• a tree and houses lit with lights at a park

      Disneyland at Christmastime, 2015 (Photo – Justin Brown)

      I was an annual pass holder at Disneyland for a number of years. This was when the price for a year was manageable, not the equivalent of a house payment or your entire 401K. Every weekend, Sunday afternoon, I would make the hike to Anaheim to spend time enjoying the park on my own. Seasoned people, like me, just call it ‘the park’.

      By Madison Premo

      It was a week before Christmas. I arrived around noon and the place was already packed. Going by myself, it was a lot easier to navigate the waters of Main Street without reaching back to see how many friends I’d lost in the undertow of rabid strollers and groups of families in matching t-shirts. The candy store was puffing out invisible plumes of peppermint and I slowed my step to take a deep breath. I watched huge strawberries disappear into thick chocolate before being set in neat rows on a copper tray. Making a promise to come back for them, I dove back into the fray and swam with the crowd.

      I took my time and soaked in the feel of the park; it’s ‘magic’. I would marvel at how many people had walked the manufactured streets and enjoyed every cultivated flower. Stopping for lunch in New Orleans Square, I ate at a table at the edge of an outside dining room to people watch. My bread bowl brimming with clam chowder accompanied by a cup of hot tea hit the spot. For Southern California, it was cold. I leaned on the faux marble table and watched friends and families stroll by. A young mother and father stopped to cover their child in an open stroller as the sun set. Streaking past them was a tangle of young girls all with ‘Stephie’s Bday’ t-shirts and sparkling Mickey Ears. At the next table, a young woman was with a two-year-old boy. He would take the food the woman offered then become enthralled with the passing people, much like me.

      I don’t usually talk to people during these visits. This was my time for quiet. In a large crowd, you would be surprised how much the hum of the park can drown out individual voices. Even while waiting in lines, I tuned out conversations around me to take in the queue line. The details in the wallpaper of the Haunted Mansion. The scent of the water and creak of the boards in Pirates. Fresh popcorn from vendors throughout the park. The care in which each attraction was presented thrilled me with each visit.

      It truly was a place of magic. Like a professional illusionist, all the inner workings were behind the scenes. Offices sat behind false windows in Main Street. Elevators and water drops lead you underground to other worlds. You maybe have been zipping past where your car was parked, but you never knew it.

      King Arthur’s Carrousel was a personal favorite. I grew up on the east coast and some of the horses came from Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts. I rode those carousel horses when we spent my childhood summers at the seaside town. When I realized the history and knew these were ‘my’ horses, I made it a point to ride at least once during each visit. I knew the Christmas Fireworks show was about to start but my turn on the ride was next. My heart pounded softly as I carefully chose my horse, a little away from other riders, and climbed on. The golden lights flickered and all I heard was the music. The gears ground and we were off. It’s not a fast ride but in those few moments, I was a kid again playing in the summer sun. I could smell the ocean and saltwater taffy. As we whizzed around, I imagined my mother, in shorts and a cover-up, smiling and waving.  When it was dinner time, she always knew where to find me and I would wave back with each revolution. She would slip her sunglasses onto her head, over her short bleached blonde hair, and wait patiently for the ride to end. When it stopped, I would hop off and run to her, hug her tight and take her hand for the walk to our summer home. Our camper. I was eight.

      The ride began to slow and sadly I knew it was almost over. When the horses finally came to a stop, I slid off, patted the nose of my horse with a thank you, and headed for the exit. Then I heard the booming familiar announcement: “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls… “ The fireworks were starting. The main lights went out. The golden carousel lights played over the ground.

      I moved quickly to the other side so I would have a decent view of the show. I looked up as the sky blossomed with bright sparkles.

      “Oh god, not again.” I heard a voice whine. A young female voice a few feet away. I tried to tune it out.

      “Just pick someplace, we have to eat.” A male voice, fatherly and sounding tired.

      “But she always gets to pick!” A younger voice, male.

      Turning I saw the family of four, father holding the park map, mother at his side between the teen daughter and younger brother. They were arguing about dinner. Dad was squinting at the map as it was only lit by the occasional flash from above. They were only getting louder.

      Once more I looked to the sky and tried to enjoy the show but found I could not. They were missing the whole thing! Finally, I reached over to tap Dad.

      “Hey.”  Nothing. “Hey!” I tapped harder and his head snapped up, eyes looking lost. I pointed to the sky. “Look!”

      The voices stopped and one by one, they all looked up. The map eventually fell to one side, still clutched in Dad’s hand. They fell silent..

      We all watched the show. It was glorious, as usual.  The fireworks at the park are always special from any vantage point and I usually watched from Main Street. But tonight, these felt special.

      The show ended and we all clapped as if the sky could hear us.

      “How about there?” the daughter piped up and pointed to the nearest restaurant. She was smiling. One by one, the rest agreed as Dad did his best to fold the map. The family was happy.

      I hiked my backpack onto my shoulder for one more lap down Main street when I felt a gentle touch on my arm. I turned to see the mother, a tear in her eye.

      “Thank you.” She said softly, smiling.

      “Merry Christmas,” I said, a lump in my throat.

      “Merry Christmas.” She nodded, wiping her tear, and joined her happy family who were waiting for her and waving to me.

      Yes, this is a true story. When someone tells me the park has changed or how it isn’t the same, that the magic is gone, I tell them this story. One thing about Disneyland, there is always magic to be found. Just look up.

      Madison Premo is a resident of Altadena. She enjoys writing and believes in every day magic.

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