MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 58 – Disneyland
Michael was awake earlier than usual the next morning, and perhaps since we had talked to him about seeing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck he was too excited to sleep and in a hurry to get ready and leave. It was just 7:00 a.m., and I wanted Billy to sleep as long as he could, so I let Michael cuddle up in the bed next to me. I showed him the hands on the clock and pointing to the big hand, I told him that when the little arrow got to the number eight and the big arrow to the number 12, we would all get up and get ready to go. He wiggled and protested but finally went back to sleep, but not for long, and just about the time I finally fell back asleep, he was awake again and informing me that the hands on the clock said that it was time to get up!
There was very little point in trying to get him back to sleep again for another half hour, and I knew that I could not keep him in bed any longer. I put him back in his bed with his cars and some books and tried to grab a few more minutes sleep, and every minute was precious, realizing that we would have a long hot day ahead of us. Like Billy, I was concerned that the baby and I may not handle the heat well, and surely the crowds and the blacktop pathways would just radiate and make it worse, and I could not imagine it being any worse!
Just as soon as my heavy-lidded eyes closed again, I heard the peeps coming from the car bed that indicated that Margie, hearing our voices, thought it was time to eat, and soon she began softly to protest. With that, I gave up, put her cereal and fruit on to heat while I changed her diaper, and began what would turn out to be the longest day of my life, so far. She was such a cheerful little bird in the morning that I often wondered where she came from since the rest of us were such night owls, and not fully cognizant of what was going on until at least 9:00a.m. I hoped that she would not outgrow this trait and at least there would be one smiling face at the breakfast table in the mornings.
Billy seemed to be sleeping peacefully as I sat propped up by the headboard and nursed our baby daughter. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he actually had one eye half open and watched me as Margie greedily emptied first one breast and then the other with a hearty belch in between.
“You know,” he said. “If I carry one picture in my mind forever, it will be of you nursing our child.” With that statement, he sat up, and as soon as I had finished nursing, and laid our daughter on the bed, he took me in his arms.
“And if I carry one picture of you,” I replied. “It will be of you tossing our son into the air while he laughs out loud.”
“You mean it won’t be one of me naked in the shower?” He grinned.
“No, but one of ‘us’ naked in the shower,” I replied, all the time hoping that Michael did not understand the word ‘naked’, and I doubted that he did. All I needed was for him to tell Uncle Charles that his Mommy and Daddy were naked! That would be so like him!
With that conversation behind him, Billy pulled me closer and with a smile, whispered in my ear, “Time for a quickie?”
This man was insatiable! He knew the answer without my reply, although he also knew that if we could, I would, but it was time to get dressed and on the road with hopes that we would have an easier time reaching Anaheim and Uncle Charles’s apartment than we had Rosemead. It was much closer, but we needed to allow extra time just in case we found the traffic at a complete stop as usual. We would not be using the interstates or major highways since Uncle Charles had given us a longer but more ‘movable’ route, and I wondered why they had even built this spider web of roads when a car moved faster taking the old ones! Perhaps the people who designed these ‘super highways’ wanted to take the old roads, and needed these new ones to keep everyone else out of their way, or at least it seemed so.
Again, our routine went smoothly, and Billy dressed himself while I took care of the baby since he said he had no idea how to dress a little girl, although he did fine changing her diapers. I dressed her in a tiny yellow sun suit with a matching bonnet to protect her eyes and face from the sun, one of our purchases at Sears, with just this day in mind. We had also bought Michael a hat with a brim all around it, but I doubted if we would be able to keep it on him. While I dressed, Billy took care of Michael, although he was getting to the “I can do it myself” stage, but we had no time to linger this morning since we still needed to stop for some doughnuts and juice to eat on the way to Anaheim.
We were out the door by 9:15 a.m., thinking that we had plenty of time for the supposedly half an hour drive. Billy stopped at the corner bakery where they also served fresh orange juice and came back to the car with bottles, dripping beads of moisture, and fresh glazed doughnuts, still warm from the oven. No chocolate this morning since we hoped that Michael would still be clean by the time we arrived.
