Our friends over at Celebrations Press have a limited-edition collector’s book coming out at the end of August called, Disney Nighttime Memories. The beautiful picture book will look back on some of our favorite Disney shows of the past as we prepare to say goodbye to IllumiNations this summer. Chatting with Celebration Press Editor Tim Foster about how excited he was for this new book got me reminiscing about some of my favorite shows through the years, especially a favorite of my family - Wishes. Replaced in 2017 by Happily Ever After, this show will always hold a special place in my heart. So, with this blog post, I’d like to share a personal story. I hope it inspires you to do some reminiscing of your own about Disney shows from the past and serves as a reminder of the importance cherishing memories made with family.
I grew up in a rural Midwestern town of a few thousand people, a fan of all things Disney as long as I can remember. My family was fortunate enough to make the long trek to Walt Disney World during my childhood, and so many memories were made during that one trip. That first Disney trip uncovered a creative streak in me and sparked my imagination in new ways. I was amazed by what Walt had created and found him to be an inspiration. My admiration of the parks was mostly from a distance over the next couple of decades as it wasn’t until I married and had two children of my own that I returned to Disney World. After a Christmas trip with my wife, children, and parents, I found an irresistible draw to get back to “The World” and began obsessing about planning Disney vacations.
Now, I’m fortunate to have married my dream girl, the high school sweetheart I started dating at the tender age of 14, so her family has been my family since I was just a kid. My wife has always shared a special bond with her maternal grandfather, lovingly known as Papaw. He was strong, an old navy man who served in the 1950s and worked hard for his family his whole life. The type of man that taught me how to get my hands dirty working on cars and how to make my wife’s favorite mashed potatoes for dinner. He was both kind and intimidating, especially when 14 year old me met him. My wife was his first grandchild and she just knew her Papaw had hung the moon. He loved her and called her his “number one baby” and, as he should have, he made sure I treated her well. As my wife and I dated and then married, he welcomed me to the family and loved me as one of his own. While he was tough and willing to tell you the hard truth, he also made you feel loved, and we all knew that he would always be there for us no matter what.
In 2010 we received that devastating news that Papaw had cancer, most likely related to his navy service days and that he would require surgery to start his battle with this devastating disease. My wife cried into my shoulder the night of that surgery when they found the disease had spread much further and the surgery was much more complicated than the doctors had anticipated.
I’ll never forget the look in her eyes, filled with tears, as she asked, “What are we going to do?” I pulled her close and told her, “He’s going to recover from this surgery, and then we’re taking him and Mamaw to Disney World.” Well, he did recover, and at Christmas we surprised Mamaw and Papaw with our plans. A few months later, that man walked the park hand in hand with his great-grandchildren during a week none of us will ever forget.
It was Mamaw and Papaw’s first time visiting Disney since the 1970s and this trip was magical. While there are so many great memories, one of the highlights was the Wishes castle show at the Magic Kingdom. This strong, tattooed navy man who had helped shaped me as a person, who showed me how to be strong for my family, had a look of awe like that of a child. My wife and I exchanged a glance while we watched him stare in wonder, fixated on the castle, listening to the heartwarming songs of Wishes. We knew then that we were living in a moment we would always hold onto. My wife tells me that it will forever be her favorite Disney memory.
After the show, Papaw told us how impressed he was by the elaborate theming and coordination of song and fireworks together. It was a far cry from the small town firework shows we’d all been raised on, and it set the stage for an amazing week together, full of so many more memories. I remember visiting Epcot for a few hours on our last day before catching our flight to Indianapolis. We landed after midnight and packed into the minivan at the airport to head back to Mamaw and Papaw’s house. It was a few hours away and everyone was worn out. Driving home, only Mamaw and I were still awake and we spent that time reliving all of our favorite moments. It seemed almost surreal in contrast to the difficulties we’d encountered as a family in the year leading up to it.
We were given another five years with Papaw before the cancer spread far enough that the Lord called him home. We will always be grateful for the time our family had with Papaw, for all he did for us, for all he taught us, and for the memories we’ll get to cherish for the rest of our lives – memories like that one, in front of Cinderella’s castle when, true to the lyrics of the song, all of our wishes came true.
Understanding the importance of moments like these in my own life and having a desire to help others create similar memories, led to the formation of ConciEARS a year after Papaw’s passing. His legacy lives on not only in our family but also at the heart of our company. The lessons about hard work, family, and love for others that Papaw shared throughout the years will always be with us, and we hope that we can help your family make their own treasured memories to cherish for years to come.