I went to Disneyworld once. I was eight or nine, and if I remember correctly, we just popped over for one afternoon of a vacation spent at Daytona Beach. I vaguely recall riding Space Mountain, but that is literally the only thing I remember about being inside the park. Here’s what I do remember about the day. My sisters were both teenagers and far too cool and surly to be going to Disneyworld. There was all kinds of eye-rolling and murmuring in the back seat as we drove from Daytona. They were missing a day at the beach (they were very into their tans at the time), and there was an unmistakeable subtext that this little outing was all about what the baby brother wanted and nobody ever gave a thought to what they wanted.
We stopped at a roadside rest area for a picnic. Sandwiches all around. Only I didn’t want a sandwich. I wanted sardines and saltine crackers. More eye-rolling from the sisters. Why they cared what I ate for lunch, I don’t know. I suppose it looked to them like I was getting some kind of special treatment, though I’m sure if they had asked, Mama would have cracked out another tin of sardines for them too. Or they could have had some of mine. I wasn’t greedy about such things.

But we sat there around the concrete table, and there was huffing and sighing but not a lot of talking until a sharp breeze snuck up on us and caught my napkin and flipped my open tin of sardines (packed in oil) onto the white shorts of my sister. Shrieking and recriminations followed, and my mother and both sisters retired to the bathroom where they stayed rather a long time trying to clean the shorts. They didn’t make much headway. My sister went on to Disneyworld wearing oil-blotched shorts that stunk so bad I could hardly stand to sit beside her.

That’s about as magical as my memories of Disneyworld get. I could use some better ones, especially since I’m taking the family there in a couple of weeks. You reckon you could help me out? For Audience Participation Friday, let’s talk about Disney. Triumphs, disasters, amusing anecdotes, opinions supported and unsupported. We welcome them all.

CLARIFICATION: My mother called and asked that I clarify a couple of things about this story. First, the sardines had been left in the car from a fishing trip my father and I had taken. My mother didn’t keep sardines on hand, and certainly did not bring them to picnics. And second, we had fried chicken, not sandwiches. She wanted you to know.

  • luaphacim
    1:23 PM, 4 March 2011

    My only experience with Disneyworld was related more to the idea of the place than the place itself.
    When I was about nine, I somehow got it into my head that I wanted to go to Disneyworld. And, as you know if you have ever been nine, I wanted it more than ANYONE has ever wanted ANYTHING.

    (In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I wanted to go. I don’t like roller coasters, and I’m not especially fond of crowds. I was probably just more susceptible to the magic of advertising at that age.)

    The obstacles were as follows:
    * We lived in Kansas
    * We lived on the salary of an adjunct math instructor
    * Mom and dad had seven kids at that time, with number eight on the way

    When I told my father about my rather unrealistic desire, he told me we would see if we could make it happen. And that sweet man kept his word. I remember him getting on the phone with Disney to see if they had any discounts our group of nine could take advantage of. I remember him writing down estimates, adding up expenses, researching campgrounds, trying to massage the numbers into something that wouldn’t make us hemorrhage out an entire month’s pay.

    He went through a lot of effort trying to fulfill the silly dreams of a little boy. So I knew when he sat down solemnly with me a week later that he had done his best.

    “Son,” he said, “sometimes we just can’t get the things we want. When that happens, we just need to appreciate what we have.” He finished by giving me an enormous hug that conveyed more love than a dozen trips to Disneyworld ever could.

    So I guess you could say that I have nothing but good memories of Disneyworld. 🙂

  • Jonathan Rogers
    2:05 PM, 4 March 2011

    Love that story, luaphacim. You have gotten us off to an auspicious start.

  • Patrick
    2:44 PM, 4 March 2011

    I think I was about 4 years old (which makes me wonder how I remember this and where my baby brother would have been) when my parents decided to take a trip to Disney World… without me. They were going with a group of their friends in the middle of summer and claimed it would be too hot for me in Florida.
    I was a Pennsylvania boy, and by that time in my life I couldn’t remember being any farther south than the town I was born in. I just had to take the grown-ups at their word for how hot that Florida place would be. I was greatly disappointed that I couldn’t go too, but thought I could have fun at Grandma’s house too. Grandma lived in the country and I loved playing outside at her place.

    What I really remember is this: It was a very hot summer in Pennsylvania, and Grandma wouldn’t let me go outside. She had a thermometer outside her kitchen window, but I was too short to see it. She had a 3 foot stool (I wasn’t much bigger than that myself) that had the face of Mickey Mouse on the seat, and I would drag it over to the kitchen sink, climb up on the edge of the sink, and sit there watching the needle of the thermometer hoping that it would go down enough that Grandma would let me go outside.