Billy ate and sipped while he drove, and within no time, we saw the sign, ‘Welcome to Anaheim’, and from there we could see Uncle Charles’s apartment building. He had said it was right behind the sign, and it sure enough was. As we parked, again with no trouble, since those tenants who worked had already left, Michael tried to bolt from the car, but was not quite as quick as his father was.
“I want to see Mickey Mouse”, he shouted, but was calmed when we told him that the only person we would be seeing here was his Uncle Charles and Aunt Ruth, and that we would see Mickey later.
I half expected our small son to throw himself on the ground screaming at the top of his lungs that he wanted to see Mickey Mouse, but he surprised me and calmly held onto my hand while Billy carried Margie.
As we climbed the stairs to their second floor apartment, which seemed more like a motel, with a separate outside entrance, the door to their unit opened and for the first time that I remembered, I met my grandfather’s next oldest brother. I definitely saw the family resemblance between he and Kendall, but of course only having seen photos of my grandfather, I had no with whom to compare him. Oh, I had met Uncle Gene, Uncle Emmett, and their only living sister, Aunt Elouise, the family siblings who still lived in the south, but thought that they certainly did not resemble one another.
One summer, before I was old enough to date, my cousin and I had spent a long weekend in the country with my great aunt and her husband, Uncle Jago. We had a great time for two city kids, and they both made us feel at home. The family resemblance was moderate, although Uncle Charles’ face was ravaged and ruddy, like my own father’s, with the effects of alcohol. I have always been able to spot an alcoholic, ever since I was a child, and there is a look of pain, and sadness in their eyes, that is unmistakable. Demon alcohol has distorted more than one handsome face, and I saw this in my great uncle. The sadness was more than apparent, and I just hoped that he was not drinking now, since I knew, like my father, he was a ‘binge’ drinker, but surely on this day, having made plans to spend the day with his great niece and her family, he would be sober. Probably like my father, he would respect Billy’s size, and the fact that he was an officer in the U.S. Army, and an Airborne Ranger, but for all I knew, he would not even know what that meant!
With one big hug, I could tell that he was just fine, and Aunt Ruth was such a handsome woman, almost as tall as Uncle Charles was. We are not a tall family, in fact rather short, and Billy towered over him. They welcomed us inside and out of the blast furnace of heat. I had already decided on the way over that if this became too much for Margie and me, I would just find a shady place to sit, and let the ‘men’ go on the rides or watch while Michael enjoyed the park.
Ruth instantly and gently took the baby from Billy’s arms and happily held her while Margie did her best to impress. She cooed and smiled while Ruth tickled her under her chins, all the while Uncle Charles was asking me about the family in Georgia. He then turned his attention to Billy and asked him about the Army (he did know how prestigious it was to be a Ranger), while Michael, showing off, told him his name and where he was from, and where we were going to live.
Charles had talked to Kendall about our dilemma in transportation to the ship, and both he and Ruth decided to come along with Kendall, Dot and the girls, and see us safely aboard. Billy thanked him saying that we could use all the extra hands since Michael was such a slippery little fellow, and about all I could carry were my purse and the baby.
While Ruth offered us coffee or tea, and we explained that we had eaten on the drive over, Charles was anxious to get on the road to the park since it opened at 10:00 a.m., and the parking lot filled up fast. He had been only once, but not with a child, and was most anxious to see this fantastic innovation in amusement parks through Michael’s eyes. Ruth had to work and would usually have been gone by this time, but had called in late just to greet us, so we all walked down to the parking lot together.
Ruth assured me that although this was not typical for Los Angeles weather, it was not highly unusual either, and was remorse that we had to visit California during an ‘inversion’. She assured me there would be a reclining stroller with a sun hood that we could rent, and plenty of shady places to rest if I became too tired. I then wondered if I looked as tired as I felt, and hoped that I could make it through the day.
Hugging us all good-bye, until Saturday evening, we got into separate cars, Ruth on her way to work, and our family, with Uncle Charles leading the way, off to Disneyland!
