My family visited Disney World for the first time in 1979, when I was a high school senior. I returned a few more times with my fiancee, then husband, as we visited his family in Florida. Finally I returned with my own two children, as toddlers, for another visit with my parents. Since my Dad is a member of “the greatest generation,” a veteran of World War II, and a career military man, we were visiting as his guests under the very special rate and care given by Disney World to this country’s military families. As we walked the halls of the hotel on site we were surrounded by other military families and it reminded me of my childhood and the times we had spent on bases together.
We had a great time in the park, and my Dad particularly enjoyed showing the joys of Disney to another generation. It was wonderful for me to watch him making memories with my children just as he had with me. You see, my Dad was the best at making a great park even more fun. As a little girl, I remember him grabbing my hand as we raced to the biggest coaster in whatever park we were visiting, then sitting alongside him as we flew through the air, him yelling and whooping it up to make it even more exciting, the whole time keeping a firm grip on my arms with his big hands. I never felt so safe, and so thrilled as I did on those coaster rides.
After a very long day in the Magic Kingdom, my husband and I were carrying our two little ones and walking toward the exit with my Mom and Dad. I said to my husband, “You know we probably have time for one more ride. What about Space Mountain to finish the day?” The kids can stay with my parents for a minute.” My Dad perked up and said, “Let’s go!” as he turned and started hustling towards the ride. Now at this point my Dad was in his late 70’s. Due to war injuries he had always had back trouble and had recently added heart trouble to the list. He had survived a recent surgery for bladder cancer, had beat prostate cancer and skin cancer as well. My husband and I looked at each other, then at my Dad already in line and both of us wondered how we were going to explain this to the family. But there was no stopping Dad, and soon we were flying through the dark, and I could hear the same sound I remembered from my childhood. My Dad was whooping it up and having a great time. We got off the ride, shaking and exhilarated, and my Dad was ready to go again.
We lost my Dad four years ago, and I miss him everyday. But I will always remember those coaster rides and the sound, and the feeling of pure happiness and joy as I flew through the air next to my Dad with my hand in his.
– Beth Bennett, 52, Bethlehem, PA
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