“Have you ever seen anything like this, K.K.?” Luke’s eyes were big as saucers. I can’t remember if we were floating over to Tom Sawyer’s Island, rolling down Space Mountain or dodging incoming cannon balls launched by The Pirates of the Caribbean. I had sworn off Disney World years ago. I’d had all I could take of the enormous crowds, traffic jams and that never ending “It’s a Small World” song blasting across the park.
Grandsons have a power that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything the Magic Kingdom can drum up.
“Yes,” I answered while we were in line waiting to ride the Jungle Cruise. “Luke, we used to float across Everett’s Lake on a log. We didn’t have a guide, fancy engine or side rails with signs saying to keep your arms and feet inside. We wrestled alligators, masked men, snakes, swamp rats and strange beings from another planet. We fought Pirates hand to hand with hickory swords. If the wind wasn’t ‘right’, we’d be adrift for hours on that water.” His eyes fairly shown with wonder.
“But you didn’t have Space Mountain.”
I laughed. “Son, we had rides that would make Space Mountain look like a Tinker Toy.” His mouth flew open as I explained in detail how me and Ricky Hale and Bob Edwards would ball up inside an old tire while the “starters” lined us up on the top of the hill in front of Mr. Archie Moore’s house. They’d give us a shove and off we’d race, bouncing and spinning, toward the big ditch at the bottom of the steep incline. All you could see was ground and sky, ground and sky, as the tire rolled you over and over toward the inevitable crash landing. “There were no tracks, Luke, no steering, no brakes and no safety rules.” Because Nonnie was standing pretty close by, I waited until we were alone to tell him about throwing up at the end of the ride.
“Splash Mountain would be a trickle to the guys back home.” I had plenty of time here, as the Jungle Cruise line had seemingly run into an escarpment. “In the spring, when the water was up in the gorge we’d swing across it on a cut-off grapevine. If our hands slipped or we hit the bank on the opposite side and fell back……we got a lot more than just splashed!” He laughed out loud at the prospects of his grandfather soaked from the adventure.
“You just think that Buzz Lightyear guy can shoot. We didn’t use lasers no one could see. We shot real BB’s at real targets!” He immediately asked what kind of targets. You get a story started with an eight year old in the Jungle Cruise line, you’d better be prepared to finish. “We shot at Army men; and knots on logs stuck in the mud, leaves floating by in the stream and robins and sparrows sitting high in the trees.” His Nonnie had turned to pick up one of the twins so I leaned down and finished, “When no one was looking we shot at street lights, mailboxes and those green glass things nailed to the telephone poles which the wires laid over.”
“But K.K.,” the other twin had been listening to more of this than I realized, “You didn’t have any ‘princesses’?”
“Hayden, honey,” I picked her up and held her close. “Cynthia Wheat was a princess. Brenda Ellis was a princess. Jan King was a princess. I could name you a hundred princesses from that far away time and place. We were surrounded by them. You may not know this but your Nonnie, once upon a time, was a princess.” It was her turn for the saucer eyes!
“That’s enough talk about girls!” Luke didn’t have many rules, but we had broken his main one. “Did you have any ‘characters’ back then?”
I’ve been waiting half my life for someone to ask me that question! “Son, listen up! We lived practically next door to a guy who thought he was a butterfly. He ate moths and honeysuckle pedals. A classmate of mine tied a kite to each arm and jumped off the top of a railroad car parked up by the old milling company. I was at the prom when Leon rode in on the big horse. I went to grade school with a guy who would make Goofy look like Albert Einstein. Jane Hill opened coke bottles with her teeth. Rollin Trull once jumped six—” Nonnie cut me off with the “don’t give our grandson any ideas” look.
The talk in the Jungle Cruise line tuned to the anticipated fireworks show. “Luke, shooting firecrackers up in the air ain’t no big deal. Bobby Brewer showed me how to put a cherry bomb in a mailbox. You talk about an explosion! I’ve seen’um lifted right off the post. We’d sometimes put two bombs in a big box…...”
Molly, the safari dressed guide from Enid, Oklahoma, interrupted the lesson by leaning down and asking Luke if he was ready for the danger and excitement of a real Jungle Cruise.
“Ma’am,” he looked up with that beautiful innocence his age abounds in, “I think I’ve already been on it.”