It was just a short drive to the park but before we had gotten within half a mile, we could already see that the traffic had slowed down and then separated into four lanes going in four different directions. Was it that big a park to have four parking lots? Even before we reached the point where the lines of cars separated, I could see Cinderella’s Castle and pointed it out to Michael who was not at all impressed. He was interested in one thing, and that was Mickey Mouse. Charles guided us to a parking space that was very close to the entrance, and commented that although there was a ‘tram’ from the parking lot to the front gate, we would have to stand and wait in the sun for it to arrive. He suggested that we just walk to the ticket booths since we were not very far.
Michael was all eyes the closer we got to the gate, and Uncle Charles insisted on paying for our tickets, although it was obvious he was not a wealthy man, but probably more so than we were. Billy was hanging onto what cash we had left since we had only a vague idea about how and who we should tip aboard the ship, although Matson Lines, the company that owned the ‘Lurline’, had mailed us a brochure, it was not quite as clear as we had hoped about tipping. We knew that the purser aboard would be able to guide us, so we were not spending any more cash than was necessary, but we certainly had expected to pay our admission, and it definitely was not inexpensive!
I think from the moment we hit the front gate, I went into a daze. Whether it was the heat, the wonders before my eyes, my excited little boy, or whatever, I just remember being so very, very tired as we walked from one ride or ‘theme area’ to another. It is for this reason that my memories are just chips of diamonds in the crown of the entire day, but I will tell you what I can recall.
First, there were strollers for rent, which Billy insisted on paying for, and I was able to put my purse and the diaper bag in a small basket hanging on the handle. Margie was quite content there and I put a clean receiving blanket under her but allowing for the heat, uncovered her chubby little arms and legs.
“Mighty healthy baby,” my Great Uncle Charles said as I let the blanket fall to the side of the stroller. “How old did you say she was?” he asked, and when I replied that she was six weeks and two days old, he seemed very surprised. “Again, like I said, mighty healthy baby. They sure grow them big in Georgia!”
As if she realized that she was being flattered, Margie smiled and cooed while looking all around her at the spectacular bright colors. The entire day, in my mind, was one filled with whirling colors, glimpses of popular Disney characters, but most of all with the look on the face of my small son whose eyes were already as big as saucers.
Billy had run out of film on the road, and I have always regretted that we had no snapshots to recall this day, except for those in my mind, which, as I said, are not very clear.
Although his eyes were huge and spoke volumes, Michael was stone silent. He did not utter a word, but his little mouth was open as if he wanted to speak but could not think of what to say and except for the silence, he remained this way all day. Just to acclimate ourselves to the heat, already searing and not quite mid-day, we walked slowly down ‘Main Street’ with Michael on Uncle Charles’s shoulders. Billy had offered to carry him, of course, and there was no reason he could not walk by himself other than he had a much better view above the crowd from an adult vantage, but Uncle Charles insisted. I do remember that we stopped for Michael to ride the ‘Alice in Wonderland Tea Party’ ride that consisted of spinning teacups, and with Billy by his side, our very excited little boy whirled around and around, and I knew that had I ridden with him I would have become even more dizzy. When the ride finished, of course, he wanted to do it again, but Billy promised him that we would come back later after we had seen everything, and none of us thought that with all there was to see, and all the ‘new’ rides that he would even remember this first one, but again we were mistaken. Michael had a habit of making liars out of us, and as usual, he was in prime form this morning!
We continued up Main Street as before with Michael on Uncle Charles shoulders, and I wish that I could remember all the sights, and I wish that Michael had been old enough to remember, and then he could assist me with this part of the book. However, he was too young, and I am getting too old, or I was truly in a ‘heat daze’. Oh, and it was so very hot! Again, there was no sky, only a pale yellowish tinge to the air above our heads, but there were sprinkler paths for Michael to run through, and more than once, I wished I could have joined him. I was also worried about the effect of this air on Margie, but she seemed to tolerate it much better than her mother did, and her eyes were in constant motion. While Michael and Billy rode the rides, Uncle Charles and I sat on a bench in the shade, if we could find any, while I caught him up with all the family news.