    When my parents returned they acted surprised that it had been so hot in Pennsylvania, and admitted that it was hotter there than it was in Florida that week. I was disgusted that I didn’t get to go to Disney World with them.

  • Kristen
    3:30 PM, 4 March 2011

    When I was seven, my aunt told me that she was planning on taking my younger brother and me to Disneyworld – in four years. I thought, “Wow! When I’m 11, I’ll get to go to Disneyworld!” I couldn’t wait!
    As the years went by, she decided that she could only take one of us; this would be decided by drawing one name out of a hat. But, when four years was up, my aunt seemed to have forgotten about the promise she made to us. We never went to Disneyworld.

    The same thing happened about going to Noah’s Ark in the Wisconsin Dells, which was a whole lot closer than Disneyworld. It’s no surprise, then, that she never even fulfilled her promise to take us to her friend’s backyard swimming pool.

    I did learn a couple of valuable life lessons, though. I never again got my hopes up when this certain aunt made any sort of promise. (Though I have since forgiven her – she really is a good aunt, otherwise ;)) Also, it’s best not to make promises you have no intention of keeping… (Especially not to impressionable children.)

  • Patrick
    3:51 PM, 4 March 2011

    I’m beginning to wonder if anyone other than Jonathan’s family has actually been to Disney World 😉

  • Jess
    3:55 PM, 4 March 2011

    Ya know the funny thing is that I have never in my life wanted to go to Disneyworld. As a kid–no, wait, I can’t use that expression until I’m 18. Um. Restart the story.My older brother, my younger sister, and I used to be obsessed with Legos. We would play them all day long. So it was no wonder that the big place we wanted to go to was Legoland. We would drool over the pictures of giant Legos and whole towns of Legos that were flaunted in the Lego magazines.
    I was unpopular in second grade (I had been homeschooled the years before, and that, for some reason, made me automatically dumb). However, I made a couple of “friends” that I would follow around and learn the ways of the world from. One day, they were talking about Disneyworld and how cool it was and how they were going again in the summer (note the “again”–these kids were privileged 😉 ). I made the mistake of rolling my eyes and saying that Disney was for two-year-old princess freaks. No more friends. I spent the rest of the school-year recesses all alone, pretending I was racing Lego gokarts in Legoland. And the next year I convinced my mom to homeschool me again. That way, I could spend more of my day wishing I were rich enough to buy all of the Lego sets ever sold.

  • Jess
    3:57 PM, 4 March 2011

    P.S. Why SARDINES? I can understand the saltine crackers, though. I’m a fan of them myself.

  • JJ
    4:02 PM, 4 March 2011

    I’ve never been to Disneyworld or Disneyland either. I always wanted to go as a kid but there wasn’t even a whiff of a suggestion that we might go. I figure now that I have a son who loves Pixar stuff we’ll likely make a trip down there for him when he’s older.

  • Hannah
    4:07 PM, 4 March 2011

    Yes, Jess. I was hoping you would mention Legos. They were the best. Especially with our imaginations. 🙂
    But as for Disney…well…I never was that impressed by them, much less there “World.” I mean, for the longest time, we weren’t even allowed to watch Disney movies. Not that I care, when I did see them, I was kind of disappointed. At least with Cinderella and Snow White and such. It seemed to me that they used the same voices over and over (an overly high-pitched voice for princesses, and a dumb, same ol’, same ol’ voice for the prince, and then the raspy voice for evil women) and the same plots. I also was outraged when I learned that the Black Cauldron had been made into a cartoon Disnyfied movie, and that Ffleuder Fflam had become a pot-belly old guy.

    Not that I don’t like other Disney movies. Like the Pixar movies, and the “real actor” movies. But I still can’t stand Disney princesses.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  • Hannah
    4:10 PM, 4 March 2011

    Whoops. I apologize for the typos galore.

  • Dryad
    4:18 PM, 4 March 2011

    I have never been to Disneyworld; I have never wanted to go to Disneyworld; Disneyworld does nto interest me. I would like to point out that Sleeping Beauty (my personal favorite) does not fulfil all the ‘Disney Princess’ stereotypes that Hannah pointed out. The evil woman had a rather mellifluous voice, and the princess had a lovely singing voice (she sang professionally) and the scenerywas lovely. It was an exception in every way. Plus, the evil fairy turned into a dragon. How awesome is that? Having defended the good name of Sleeping Beauty, I can now reveal that I agree with almost all her points otherwise.

