My Dad got back from World War II in 1945. He was discharged from the old Army Air Corps, where he had been making pretty big money as a Technical Sergeant. Dad returned to Fresno, California, and resumed his job as a grape-ranch and grape-packing house foreman.
Like in the classic film “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the owner had to give him his job back; Dad had an Honorable Discharge — also a Presidential Citation, four Air Medals, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. But none of that meant the owner had to pay Dad much money.
Dad worked for the guy ten years. In 1955, the summer Disneyland opened, he took my brother, Steve, our cousins, Marilyn and Kenny, and, of course, Mom. I retain the black and white photographs of this trip, though I hadn’t been born yet. They evidently had a great time.
The Mark Twain steamboat looked brand new (duh). And Frontierland looked truly rugged; dirt street for the shoot-out, and everything. Visible in the pics are some orange groves that hadn’t been pulled out yet.
Another nine years went by, when Dad suddenly quit that ranch and rancher. Simply walked into the big ranch house kitchen with the twenty-foot-long drainboard and told Mom, “Claire, start packing. We’re moving.” Scared the heck out her.
Long story short, we ended up, two years later, in the Coachella Valley. We lived in Palm Desert, which was an enclave for the really rich, but has since opened its arms to more middle class people. Back then, much of our family in Fresno condescended to offer help in our plight, to send us water and such! By the 1980s, they were all going out there to fulfill that Palm Springs bumper sticker: “Fun in the Sun.”
Dad worked way out in the country, within sight of the Salton Sea, which is like 80 miles across from top to bottom. And it was hotter than the bad place sometimes — 120 degrees, Fahrenheit and higher. But he survived the inhuman heat, and was very happy in that valley. Furthermore, that year Dad must have gotten a really big bonus after harvest, because he, once again, busted into the kitchen, now a more civilized one, and announced, “We’re going to Disneyland.” He also bought Mom a better car. Some bonus.
That first 1960s trip to the Magic Kingdom had become Dad’s Quest. I had not known until that point, how much he thought I was deprived because I had never been to The Magic Kingdom. Anyway, away we went.
From my perch in the back seat, Dad appeared to enjoy driving Mom’s yellow 1964 Chevrolet Super Sport with a 327-cubic-inch V-8, air conditioning, and white naugahyde interior. Dad parked that muscle car far from the gates of the Magic Kingdom, and we three headed to those little ticket kiosks. He always paid cash for everything, including that day in The Park.
It wasn’t so much that we went on every ride there was — Mr. Toad’s, Monsanto, the Matterhorn, the Mark Twain riverboat. It was that my Dad was gonna get me there, by Golly, and he did. We got candy, too. I remember those cubicle boxes full of red spicy cinnamon candies; the rock candy; that honeycomb. The exact taste of hamburgers in Tomorrowland by the rockets comes to mind. Wish I had one right now.
Of course, we could not afford the Disneyland Hotel. But we rode the Monorail to that archway at the Disneyland Hotel and at least looked at the accommodations. (For my 50th birthday in 2008, my wife and daughters fulfilled that dream at the Grand California.)
After an action-packed day in The Park, I fell sound asleep on the back seat of the ’64 Impala. I think Dad even carried me into the house after midnight, like a seventy-pound baby.
On that first monorail trip, which was a great ride to me, I got the idea to invite junior high school girls to go for a ride with me on the monorail in that car at the back, with the great view. See, if you got on the honor roll in middle school, you got a trip to Disneyland.
In 1997, when our eldest daughter was two-and-a-half, Dad took us all — my wife, my mom, the toddler, me — back to the Magic Kingdom for a last hurrah. Man, did he spend money! And Dad surprised us all by taking little Emma-Claire on rides like the flying Dumbos, even the Tea Cups; at 81 years of age.
I think he liked The Kingdom, though he always acted like he was doing this for us “kids.”
Each time we walk down Main Street, USA, I think of my Dad.