I knew that other family members considered him the ‘black sheep’ of the Bond family, and had for some time, so I think perhaps for this reason, he took Horace Greeley’s advice and ‘went west’. He was such a likeable man, and not having been around my own grandfather, at that time not even to visit him in the Veterans Administration Hospital where he was a patient since before I was born, I found Uncle Charles both interested and interesting.
We talked about my grandmother, who I adored, and Uncle Charles said, “Well, that Willie was a handsome woman, and once she set her cap for Eldridge not another girl stood a chance.” He continued, “Yes indeed, they made a striking couple which is one reason why your mother and you are as pretty as pictures.”
I must have blushed, and Uncle Charles put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, it’s the truth, sure as we are sitting here, and I am sure that I am not the first person to tell you so.” That’s a mighty handsome fellow you married too with his Southern gentleman manners, and I bet he is a good soldier. I just hope he is not on his way to Vietnam.”
With that last sentence, my eyes filled with tears as I told Uncle Charles that was exactly where he was headed, although not immediately, and I just did not know when. “Well, you tell him that I said to keep his head low. He has a pretty little wife and two beautiful children to come home to, and you all need each other. I have found that out a bit late in life, but its true, you know.”
There was such a note of sadness in his voice that made me wish that I had known his story, but I never did. I knew only that he had been married before Ruth and I thought that he had a son, but he never mentioned him, and that could have been the reason for the sadness I felt and heard as we talked.
Amazingly, I do remember much of our conversations that day, even without remembering all we saw, and perhaps because our visit was far more important to me than Disneyland. We had never met, this younger brother to my grandfather, and me, at least to my remembrance, and perhaps would never meet again, but he was family, and I felt as if I had known him all my life.
It was after 1:00 p.m. when Margie started fussing for her lunch, so Uncle Charles found a cool restaurant with a jungle theme. As was our usual schedule, while waiting for our food, I fed her fruit and cereal and thought that after lunch, I would excuse myself to go to one of the many ‘nursing stations’ that I had seen on our walk around the park. It must be much more popular to nurse your baby here in California since I would have been condemned to a tiny, crowded, probably dirty restroom back in Georgia.
All around the ‘grass hut’ restaurant, parrot and monkey figures sang songs from ‘The Jungle Book’ and Michael was kept entertained while we waited for our food. As I expected though, he was too excited to eat, and of course, we had not seen Mickey Mouse yet. I thought aloud that perhaps the ‘characters’ were not in costume today because of the heat, but Uncle Charles assured Michael that we would find Mickey sooner or later. When our sandwiches came, by promising Michael that as soon as I nursed the baby, we would all go on the ‘jungle’ ride, which was a boat that followed a narrow river, he settled down and ate his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in record time. I was not in any hurry to leave since the coolness of the air-conditioning was reviving my mind a bit, but I also knew that we just had this one day for our rambunctious son to enjoy the park, and then it would be one more day and a half in the small room before we boarded the ship.
After we finished eating Uncle Charles insisted on picking up the bill, although I felt that this was becoming a very expensive day for him. Billy told him that he would like to ‘treat’ him since he had brought us here, but Uncle Charles would not hear of it, and I left them discussing the issue and took Margie to the ‘Nursing’ area I had seen just outside the restaurant.
The men had said that they would wait for me on one of the benches in front of the ‘jungle’ ride, so I hoped that Margie would nurse quickly and they would not have to wait long with Michael pulling on their arms wanting to ‘go’. When I opened the door to the ‘nursing’ room, air-conditioned coolness awaited me, and all the amenities that a mother with a baby could possibly need. First, there were large ‘changing tables’, sturdy, clean, and safe with ample ‘lips’ so that a little one could not roll off, although I could not imagine anyone leaving a baby there alone. There were even vending machines with all kinds of lotions and wipes, but of course, I had plenty of my own in the diaper bag. There were four small cubicles with rocking chairs and a curtain to draw over the entrance for privacy, and after I changed her diaper, I settled in one of the comfortable chairs, pulled the curtain, and nursed my baby. I loved this time alone with her, and knew that I was the only one who could feed her, as she greedily drank from first one breast and then the other. I felt like I could do this as long as she was thriving, and obviously at this point, it seemed more than successful. As Uncle Charles said, she was indeed a healthy looking baby from her chubby little cheeks to her triple chins, to her plump little arms and legs. All too soon we were finished and it was time to brave the heat of this California ‘inversion’ and board the boat for the ‘jungle’ ride.