  • Hannah
    4:37 PM, 4 March 2011

    Dryad: I have never actually seen Sleeping Beauty, and so I cannot disagree. 🙂 If I was forced to choose a favorite princess with a gun to my head I think I’d choose Belle from Beauty and the Beast. But only with a gun to my head. 😉 And the only reason is that she is a bookworm. Side note: the Beast is a million times better as a beast than a human.
    I’d also like to point out that one of the worst renditions was the Little Mermaid. We had a cartoon of that that was not Disney, that was very much like the story, but the Disney one has to be terrible, even though I haven’t seen it, because Marina lives. That destroys the whole point of the story.

  • Jess
    4:39 PM, 4 March 2011

    Dryad, you are officially admitted into the DWTGTDW (Didn’t Want To Go To DisneyWorld) club. It is a highly exclusive club (not enough people didn’t want to go to Disneyworld), congratulations for proving yourself eligible. 😉 On a side note (not that this whole comment isn’t a side note; I guess that makes it a side-side note), I have never seen Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I’ve seen almost all of the others, but that one continues to elude me.

  • Jess
    4:41 PM, 4 March 2011

    Wow, Hannah and I managed to say almost the exact same thing. Sisterly telepathy. And no, we did not speak together before posting those comments, although we are in the same room. 😉

  • Dryad
    6:35 PM, 4 March 2011

    Once again, I agree with you on all your points, Hannah. I would highly recommend seeing Sleeping Beauty if you can. The score is Tchaikovsky’ Sleeping Beauty, and the story is one of the better disney renditions, with real danger, real consequences, and a pretty awesome dragon fighting scene. I have blocked out the prince’s voice, though, so I can’t remember if he was annoying or not. The beast was definitely awesomer as a beast; he was both believeable and cool-looking.Jess, I thank you for admitting me to the club. Should I make a badge or T-shirt? Also, is Hannah older or younger? My sister on here is named Jazz. She is younger. She is relatively awesome.

  • Hannah
    6:38 PM, 4 March 2011

    I am younger, I just turned 14! Are you implying that I relate to Jazz in only being relatively awesome??? 😉

  • sally apokedak
    6:39 PM, 4 March 2011

    luaphacim, what a great story.

  • Jazz
    6:40 PM, 4 March 2011

    Hannah: I LOVE Beauty and the Beast!!! You are sooo right about the beast!!!!!You are now on my good side!

  • Jess
    6:40 PM, 4 March 2011

    Hannah and Dryad: younger sisters are always only relatively awesome. It is us older and wiser beings that are unlimitedly awesome in all respects. 😉

  • Hannah
    6:44 PM, 4 March 2011

    Ehem. Thank you, Jazz for some sort of appreciation. And Jess, don’t even think you can read to me tonight. 😉

  • Jazz
    6:56 PM, 4 March 2011

    Dryad, Prince Phillip does have a really good voice.

  • Drew
    7:41 PM, 4 March 2011

    Jonathan, that is a terribly sad story, and that it involves sardines somehow emphasizes the inherent tragedy of it all.
    I want to take my two girls to Disneyplanet sometime before they get too old and grow jaded about such things as magic and princesses and castles and whatnot. They are now 5.5 and 7. As this will probably be the only time we ever go (unless I mysteriously win a lottery I don’t play) . . . what do you think?

  • Jess
    8:13 PM, 4 March 2011

    Wait a minute. You chose sardines over fried chicken? Where on earth (or, apparently, not on earth at all) did you come from? 😉 Makes for a good story, though. That’s what counts (maybe I should start eating sardines).

  • sally apokedak
    8:55 PM, 4 March 2011

    When I was nine, we spent one day at Disneyland. I remember sitting in front of my sister, who was ten years older than I was, as we rode the Matterhorn. She assured me that she’d take care of me and we’d have a great time. I scrunched down in that bobsled thing, with my head down and my eyes closed the whole time, begging God to let me live, while my sister laughed and enjoyed the ride. That was my one time on a roller coaster.
    I wish I could make the story funny, somehow, but…I can’t.

    After that I wouldn’t go on any more rides. So my brother talked me into going into a fun haunted house. A dead guy jumped out of a coffin and grabbed me. That was my one time going into a haunted house.

