This is my first Mother’s day without my mother and I was thinking about how much she influenced my respect for Walt Disney and love for his work. The first movie she took me to see was “The Sword in the Stone”. Other movies followed: “Mary Poppins”; “That Darn Cat”; “The Ugly Dachsund”; and “The Gnome-Mobile”. The one that sticks with me most from my early childhood is “The Jungle Book”. My Grandfather was a songwriter in the 50’s and 60’s so hearing legendary singers like Phil Harris and Louis Prima in a movie made for kids mad a strong impression on me.
My mother made it easy to be open to many experiences and interests including theater, books, art and sports. But always in there somewhere was the influence of Walt Disney. It might be plates or napkins at a birthday party, a greeting card featuring Mickey or an image on some clothing. My mother was also a collector. She collected newspapers she never read, recordings of TV programs she never watched again, antiquarian books, which she built into a business and Disneyana. At some point, an entire room in our house was filled, floors, walls and ceiling with pre-1960s Disney collectibles. She and I would sit and look at things, discuss the artistic or historical value of one piece or another. We didn’t always agree and I didn’t always find the time or have the patience to talk as long as she would have liked, but we both enjoyed ourselves.
After I had moved out and started a family of my own, without saying anything, she began to sell off most of the collection, until all that is left is a couple of dozen pieces, autographs and photographs. It’s not clear whether the decision to sell was financial or that my brother, father and I didn’t show enough interest to convince her that it was worth keeping. It saddens me that something that became so integral to her life did not seem to be important to her in the last years of her life. As I looked though the pieces that were left, I couldn’t help remember many of the other collectibles that I had spent so much time looking at. I’m sad, not because there was value in the collectibles, but because it was a connection with me that no one else in our family shared with her.
I think my mother visited Disneyland once as a child, but she never went back and she never took my brother or I to any of the Disney Theme Parks. As I began to take my wife and family to Walt Disney World, I would ask if she would like to go with us. She would comment that it was just too commercial and about selling things. I didn’t understand it then, but I believe I have come to understand that for my Mother, it wasn’t about theme parks or animated movies. She, like me now as an adult, recognized the artistic genius of Walt Disney and the impact he has had, not just on animated movies, for which his legacy is firmly cemented, but for all the other ways he has changed the world. I’m not sure she realized what a special seed she planted. It’s a seed that has blossomed and thrived into my adulthood. It’s a gift I treasure and don’t mind carrying with me.