The Spirit of Place

Whenever I visit the Upper West Side of NYC and walk past the building I lived in for many years as a single woman and in the early years of my marriage, I imagine knocking on the door of my old apartment, being invited in, just for a look around. I would guess a lot has changed, but the essence of the space—the narrow, dark foyer into the main rooms, the tiny kitchen and bathroom—would be a reminder of all that’s ingrained in walls mottled by years of replastering and repainting.

Walls hold secrets. Memories are something we make. On our first family visit to Disney World (1992) we had more than one magic moment (and some annoying ones) in the Magic Kingdom. It was early December, my birthday, and my heart was admittedly a little heavy at leaving behind my mother, recently diagnosed with cancer. Logic (and a wise cousin) would tell me not to cancel tDisney Mama and Pooh Bear 1992he vacation. My mother was in good hands, barely at the beginning of radiation treatment, and my brother as attentive as a son could be. The tough times were still ahead. Disney World with a playful husband and a six-year-old would do wonders for my spirit.

Anyone who has ever been to a theme park knows the drill: the lines, the life-size characters greeting you, the food/the activities/the gift shops everywhere, each one too much temptation for a young child. The marketing wizards know what they’re doing and we the parents do our best not to give in to instant gratification. Oh, how she wanted to stop at every store we passed! Oh how she fussed (especially when fatigue got the best of her) when we pulled her along, and away from that Minnie doll in the window!

Oh how we still laugh at the instant change of expression on her face when she got her Minnie!

My beautiful picture

My beautiful picture

On another visit to Disney World, wisely orchestrated by my sister-in-law so that Sara and her cousins might have a memorable vacation together before they got too old to care, we would leave the fathers out of the equation. I could say that seeing Cirque du Soleil for the first time left the greatest of impressions. But, in the way that family lore defines itself, my nephew’s pouting over something of significance only to him and disappearing from our room for a spell is the story I like to tell, while he likes to tell about his aunt getting drunk (all I did was accidentally knock over a wine glass at dinner).Disney with Dylan and Jackie 2000

Those were the days when Orlando was still synonymous with innocence.

My daughter, grown up now, decided that the best Father’s Day present for a man who is very difficult to buy things for but who appreciates offbeat humor, would be sending him to see The Book of Mormon (with me, of course). I had already seen it back in 2012, with her, when it was an especially hot ticket. I loved everything about it—the irreverence of the story, the exhilarating music and choreography, the solos and ensemble numbers that glorify the very experience they have fun mocking. There were moments I anticipated, and moments I had, if not exactly forgotten, could not help but see in a completely different light.

There’s irony today—isn’t there?—in a song about a place not fabricated, like Las Vegas, but as much a symbol of fantasy and a kind of American dream. There’s laughter, too, the intended reaction, even as the first notes bring a lump to my throat.

Cocoa BeachSo happens my husband arranged a mini family vacation this past Memorial Day, Cocoa Beach, Florida. Orlando is the hub of air traffic. My daughter tried angling for a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even if we didn’t have places to go/people to see during our stay, the thought of being in a stream of family-packed cars on the parkway, not to mention the crowds and the lines at the theme park, was enough to scare us off.



2 thoughts on “The Spirit of Place

  1. How sweet are your memories. How poignant, too. I think of your mother and how the worst days were still ahead of you. But I must admit, I love Disneyland and Disney World. For a little while, despite the lines, it’s a joyful place to be. I went there last Thanksgiving, with my grown kids, and we had the best time, even though we spent most of our time fighting the crowds, waiting on line to board the new Star Wars rides. I’d do it again.

    • I always appreciate your thoughts, Monica. I do find Disney World a fascinating place, especially when you consider all the adults who come really to enjoy themselves (i.e., it’s not just about the kids).

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