    So this is what Disneyland did for me. It taught me to distrust my siblings and to hang on to my money and look with disdain on the idiots at the fair who pay forty bucks for a four second ride on a giant sling-shot. 🙂

  • Aaron Roughton
    9:16 PM, 4 March 2011

    What in the (Disney)world is going on here? I guess I take it for granted that I had Disney in my backyard, growing up in Orlando as I did. It’s a magical place to me. When the commercial comes on where the grown up takes his kids to Disney and sees himself as a kid in the reflection of a shop window I cry. No joke. I have too many memories to list. But here are about 30.
    We went to Disney often. It used to be free, or at least very cheap, and then you had to have tickets for the rides. The wealthier folks in our church would save their leftover tickets and give them to their impoverished preacher (my dad), and we would save them up until it was worth making a trip. The only ride that didn’t take tickets was If You Had Wings. It was sponsored by Eastern Airlines. There was a section where you rode through a tubular movie screen and it felt as though you were water skiing, riding a jeep on a safari, or in the middle of a busy street. I remember it like yesterday. They had oscillating fans that would blow on you as you passed. For the 70’s those were high special effects.

    My family would spend time at Ft. Wilderness on a regular basis. My parents would pay 50 cents to park and take their bikes with them. They would ride my brother and me around as babies until dusk, and then we’d watch the Chip and Dale movies in the log bleachers around a campfire.

    I was a huge Mousketeers fan. My mom helped the 4 year old me write letters to Lisa Welchel (a Mousketeer before she was Blair on Facts of Life) after she caught me kissing the TV screen when she was on it. I had a recurring dream as a kid of us just missing out on seeing them in person. We finally saw them live at Disney, and my face made it onto national TV as they panned the crowd. I was in heaven. Wearing mouse ears.

    We had some friends who always attended the PGA golf events at Disney. One year when they couldn’t go, they gave us their all-access badges for the weekend. My dad took my brother and me, and we had the run of every park. We could even have free use of the stuff that cost extra, like the little water sprite boats that were $35/hour to rent. We spent half a day jumping the waves of the ferry boats and trying not to get in trouble.

    When Disney started its Night Of Joy in the 80’s, our church youth group would always go. I passed quickly by the stages of such legendary Christian rock groups as Petra, Degarmo and Key, Whiteheart, and even Stryper on my way to Space Mountain. My mom would always ask whether I stopped to listen to the music, and I always said no. I don’t know what she thought those groups had to offer me, but apparently it was something.

    At one particular Night Of Joy a friend was swinging around one of those glow necklaces. It broke mid swing and sent glowing goop flying in all directions. A glob of it happened to hit me directly in the eyeball, and for a second they said I looked like a green eyed alien as I looked around. Disney, to cover their rear ends, called the paramedics. I had to go to the front of the park where an ambulance drove up, sirens blaring, to have them tell me I’d be fine. It was slightly embarrassing.

    And finally, we took my kids to Disney for the first time several years ago. My two daughters were 2 and 4, and they didn’t have any idea what Disney was all about. They weren’t that excited. We paid our way into the park, put them in a double stroller, and rolled them up to the foot of the stage at the castle where the Princess Spectacular started only minutes later. We video taped their looks of awe and wonder as every single Disney princess came out to sing and dance. They have been believers ever since. Get on board folks. It’s magical.

  • sally apokedak
    9:17 PM, 4 March 2011

    Your clarification, combined with something you said a week or so ago about making up something you wrote, make me wonder: Do you expect us to be 100% accurate when we participate in APF? Because I have always believed that writers are allowed to take some poetic license when telling true stories. My son, a literalist, likes to accuse me of lying. I tell him that all the stories I tell are true, even though the facts are sometimes airbrushed.
    What is your ruling on this?

  • sally apokedak
    9:24 PM, 4 March 2011

    Aaron, bless you. You have restored my faith. To celebrate, I’m going to see Tangled at the dollar theater this week. I’ve heard it’s the best princess movie ever.

  • Jess
    9:39 PM, 4 March 2011

    Sally! You voiced some of my own thoughts–I think about this a lot and usually come to the re-conclusion that it is a writer’s job to make the story interesting, even if they are required to stretch the facts. We aren’t reporters, we’re story-tellers. We’re here to insert beauty and humor into the world, not to give an exact summary of what there already is. Yeah, adding a little flare-that-wasn’t-there hopefully makes my stories more interesting for readers; I KNOW that it makes them more interesting for ME. 😉 Argh, sorry, you asked Mr. Rogers, not me. I just couldn’t help throwing my point of view in. 😉

  • Aaron Roughton
    9:58 PM, 4 March 2011

    Sally, I am in the theater with my entire family right now waiting for Tangled to start. The dollar theater. You might be clairvoyant.

  • Jonathan Rogers
    11:12 PM, 4 March 2011

    Aaron, I knew you were a Floridian, so I thought you might have strong opinions about Disney. I just wasn’t figuring you for such a rah-rah. Thanks for being a pro-Disney voice. We were needing one around here.
    Clairvoyant Sally, our motto for APF is “Be as accurate as you can, but lie when necessary.” The other motto is, “Don’t let truth get in the way of a good story.” I hope that’s helpful.

  • BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck
    12:38 AM, 5 March 2011

    We went last year. I had felt badly for years that we had never taken our kids; but my hubby is a pastor, and funds were just too tight.
    When I bought our two-day tickets, I felt sort of guilty. There were 5-8 day packages that looked like a lot more fun. I tried to just be grateful for what we could do.

    On the day that we arrived, we fought the crowds and chaos for about five hours before the kids claimed a picnic table and asked with exasperation, “Do they have a bookstore?” I giggled.

    We rode some rides and had some good memories. It was a nice trip. However, before the day was out, we really did leave early to find a bookstore. We ordered hot teas all around and soaked for three hours in a quieter vacation. The kids were absolutely giddy. 🙂

  • Melanie Murphy
    2:22 AM, 5 March 2011

    From the sister on whom the sardines fell I would like to offer a different angle to Jonathan’s story. I love the ocean and never want to miss a minute of it. Therefore to leave it for a whole day and it was a day – not just an afternoon- made me especially snarly that fateful day at Disneyworld. Now the sardines – great question Jess – why did he choose sardines over chicken? Why of course to aggravate the already snarly sister. Then to fail to hang on to his sardine filled plate in hopes that a gust of wind would come along – that was just wrong. Yes we did spend a tremendous amount of time in the bathroom using cold water and the hand dryer to clean my shorts. But what I didn’t know until today – was that I REALLY DID smell like sardines. Everyone spent the entire day assuring me that I did not. I hope you all enjoy Disneyworld – but leave the sardines at home.

  • Andrew
    2:24 AM, 5 March 2011

    I never saw Disneyworld, but had a season pass to Six Flags over Georgia for a few years. As a child in the early 1970s I enjoyed the Okefenokee Swamp Ride. A video on youtube conveys the combination of whimsy and disturbing surrealism of the ride: http://youtu.be/YpH1X6PmHdA

  • Canaan Bound
    3:07 AM, 5 March 2011

    Growing up, I heard all about Disney World from schoolmates and I remember asking my parents if we could go. But our family of seven didn’t have the funds to travel from VA all the way to FL, so we took advantage of some closer (and cheaper) alternatives: Busch Gardens, King’s Dominion, and Carowinds. We got up before the dawn, cashed in some coupons, and made a day trip of it – riding roller coasters and thrill rides from sunrise to sunset. I came to really crave that rush of adrenaline.
    Years later, I finally got to go to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom…though I was a teenager by that point and WAY “over it”. In fact, it was part of a church youth event and I was forced to go, against my will. The experience was…less than magical. Here’s why:

    1) I really wanted to be at Universal Studios. Or Epcot. I had a need for speed that Magic Kingdom just couldn’t satisfy.
    2) I wore chucks. BAD idea. Definitely needed shoes with arch support.
    3) My group walked incredibly slow. We didn’t go anywhere in a hurry, which later resulted in “not having enough time” to visit most of the more exciting (?) attractions.
    4) Because my group was so slow, I didn’t end up getting to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (The closest thing to a roller coaster). Major disappointment.
    5) I had to watch the parade. (My group insisted I could not leave them.) I’m not one for standing and watching…but especially not an hour-long procession. All I could think about was how short the lines at the rides must be.
    6) I was forced to buy a bottle of water for nearly FOUR DOLLARS. I’m not picky, but the drinking fountain water smelled (and tasted) like it had been pumped in from a nearby lagoon. (And NOT the Typhoon Lagoon, mind you.)
    7) I don’t have any memories other than frustration.

    So here’s my suggestion for anyone planning on attending Magic Kingdom: Go somewhere else. And if you don’t like my advice, you can take this kid’s instead. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x3poLxJjzw&feature=related

    While I have an obvious distaste for Magic Kingdom, I should admit that I do love Disney. Or, at least, the original Disney. I grew up on the Classics and Masterpiece Collections, and I ADORE Pixar movies. (I’ve think I may have to take up stock in that company.) I have every intention of making my kids watch them, especially Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, 101 Dalmatians, and The Lion King. They are my all-time faves.

  • Canaan Bound
    3:17 AM, 5 March 2011

    Sally, I agree with you. Most true stories are much improved with just a little bit of embellishment. 🙂

  • Aaron Roughton
    3:16 PM, 5 March 2011

    I will admit that we had a negative experience with a very overcrowded MGM Studios recently. But Disney’s reknowned customer service turned it around for us and kept us as customers.
    And I’ll also say that as a Floridiot, we never had a need to stay on the Disney property. A lot of my friends out here in Texas have taken their families on these package trips which include a resort stay on property, tickets to the park, and some extra goodies. They’ve all enjoyed it very much.

