Reliving Fond Memories
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Mark, Walt and Me
By Buster Gracey
I hear the whistle before I see it. Then, through the dense greenery I catch glimpses of white railing. As the steamboat rounds the corner of the Rivers of America, the pilot clangs the bell. It is a welcome, familiar image I will never get bored with.
Mark Twain never tired of the Mississippi River. It was a spiritual source, nursing his genius. He swam in it as a child. He learned to pilot the steamships, reading the river like a book. Then, as one of America's greatest authors, he wrote down his impressions, distilling its essence and creating some of the most memorable characters in literature.
This man's mythic world of unschooled freedom and innocence, plus the benign creations of another, would soon become the central focus of my young life.
The year was 1973. Mom and Dad allowed me to attend my first movie alone. All by myself. I walked to town and bought my ticket at the Bijou. It was a movie I would always remember: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyerâ€?, staring Johnny Whitaker and Jody Foster (music by the Sherman Brothers!). All in all it was a perfect day for a young pup. It was my first experience with independence, and I just watched a wonderful story that swept me away. For days afterwards I dreamt of hidden treasure and rafts and dangerous dank caves. The movie played again and again behind my eyelids.
My passion for all things Disney was developing at this time. Sunday nights were sacred to me. I also loved Disneyland, and was fascinated by the treehouse and suspension bridge on Tom Sawyer's Island, not to mention the salty old pirates hiding in the caverns below New Orleans Square. After seeing the movie, the nickel dropped and I made the connection between the two. Through the miasma of toys and other childhood distractions, I was instinctively drawn to these two very American influences. I was hooked on Mark Twain and Walt Disney. They became good friends and travelling companions. Their particular philosophies of life helped to define my budding personality.
These two artistic giants belong together. Though their career paths and attitudes were a bit different, both shared a common bond. I believe it was this that made their work more than entertaining. It made them immortal. These visionaries understood the strength of an innocent childhood.
Twain and Disney both claimed Missouri as the wellspring of their inspiration. Twain's Hannibal memories would yield characters for two of his greatest books. Disney claimed that the farm in Marceline was the denominator of his developing personality and values (Roy did too!).
Both men were not merely nostalgia merchants. Their work reflected a strong need for the security of youthful memories, since it is these memories that define who we are, either individually or collectively as a nation. This is the foundation of a healthy interaction between the world and ourselves.
Mark Twain referred to his childhood days as "drowsingâ€?. By that he meant that hazy timeless place between the waking and dream world. It is a worry-free, ageless inner peace. Disney too believed in drowsing and built a business on it, creating an entire theme park to simulate that elusive emotional state. Walt Disney designed some of Tom Sawyer's Island himself in 1956 when his imagineers were stumped on how to approach it.