Meeting the men exactly where they had said they would wait, Michael was pulling his daddy up to his feet just as soon as he saw me coming. “Let’s go find Mickey Mouse,” he said, but of course, first we were going to have our ‘jungle’ ride. This was one of the few rides that all of us could enjoy together, so I was not going to miss this one. Boarding the boat, our host noticed I was carrying an infant and suggested that I take an aisle seat, and although I had no idea why, I heeded his advice and Billy sat on the ‘outside’ in the seat with me while Uncle Charles and Michael shared the one just behind us. Uncle Charles must have been on this ride before as he wisely sat in the aisle seat, and Michael was happy to be where he could see everything. Slowly the boat meandered on a rail under the water while the guide talked to us about the jungle and about the sights that we would see when all of a sudden a quite life-like hippopotamus raised out of the water right in front of the boat, which took a sharp turn to the right to miss it. Michael laughed aloud, and Uncle Charles laughed with him. Next, there were animated headhunters along the bank of the river near their village, with ‘shrunken heads’ on poles all along the river bank, and somewhere there was an elephant that trumpeted and threw water from his trunk towards the boat, but just missed. There were crocodiles with their heads just above the water, their eyes glaring, and their jaws opening and closing as if they wanted nothing more than to take a bite out of the boat for their lunch. This was the Wonderful World of Disney at its best! At the end of the ride, we discovered why the guide suggested that I sit on the aisle with the baby when we passed under a huge waterfall, and the passengers on the outside were soaked! Michael just laughed as the cool water splashed over him, and even Billy was amused since it felt so good on this hot day. It was an fun ride and I would have gladly gone again, sitting on the outside while letting Billy hold Margie on the inside so I could be the one who got wet!
Michael, his little face dripping, had not forgotten his quest to find Mickey, and I worried that this day he just might be disappointed. As we exited the ride, I asked the guide if the ‘characters’ were not around because of the heat, and he assured me that they were all over the park, but also told us not to miss the afternoon parade down Main Street where all of them would be together. Well, if we had to wait for the parade to see Mickey, I knew that is exactly what we would have to do!
From the ‘jungle ride’, I only remember three more rides and one was the Merry-go-round which did not excite Billy, so I took Michael and stood by him as he sat on his horse, and Billy and Uncle Charles sat on a bench in the shade with Margie. The next was a submarine ride, and considering my claustrophobia, which has worsened with age, I am surprised that I actually got into that closed boat, although, once inside, it seemed to go underwater, I could see the top from where I was standing.
You have to remember, this was 1965, and there was nothing like this park on the East Coast, or anywhere else in the United States, like there is today with major ‘theme’ amusement parks just about everywhere you can reach by car. Now there are the ‘Six Flag’ parks, Busch Gardens, Paramount’s King’s Dominion, Hershey Park, and Dollywood, just to name a few, but in 1965 this was an entirely new concept in amusement parks, Walt Disney’s dream, and the beginning of the end of the old ‘carnival’ ride parks. These rides were safe, running on rails, and even the roller coasters, which I would not have ridden, ran on wheels that were ‘locked’ to the tracks. I would not have thought twice about allowing my son and husband to ride them, although there were height limits on many of the rides, and Michael was too small to enjoy them. When we saw one of these, we hastily directed his attention to another of the sights or attractions that he could ride, and thus spared Uncle Charles one of Michael’s famous tantrums. Once he started to act up, then Billy warned him that if he acted like that we would go right back to the car and to the motel, and he was a model almost three year old from then on.