    And one more thing, there’s an independent website somewhere that one of my friends used to plan his Disney vacation. You plug in the dates you’ll be there, and they have all kinds of data on crowd avoidance, meal planning, discounts, etc. It will even give you explicit instructions as to how to ride the rides you want to ride without waiting in long lines. If I can find the site I’ll post it.

  • Aaron Roughton
    3:17 PM, 5 March 2011

    Renowned. Renowned. Sorry.

  • Jess
    5:49 PM, 5 March 2011

    Ooh, I like your point of view, Melanie. Nice addition. However, now that you answered my question about sardines, I have a question for you. Why were you wearing white shorts? If there is anything I have learned from having three younger siblings (and one older one), it is to never wear white shorts. 😉

  • EmmaJ
    1:09 AM, 6 March 2011

    Sally, you have raised such an interesting matter that I feel compelled (however rashly) to lay aside the worthy tasks I had planned and devote an inordinate amount of time to explicating my opinion on this matter, for the sake of my own clarity of thought even more than a desire to share my opinion with others. That is, if no one else ever reads this, I think I’ll still be glad that I took the time to write down my thoughts. I’m sort of typing out loud, as it were.

    On the matter of embellishing stories… I think… that whether it’s legit to do so or not depends on how much you stretch the fabric of the tale and to which elements one applies the treatment. I submit this only as a matter of opinion, open for further discussion (I’d be interested to hear what others have to say), but I think this is my opinion on the matter:

    As ably demonstrated by the now-infamous James Frey (grrr) a few years back, changing concrete details is inappropriate and inadvisable, even on purely amoral, pragmatic grounds (like, you don’t want to be outed by Oprah on national TV), if the story is presented as factual.

    On the other hand, elements such as descriptive details from the narrator’s perspective are ripe for embellishment. Matters of perspective, emotion and sentiment are all open for exaggeration, I say.

    Let’s say these are the skeletal facts of a tale I wish to share with you:
    a) The events about to be described occurred in Brinkley, Arkansas, where I stopped for lunch during a trip from Ohio to Texas.
    b) I was traveling alone.
    c) I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop, a train depot museum and a gas station.
    d) There was a very small Wal-Mart in this town.
    e) During my brief visit to Brinkley I encountered no hostility.

    This list of details is 1,000% true, but rather bland, wouldn’t you say? Doesn’t have much in the way of color. However, my preferred manner of describing this day is to bestow upon Brinkley the distinction of being The Friendliest Town in Arkansas. In truth, the people I encountered during this visit are likely to suffer from no less angst or disagreeableness than residents of other Arkansas towns, but since I observed no manifestations of such, I prefer to paint a narrative in which those elements are remarkably absent. Also, I did not observe any documents indicating that the local Wal-Mart holds any record for its diminutive size, but nevertheless declared it the world’s smallest. (You may consult my now-abandoned blog for the full story at http://chelseamorning.xanga.com/301266330/item/ if you like. But only if you aren’t bothered by a youthful disdain for capital letters.)

    Now, what say we jazz this story up a bit? Are you with me? Good. Here goes round two:
    “So, there was this time that I was traveling with Elvis, and you know how the King loved Arkansas. Well, we got hungry, so we got off the highway in Brinkley. And let me tell you, those people were pretty thrilled. They gave us a free lunch at the best restaurant in town, sent us on a shopping spree at the local Wal-Mart (even though it wasn’t much larger than the average convenience store) and then just about everyone in the town turned out to be our tour guide over at the train depot museum. Yes sir, Brinkley’s just about the friendliest town around.”

    Zingy, eh? But somewhat questionable as to veracity. Presented as a fictional account, it has some interest, perhaps, but an attempt to pass this admittedly ridiculous story off as true… well, that won’t play in Peoria. Or at least, it shouldn’t. (As a side note, what is it that makes the citizens of that small Illinois town so legendarily persnickety??)

    Fortunately, very few embellishments are so appallingly pseudo-truthful in nature as James Frey’s un-memoir. At worst, they’re amusingly innocuous, like those silly bits of fluff that close relatives who shall remain nameless are so fond of passing around the interwebs.

    In the case of a tale through which you intend that the hearer/reader perhaps glean some nugget of useful moral or lesson, though, in my opinion it’s important that the key details be truthful. In the case of Frey’s account, I believe there was a claim that some addicts had benefited from reading about his experiences. But there’s no power behind a narrative without a foundation in reality, and by “reality” I mean either a) the events really happened or b) the narrative is admittedly fictional with believable, true-to-life characters and events.

