Happy Birthday Mickey!

Vivian's three children with Mickey Mouse in 1988
My three children with Mickey Mouse in 1988

Can you believe it? Mickey Mouse is going to be 90 years old on November 18th. Most of us have never lived in a world without Mickey.

I asked my older sister Brenda what she remembered about Mickey Mouse when she was a youngster growing up in West Pittsburg back in the 1940s. “There were always two feature movies with a cartoon in between at the drive-in theater,” she remembered, “usually Mickey Mouse.” She also remembered the newsreels which have nothing to do with Mickey Mouse.

Our Aunt Ruby always had a stack of current comic books on the shelf under her coffee table. As avid readers Brenda and our older sister Karen read a lot of comic books, especially Mickey Mouse and his friends. There were tales from Mickey, Minnie and their dog Pluto, Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewy, and Louie, and Goofy. A decade later, Aunt Ruby was still buying comics for me to read.

“We got our first television when I was 13 or 14 years old. We watched the Mickey Mouse Club after school and then American Bandstand,” Brenda recalled. “You have to remember it was all brand new and exciting to us then – television and Mickey Mouse. My friends and I would sing M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E on the playground.” (Thanks for the ear worm, Brenda.)

Brenda believes that Mickey Mouse became more popular once Disneyland opened. She was going to Pacifica High School at the time and remembered the excitement on TV and in the newspapers about the park opening. She was a mom with small children before she could make the trip.

I remember watching the Mickey Mouse club on television in black and white in the 1950s. “Roll Call!” and then out ran Cubby, Doreen, Tommy, Bobby, and Annette! (Not necessarily in that order.) I loved their uniforms. The Mouseketeers wore pleated skirts or slacks, white sweaters with their names printed on their chests, and the famous Mickey Mouse hats with big round black ears. I wanted to be a Mouseketeer too. We didn’t watch the Sunday night Disney program on television because it was on at the same time as the Ed Sullivan show.

I asked Brenda what my first Disney movie was. She didn’t remember. I have vague recollections of seeing Snow White and Cinderella in the movie theater but I remember Sleeping Beauty vividly. I ducked my head when the prince fought the fiery dragon. At home, I sang to the birds in my backyard. I never could get the birds to land on my finger and sing to me like they did for Princess Aurora.

Over the years I’ve seen many Disney productions. I love Disney movies. No blood, guts, or sex, and the good guys always win.

Vivian's granddaughter with Mickey Mouse in 2018
My granddaughter with Mickey Mouse in 2018

“I didn’t like Fantasia,” Brenda told me. She loved the music and most of the movie action, but the part where Mickey plays the Sorcerer’s Apprentice upset her sensibilities as a kid. He got in trouble because he did what he was not supposed to do. “It was probably a good lesson for kids to teach about consequences, but I still don’t like that scene” Brenda said. I can empathize with her feelings about that movie, but I have different memories. I didn’t see it until I was in college and I went to the theater with a group of friends. A new guy joined the group that day. His name was Jeff. We’ve seen a lot of Disney movies together since then – about 45 years’ worth!

In my book, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing something for the first time through a child’s eyes. Jeff and I were living in New Jersey when we decided to take our kids, then six, seven, and eight years old, to Disney World in Florida. In spite of the August heat and very high humidity, we had a great time. In fact, a little rain does wonders to make long lines short. We went on the Peter Pan and Snow White rides. We chased the kids all over Tom Sawyer’s Island and plunged down the Matterhorn. The kids enjoyed every ride. But the thrill for me was not in the rides. I loved watching my children. Their little eyes grew wide in awe when they first saw the famous Disney castle. They looked on in amazement as we rode through “It’s a Small World,” they cheered for the pirates as we rode through the “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and they laughed at the silly antics of the cowboy singers in Frontier Land. Even though they were old enough to understand that the characters in costume were ‘real’ people, they still got a little nervous before meeting them. Characters from the movie “Robin Hood” roamed the park the year we were there, as well as Captain Hook and the Disney Princesses. And of course, Mickey Mouse.

When we moved back to the West Coast we took the kids to Disneyland. They were young teenagers then and we had a great time, of course. The look of awe and wonder on their faces was replaced with the look of thrills and excitement. We spent most of the day in lines for all the ‘big’ rides – Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, The Haunted Mansion, and the Matterhorn. Then the kids grew up and left home.

Well, time flies by faster every year and with a blink of an eye, twenty five years later, we found ourselves back in Anaheim last week. What goes around comes around and every other cliché you can come up with – we were there to celebrate our granddaughter’s second birthday and her first trip to Disneyland. Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Marion, her parents and her babysitter escorted our little princess.

Kids today are exposed to all sorts of animated characters from birth. The characters are on sheets, clothing, cereal boxes and toys. Our Daisy has taken a shine to all things Minnie Mouse and the movie Frozen. For her birthday breakfast, our daughter and son-in-law arranged for breakfast with Minnie. When Daisy first saw Minnie, she stopped in her tracks and stared. Then she smiled from ear to ear and grabbed her mommy and pointed excitedly at Minnie. I could feel Daisy’s joy in my own heart. During breakfast we met many other characters as well.

Little Daisy was amazing. She had no fear. She gave them all a high five and a big hug. At two, she may have a limited vocabulary, but she had no problem showing how she felt. Her whole face glowed.

After breakfast we rode the Astro Orbiter. Daisy went with her mom and dad. When we got off, Daisy was crying. Oh my! Was the ride too scary? No. She didn’t want to get off! That’s my girl! We had a fantastic time in Disneyland and California Adventure with Daisy. I’m looking forward to going with our granddaughter Betsy someday too. It doesn’t get better than that!

Who’da thunk a little mouse would bring about so much joy! Happy Birthday Mickey!

If you are interested in learning more about the man behind the mouse, check out the Walt Disney Family Museum, located at 104 Montgomery Street in the Presidio, San Francisco, 94129 (not downtown Montgomery Street). Phone: 415-345-6800. Open daily except Tuesdays. Its more museum than amusement, so small children will probably not enjoy the trip.

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