After I decided no harm could befall either my daughter or me, I entered the submarine with my family. Like the jungle boat, it too moved slowly through the water while all kind of fish and even a mermaid swam by, none ‘real’ of course, but all animated and very colorful, yet, while I felt a bit uncomfortable being so ‘closed in’, I enjoyed just being out of the heat and in the air-conditioned submarine. As we climbed out of the ride, and that was perhaps the most difficult part of all, Michael accidentally kicked Uncle Charles in the face and gave him a black eye! I was mortified, and Billy so apologetic, but Uncle Charles just shrugged it off and said it was not the first black eye he had ever had and not to worry about it, it was an accident. It was an accident, but I still felt awful about sending him home to Ruth with that bruise! I wondered then too if I had met someone as accident-prone as my Billy, and thought that if they had changed places while exiting, it could have been Billy, or even me! That was all we needed for one of us to have a black eye when we arrived in Hawaii!
After we exited we found that the line to one of the more popular rides for young families was manageable, so we all entered the dark coolness of the “It’s a Small World” attraction, which drove us through scenes of other countries, all the while the song played and small animated children, dressed in their native costumes, danced and sang. Michael did not find the calmness of this ride to his liking, and next he and Billy rode the ‘Model T’ cars around another locked wheel track, while Billy allowed Michael to ‘drive’, and then it was time for the Main Street parade. We wanted to be early and look for a seat on the shady side of Main Street since one side faced directly into the late afternoon sun, so we started back down the thoroughfare on the opposite side that we had come. Michael could still see Cinderella’s castle in the distance and pulled on Billy’s hand to go that way, but was finally satisfied when we told him that he would see Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Donald and Daisy Duck, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and all the rest of his friends in the parade. I wondered how patient he would be while waiting for it to begin, but even he seemed to be flagging and almost relieved that our day was coming to an end. We found a bench large enough to hold all three of us with Michael in someone’s lap, and after Uncle Charles bought snow cones to satisfy our thirst, Michael finally was satisfied to sit and wait for the parade.
I knew that my little man was tired though since he insisted on sitting in my lap, and he rested his head against my shoulder after he finished his snow cone, stuck his finger in his mouth, and began to curl my hair with his other hand. He had almost stopped sucking his finger, but when he was overly tired, he sometimes did, and Dr. Rivers had thought that we would do more harm trying to stop him, and that it would be better to let him outgrow it by himself. Billy was not happy with Dr. River’s advice, but all of this took place right before and during Ranger School, and frankly, neither of us, had the time or the will to deal with it then or now. I thought that if this soothed him in the upheaval from the only home he had ever known, and the birth of the new baby, then so be it, after all, he was completely potty trained, and that was a far more important issue!
We did not have to wait long before we heard the Disneyland Band leading the way down Main Street and before long, our little boy’s eyes looked like they could pop out of his head as all his storybooks came to life in front of him.
Then he saw Mickey, who was walking, not riding as Cinderella and some others, and he called to him, “Mickey’, Mickey, Mickey, come here!”
Much to our surprise, and Michael’s delight ‘Mickey’ heard his pleas and came right over to Michael and even picked him up and jiggled him in his arms. I had thought that perhaps when ‘Mickey’ got close that the huge heads on the characters might frighten Michael, but he just laughed and laughed as Mickey danced with him right there on Main Street! The pity of it all was that we had run out of film and did not get their picture, but the look that our precious son had on his face that day he danced with Mickey Mouse is one embedded forever in my memory, and one that has not faded with time.