    Even in the case of something that’s simply intended to be humorous, to me it seems like a story presented as fact loses the real kick to its humor if there’s no truth behind it*, simply because a lot of the humor comes from what I would technically term the “No way! That really happened???” element, the surprising twists that turn our expectations inside out when truth does turn out to be stranger than fiction.

    Jonathan’s story about the sardines is hilarious whether he remembers the particulars of how they came to be part of the lunch offerings and whether the originally proffered food was a sandwich or a piece of fried chicken, but it wouldn’t be as funny if he hadn’t really had that experience and if his sister’s shorts didn’t really get doused with fishy-nastiness. So sorry about your shorts, Melanie, but one hopes that it is a comfort to know that finally, after all this time, the indignity of the experience has produced some humorous fruit 🙂

    So, if you’ve read through my stream of consciousness pondering of this matter, I’d be interested in your thoughts. I prefer commendation to rotten tomatoes, but if you think I’m deserving of squishy vegetables, it’s within your rights to toss them, but gently, please, I’m wearing a new pair of white shorts. Ha ha.

    *The notable exception being Mark Twain-style accounts that are so unbelievable the hearer knows that they can’t be true and just goes along with the illusion of veracity for the fun of it.

  • Loren
    8:39 PM, 6 March 2011

    Coming in a few days late…and now I’ll have to read all the great stories!
    When I was young I had two great-aunts who lived in St. Pete, a couple hours from Orlando. Since our family got down there about once a year, we’d usually take a day trip to Disneyworld (or Epcot).

    My most memorable event was when I was four or five, just before my family headed to the Philippines for four years. At the time, I was apparently terrified of fires, volcanoes, earthquakes…all those lovely things (which happen to occur in the Philippines!). My parents thought that due to my “sensitive” personality it would be wise if I did NOT go to the Haunted House, so while they went with my infant sister, I had to hang out with my great-aunt at the Swiss Family Robinson house. I was NOT thrilled. I held onto the dream of going to the Haunted House for four years, and the first time we went to visit when we returned from the Philippines, that was the only ride I wanted to go on!

    The good news is, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and found it more hilarious than scary…. The ride with Snow White where the wicked stepmother kept popping out was significantly more alarming!

    Hope you and your family get to thoroughly enjoy it with no sardines involved! I’d love to get back someday with my kids and visit all the other parks that are there now.

  • Loren
    9:00 PM, 6 March 2011

    Goodness! Now I’ve had the chance to read through all the stories and just realized that Aaron Roughton’s and mine are about the only happy Disneyworld ones! Love the other tales of various places (like Arkansas 🙂 ). Maybe I liked Disneyworld and Epcot particularly because there really AREN’T roller coasters (which I’ll never enjoy)–I loved Space Mountain because I couldn’t SEE anything! I guess I also loved the imagination of it, and the fascinating trinkets (that we couldn’t buy because they cost too much) and beautiful restaurants (that we didn’t eat at for the same reason). It was the anticipation of the event! 🙂 In retrospect, I’m most glad that my parents didn’t indulge all my desires.

  • Patrick
    2:59 AM, 7 March 2011

    EmmaJ, I’m not sure my opinion is worth much, but I think you seem to have reasonable guidelines for stretching your non-fiction.
    What I do is I tell it like I remember it- but that tends to be just a skeleton for the story. I have to flesh out the blanks of what I don’t really remember to make it into stories people might like to hear, and not just faulty memories. I’ve had people tell me I’ve gotten it wrong a couple times, but honestly it’s just sequence of events that I have that hardest time remembering. The parts I’ve actually embellished I’m sure they don’t remember any better than I do.

    I agree, changing concrete details in anything you want to pass for non-fiction is not a good idea. Anything from your own perspective is free game- as long as the actual events and concrete details are in place accurately.

    Another person’s perspective- should be as true to that persons’ person as you know how. If you give them another name (as I tend to do will all people in my non-fiction that I think might not like this particular story about them to be public knowledge) then they are already partially fictional so I think that gives more room for suppositions that might not be completely accurate if you want to try to write from another perspective of a real-life event. But I feel the fabric on non-fiction could pull very thin there.

