As I write this to all of you, a very much loved member of our family has passed away. While it is an incredibly difficult time for us, the mention of it here in this article is part of the residual inspiration that this woman left behind. Her life story was an epic tale of survival, triumph and a commitment to being the kind of mother and grandmother that story books are made of. This recent loss has caused me to reflect on our own family and how the ties that bind us together have the ability to affect those well beyond the years we personally contribute to them.
This beautiful lady was my grandmother. Even though she was technically my husband’s grandmother, it only took me mere moments all those years ago to fall in love with her and keep her as my own. As I explain this loss to our children, I walk them through the wondrous connection that we all have within a family. It’s a tear-jerking conversation but one that also fills me with hope and love, reminiscing about all the aspects of my life that have evolved from something an elder started so many years beforehand.
In my family, from a young age, we bonded over travel. My own grandfather was an adventurous man full of light, love and a rascal-like need to explore every opportunity that came his way. This sort of attitude is infectious and it seeps into your bones by osmosis the more you are exposed to it. My first memories of traveling were not just of Disneyland but being there with my grandparents. My grandmother, Nana, bought my sister and I those princess hats with the long fabric that draped down the back and every home movie we have was narrated by my grandfather, Poppy, filling in the silence while filming us on rides, every now and again capturing a “Hi Poppy!” in perfect unison from my sister and me.
I often write to you about experiencing the parks and these magical moments with your children, however, today I want to take a moment to point out the privilege that is being able to have experienced these same things with your parents and grandparents.
My Poppy has now passed away, and my Nana is well into her years with dementia; however, the pain of watching this deterioration is buoyed by the memories kept safe in my heart of spending quality time enjoying the world with them — the same places that I now adore showing to my own children, instilling the same sense of adventure and wonder in them that my parents and grandparents instilled in us.
While my grandparents traveled the world over, the magic of Disney is where their love of sharing new experiences made such an enormous impression on me. It’s the place where I now share these moments of excitement and connection with my own children, able to tell them stories of their great-grandparents walking in these same steps and how they also loved these same uniquely Disney encounters. It allows my children to feel this invisible kinship, a bond with their great-grandparents based on the tradition of Disney, the love of travel and the impact of a well-established shared passion that lives on in them.
My children are accessing their ancestors through this conscious participation in the same experiences. It creates an affinity that transcends time and physical space through the magic of storytelling. My experience becomes a part of theirs without my own grandparents even being there to share it. Through every story and every memory, my grandparents are contributing to these adventures that I have with my kids.
This recently lost grandparent wasn’t someone who shared my love of Disney as such. She did, however, share in my love of finding contentment and an eagerness to seek out those enchanting experiences in life that we only have limited access to. While others would question my enthusiasm for Disney and my drive for travel in general, she would applaud it. Towards the end, she sat in the confines of her wheelchair still hungrily invested in my tales and anecdotes from far away places. She was a woman who had come from nothing, survived against all the odds and built a better life for her family with blood, sweat and many tears. She made me feel as though all of her hard work for a better life was living on, continuously searching for whatever happiness can be found in the cracks of this life. Even though she was not part of my Disney experiences, she is part of our never-give-up spirit that my children have inherited.
I have learned many things so far in my adult years; one of the most precious is the appreciation and gratitude I have for having had this opportunity to build on what has been passed down to me. In the case of my family specifically, to be able to continue the tradition of Disney, utilizing it as a way to feel the warmth and love of those I have shared it with, past and present. My grandparents, parents, my sister and her family as well as my own — with every step inside those gates the sounds and smells envelop my senses in the memories of what came before, allowing me to travel with every member of my family in tow. Keeping the memories of a better time and letting go of what has passed between us all since, Disney is a part of who I am, who we are, that can’t be smothered by whatever else this life has thrown our way.
Travel with the young people in your life as one day, many years down the road, you may find yourself traveling with their grandchildren in spirit, allowing your legacy and the life lessons you’ve treasured to be passed down throughout the generations of your family. Not just told of, but felt, and appreciated. Provide the opportunity for those who came before you to be present in your life more than just on paper in a family tree, but with a piece of their soul that lives on indefinitely through yours and the hearts of future generations to come.
Who is this woman who inspired such reflection? Her name was Mavis and she will never cease to inspire.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.