After Michael’s ‘dance’ with Mickey, there was nothing that could ‘top’ that, and we were all dragging in the searing afternoon heat. Ruth was due back from work soon, so we bid farewell to Disneyland, and to ‘Mickey’, and slowly, tiredly made our way back to the car. As Billy unlocked the doors, a blast of heat from inside hit us in the face, so we stood in the parking lot ‘visiting’ for a few minutes while the car cooled down, at least as cool as the outside air, which was surely in the 90’s? It was just so humid and the air was so stale, that I knew that I never wanted to be stationed anywhere near the Los Angeles area, although there was little chance of that since there were no Army bases nearby. The closest were around San Francisco, and Uncle Charles assured us that they did not have this kind of heat there. It is hard to imagine what a long state California is, as I often say that about Florida, but California, from end to end must be more than twice as long as Florida, and I could not imagine it. The vastness of the great western states had more than surprised me, and often when it took a full day to drive across just one state I would remember our beloved South and how we could drive across several states in the time it took us to cross one once we left Oklahoma. I hoped then that Billy’s next tour, after Vietnam, would be back at Ft. Benning, and the familiar south. More than likely it would since he would probably be promoted to Captain during or not long after his Vietnam tour, depending, of course, on when he left. Once he made Captain, he had another school, Officers’ Advanced, and that was at Ft. Benning. After this great adventure we probably would head ‘home’ again to many of the same familiar faces we had just left. At least I hoped so! We had also decided that after O.A., we would ask for a transfer to Europe!
Back in the car, Uncle Charles guided us away from the main roads and ‘rush hour’ traffic, the likes of which I had never seen, and we were back in the parking lot at his apartment in less than half an hour. Grateful for his invitation to come inside to cool off with some lemonade or a coke, we parked the car in the shade this time and left the windows open. Ruth’s car was in their parking space, and she greeted us at the door not even making mention of her husband’s bruised eye, although I did, and apologized for the accident and our precocious son.
“Oh don’t worry about it,” she said kindly, “he is just a little boy, and of course he did not mean to do it.”
What lovely and generous people my relatives in California were, and I was thankful that at last, I was able to meet them. We would not have even known about Disneyland without Uncle Charles guidance, and he seemed to have enjoyed the day almost as much as Michael. Several times, I had caught him gazing wistfully at our son as if imagining that he was enjoying this magic place with his own son. Some day I hoped that I would learn the story, and when I did, it was just sad, not tragic, except to Uncle Charles, since his first wife would not allow him to see his child, who turned out to be a little girl. Since he missed some of his child support payments, he had lost the right to protest, thus his sadness. I always hoped that his daughter, once grown, would realize the human frailties in her father, and would establish a relationship with him, and as far as I know, this did happen not long before Uncle Charles died, and by then he was a grandfather too.
Ruth offered to fix us all some supper, but Billy asked if he could ‘treat’ them to a pizza, if there was a restaurant nearby so he could pick it up.
“Well, if you insist”, she said, surely tired after a day’s work, “but I certainly don’t want you going back out in that heat again until you have to go to your room, I’ll just call and order one. What toppings do you like?”
Call and order a pizza and have it delivered to your front door! I had never head of such a convenience, and of course, neither had Billy. Would the wonders never cease? Feeling much like country kids who first see a tall building, we stated our preference, and Ruth called the order in while I fed Margie. Then Ruth led me back to their guestroom, where there was a wooden rocking chair, and I nursed our again ravenous daughter. The doorbell rang just as she finished nursing one breast, and I called out for them not to wait for me but to go ahead and eat while it was hot, which of course they did not do. Ruth put the pizzas in a warm oven and they all sat, talked, and drank lemonade while they waited for me to finish nursing the baby.
Margie was asleep in my arms when I got back to the living room, so Ruth found an old, but clean, bedspread, and folding it thickly, she made a soft pallet on the floor for the baby, who slept throughout our supper. The pizza was the best I had ever tasted, and of course, we did not have any kind of ‘home delivery’ in our area of the woods yet. California was like an entirely different country, almost, except that we all spoke English and flew the same flag, although I had heard some Spanish spoken here too. I had a feeling that all these innovations would soon reach our beloved ‘Dixieland’ and it would never be the same again, never in my wildest imagination did I dream that Atlanta would become the New York of the south!
We visited for only a short while over the dinner table since Billy had to have the car at the Terminal no later than 9:00 p.m., and we planned to drive straight from here to Terminal Island and take a taxi back to the room. We should not have mentioned it to Aunt Ruth and Uncle Charles, who would not hear of us paying for a taxi for that short a ride, and they insisted on following us to the terminal and then taking us to the room. This way we would not have to transfer the children to a taxi, rather we could ride with Ruth who would follow Billy and Uncle Charles in our car.