    I’m considering just pretending all my life was fiction. Then I can tell all my stories however I want- if all the names are changed and I claim the main character was someone other than myself- who would ever know? Well, I guess you would now that I’ve told you my secret plan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Candango82
    10:19 AM, 7 March 2011

    EmmaJ exhorted me thusly: “of all people… I think you must have some hilarious stories (tinged with hints of surprising disaster) about experiences with the Kingdom o’ Magic. I think that you are obligated, as a service to the world, to share one or two. It may not be Friday where you are, but don’t let that stop you.” Oh, EmmaJ, how well you know! The challenge is to choose which of the many experiences.
    Once upon a time a father and mother who labored as middle-class educators in the state of Florida realized that they could purchase season passes, including free parking, for their whole family of 5 to go to the Kingdom of Magic. The father, a clever mathematician, calculated that, if the family (far too) frequently went to the Kingdom, then the tickets would pay for themselves. The mother, also a mathematician, packed picnic lunches, snacks and drinks. The five family members would go into the Kingdom in the morning, ride the Kingdom Tram to the Kingdom Parking Lot (always remembering whether they parked in Pluto 57 or Donald 34), eat their picnic lunch in their car and then return to the Kingdom for the afternoon. This made the cost of gas for the roundtrip from their home to the Kingdom the only expense for the family.

    As the years went on the two older children grew into teenagers and young adults who moved to other lands to study. The mother desired to study to become a Master in her work, leaving only the father and youngest child to go, yet again, to the Kingdom of Magic. Despite having enough experience and skill to either 1) gain the title of youngest tour guide in the Kingdom or 2) walk around the Kingdom blindfolded without tripping over any whimsical characters with plastic faces or any hidden Mickeys, the child began to grow weary of all the meticulously planned, timed and perfect magic. The real, unforgettable, untiring magic happened through the special bond of a loving father with his child.

    One of their many days at the Kingdom, the two had finally mustered enough bravery to conquer a family trait, a solid and unwavering fear of heights [observers do not show surprise that this father and child lived in Florida, flat, pancake-like Florida]. Space Mountain awaited them. After waiting for hours to ascend the mountain, the fearful duo finally had their turn. The ride started out innocently enough, the nearly pitch-black lighting helped to hide great heights and white knuckles. After a couple minutes, near the apex of the mountain, they heard a thud. Two other cars had bumped one another on the mountain. Someone announced over the loudspeaker that “everyone was fine” but that the ride would temporarily shut down, until further notice, due to “technical difficulties”. Still afraid of heights and still sitting in a car very high on the mountain, the father and child expressed their mutual relief that the darkness obscured their vision of how high up they really were. Seconds later someone turned on many bright lights, which revealed, for the 30 or 40 minutes that it took to fix the technical difficulties, the very small yet obviously concerned faces of the wise people whose feet rested on that precious, magical Kingdom ground.

    EmmaJ, thanks for the inspiration to record a childhood story!

  • Jonathan Rogers
    3:25 AM, 9 March 2011

    Wow…great conversation. Sorry to have disappeared on you. I took to my sick bed rather suddenly on Saturday, and I’m only now recovered. But welcome to those of you who are new commenters–Candango, and my sister Melanie, who waited until I was laid up with a raving fever to contradict me. EmmaJ, I think that’s really cool that you and Elvis hung out at the WalMart in Arkansas. Where were you when celebrity sightings were the topic for Audience Participation Friday?
    Perhaps I should address the sardine thing one more time. I do remember now that there was fried chicken involved. I remember thinking, as soon as the sardines were opened, that I had made a big mistake. Sardines over fried chicken? It makes no sense. But when the die is cast, a man has to stick to his guns. (That’s a textbook mixed metaphor right there…maybe the raving fever is still upon me). In short, it was a matter of principle more than taste. I know fried chicken is better than sardines. I think it was Groucho Marx who said, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

  • sally apokedak
    12:17 AM, 10 March 2011

    I’m only now seeing your comment, Emma.
    You say:
    Even in the case of something that’s simply intended to be humorous, to me it seems like a story presented as fact loses the real kick to its humor if there’s no truth behind it*, simply because a lot of the humor comes from what I would technically term the “No way! That really happened???” element, the surprising twists that turn our expectations inside out when truth does turn out to be stranger than fiction.

    I agree. Once there is the foundation of truth, though, I have always felt free to play with some facts that go into the roof. I have thought what matters is my interpretation of the event. After all, I’m the narrator.

    Jonathan didn’t remember the chicken at first, and that didn’t matter because his story wasn’t about fried chicken or sandwiches (which indicates that he wasn’t choosing the sardines because he had an evil plan to splash oil on his sister). But his sister wonders about his choice of food. She has a little bit of a different recollection and interpretation of events. Each new narrator will. It all depends on what point we are trying to make. And then there is just plain old human nature, which dictates that we all must be the heroes of our own stories so our siblings are forced to play villains or dupes. 🙂

    (Works for me, especially since none of my brothers or sisters write or blog or facebook or tweet).

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