small World somehow reminds me of Barrington Bunny!! When our children were young, during a CLC Forum Weekend at the Arlington Park Racetrack Hotel, Fr. Keith and Sr. Mo sat on the floor with our family and read the story of Barrington Bunny. Be sure to read it to your children and grandchildren!! Barrington Bunny had a low self-image; he felt so useless and alone–until he finally realized that he was warm and he could hop fast over and across the snow. “All the animals in the forest are my family!” exclaimed the enlightened little bunny who finally realized that it was really neat to be warm and to hop. I am still moved when I imagine that powerful gray wolf standing watch nearby the still warm pelt of a dead bunny during the terrible blizzard, knowing that Barrington Bunny had hopped through the snow and wrapped his warm body around those lost little mice who snuggled safely through the storm.
As you grow older, always remember that the meanings you give to stories events is what counts. You can always find and give meaning to everything that happens as you choose to grow and learn from what happens, no matter what happened!! Even in the most painful and tragic circumstances, you can choose to present your meaning and your story, which may enlighten and inspire and instruct your children and your grandchildren. It’s not what happens that counts, but how and what you decide to learn from what happens. Our world will become more crowded. We will face great challenges with more people and less food and water. The greedy rich and the hungry poor will tear your heart at times. Even so, Love always provides the Way, no matter what, in our small world. Yes, it is a small, small world, and yes, Love, through one person at a time, is what makes it all worthwhile.
I have carefully noticed that for fifty years, during each of my visits to Disneyland and Disneyworld, people seemed genuinely kind, patient and gentle with one another as we waited in countless lines and walked through those crowded streets. Surrounded by familiar fairytale faces and costumes and animation, something magic always happens!!
When your grandma Betsy and I were married in May of 1957, driving to Florida on our honeymoon, we decided to “create new traditions and memories for our children and grandchildren.” We did. Disneyland, Laguna Beach and Knotts Berry Farm gave us memories for a lifetime. There are many more stories, more than I can ever tell in my lifetime. I’ll keep writing some of them. I can only hope that these few Grandpa Stories will provide a few snapshots in our ever-growing Edwards-Downey family albums.