I felt like they had already done far too much for us, but soon Billy and Uncle Charles went down to the cars to transfer to their car our luggage and papers, except a set of orders that Billy would need at the terminal to send the car to Hawaii. Margie was awake by now and in need of changing, so while I took care of her, Aunt Ruth cleaned off the table and soon we joined the men in the parking lot. Naturally Uncle Charles knew a ‘shortcut’ to the terminal, so Billy was glad to have him along as a guide, particularly since I am not much of a navigator, and Aunt Ruth followed in their car. Billy had been concerned that we would not make the ‘cut-off’ date for cars shipping out the next day, but within twenty minutes, and over two hours before the deadline, we were at Terminal Island. Billy parked in the Visitors parking, and went inside the sentry’s booth to find out where he needed to leave the car and to clear the paperwork. Michael insisted on sitting in the front seat between his great-great uncle and great-great aunt. That left room for his father in the backseat, and Ruth took our son on her lap as if she took care of three-year-old boys daily, but much to her disappointment, they never had children of their own.
We had left some of our bulkier luggage in the trunk of the car to include the car bed where Margie had been sleeping, since I knew there would not be room for it on the ship, and I had no idea what arrangements they made for infants since once again the Matson Lines brochure did not cover the subject. I was sure that most people who could afford to take the ship over to the islands did not have infants traveling with them. I could make a pallet on the floor like Aunt Ruth had for tonight, and since she was not rolling over yet she would be just fine. We also left the diaper pail, although we took out the liner with the soiled diapers, and Billy said that he would wash and dry them, along with the rest of our clothing, just before time to leave for the ship.
Whistling, Billy came out of the guardhouse and said that all he had to do was just leave the car where it was with the keys in it, and they would take it down to the dock and aboard the transport ship tonight. The car should actually get to Hawaii before we did since we were also going by ship. We would be taking the ‘long route’ so that the paying passengers could have five full days at sea, while the transport would go the fastest and shortest route.
Climbing into the back seat, Billy sneaked a quick kiss and said, “Did you have a good time today, or are you too tired?”
While I knew what he meant when he wanted to know if I was too tired, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Charles thought that he was just being the kind and concerned husband that he had proven to be all day long. I knew exactly what he meant, and there would never be the day that I was too tired to make love with Billy McConnell.
“I’m tired, but not too tired”, I assured him, and was awarded with his beautiful smile as he took my free hand in his and brought it to his lips.
Within five minutes, we were sitting in front of our small, but thankfully, air-conditioned room, and arranged with Uncle Charles about what time we needed to leave for the ship on Saturday. Since the ship sailed at 6:00 p.m., we thought that if they picked us up by 5:00 p.m., we would have plenty of time for them to see us aboard, but Charles said that he would rather have more time not knowing what kind of traffic we would run into with the ship in port. This evening the terminal was quiet, without another person in sight, other than the sentry, but it would be far different when the Lurline made port from San Francisco where the voyage originated. After agreeing on a time, I kissed both Uncle Charles and Aunt Ruth on their cheeks while Michael gave both of them a great big hug and we all thanked him for such a wonderful day.
As they pulled off and before their taillights were out of sight, Billy turned to Michael and said, “O.K. son, time for a quick bath and bed. I need to talk to your mother.”
Michael’s little head was nodding even before Billy could finish reading the first book, so after I finished bathing Margie, and nursing her one more time as she fell asleep, Billy had the water running for our shower. As tired as I was, and I did not remember ever being so tired, except perhaps the day after giving birth, I was still looking forward to our shower, Billy’s teasing touches, and once again being in my handsome husband’s arms, where I belonged. As wonderful as Disneyland was, it paled in comparison to making love with Billy. While I have forgotten much of that day, I have never forgotten one single moment of our long showers and trips to the moon, and his sweet kisses while he held me close and whispered, “Little girl, do you know that I love you more than life itself?”