Disney Child

...I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

My earliest memory is of a record player. It sat in my mother’s bedroom. Sometimes, she would play records for me.

In one particular memory, she holds me in her arms and we dance to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The tune is “Girl from Ipanema.”

Then, she turns off Herb. She puts on another record. It is a childhood favorite. The album is Walt Disney World’s Country Bear Jamboree. The sound of a fiddle fills the room.

Mother and I have a Disney-style hoedown.

I don’t know how I remember this, but I do. Just like I remember Mary Ann Andrews, who once kidnapped my Teddy bear. The bear she stole was the guitarist for the Country Bears Jamboree band, Big Al.

Mary Ann’s family moved to Texas, and she took Big Al with her. I was heartbroken.

My mother wrote Mary’s family a letter, threatening legal action if Big Al was not returned unharmed. In a few weeks, Big Al arrived in our mailbox and my mother agreed not to press charges.

I still have that stuffed bear today. In fact, he sits above my desk because I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a concert a few nights ago. It was supposed to be fun, but it left me feeling empty. A few guys onstage attempted to see how loud they could crank their amplifiers while having grand mal seizures.

We were with friends who were younger than us. I don’t know how many concerts you’ve seen lately, but young people don’t actually watch live bands anymore. They point cellphone cameras at the stage and look at their phones instead.

Halfway through the concert, I was ready to leave.

I’d rather suffer gout than listen to music that sounds like major road construction.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m only telling you what Big Al would say if he were writing this.

Like I told you, Big Al sits above my desk, and sometimes I can hear him talk. He tells me he doesn’t like what’s happening to today’s music and movies.

The other day, I watched a movie with my cousin’s children. They chose to watch an animated movie about mutant turtles who become mercenary ninjas and have all kinds of adventures with nuclear weapons.

When I told my cousin’s kids about Walt Disney’s Country Bears, they looked at me like I had primordial ooze dripping from my eye sockets.

“Country Bears?” said the oldest. “That sounds dumb.”

Lord give me strength.

Country Bears are not dumb, they are the greatest musical act a kid could ever aspire to see.

As a boy, the only thing I ever wanted was for Mama to buy a first-class bus ticket to Disneyland so we could do two things:

1. ride the teacups
2. see the Country Bears Jamboree

My cousin’s kids laughed when I told them that.

“Are you serious?” said one offender. “That sounds really lame.”

Lame? I dare any crumb-snatching adolescent shoe-licker to show me something more dazzling than a six-hundred-pound animatronic grizzly bear playing a gut-string banjo to “Blood on the Saddle.”

Sometimes I wish I could introduce today’s children to the things we once held dear. Things that are disappearing along with such classic Disney characters.

Things like radios, typewriters, record players, Saturday morning cartoons, rock-skipping, and holding hands at church picnics.

I wish kids could experience summers like we experienced. Like the summer my cousin and I learned to weave pine straw baskets.

Our neighbor, Miss Jean, gave us weaving lessons in exchange for taking care of her peacocks while she left town.

Miss Jean was an eccentric artist who had an obsession with birds. Her peacocks were devilish creatures without souls, known to attack small children who looked at them wrong.

Mutant turtles can’t compete with devil peacocks.

I wish I could show kids that there is more in this world than ear-splitting music and gross movies. There are beautiful things out there.

Music with melody and lyrics. Pine straw baskets. Kitchen phones with long cords. Gilligan’s Island. Handmade biscuits. The sound of baseball cards against bicycle spokes. Eating fried chicken on quilts outside. Boiled peanuts. Ernest T. Bass.

And of course, Big Al, leading a band of animatronic Disney bears.

The world is changing on me, and I suppose I’d better learn to love it or get left behind.

Even so, no matter how bad this place gets, it’s comforting to know that the Country Bears are still playing their show-stopping hillbilly music, and have been since 1972.

Once, I was even fortunate enough to see them. Lame? No sir. The day Mama took me to the Magic Kingdom was the greatest day of my childhood. Speaking of which.

I wouldn’t mind dancing with Mama again.

39 comments

  1. Karen - March 28, 2019 9:37 am

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Reply
    • Russell McLaney - April 26, 2019 12:45 pm

      Sean, I too have sat through a concert where grown men abused guitars. I went straight home and keyed up Iheart Bluegrass, listened to Doley about 10 times, turned on Me TV watched Earnest T throw a rock through a couple windows, and holler “Its me, It’s me, Its Earnest T, then got a glass of sweet tea and realized there still was hope!

      Reply
  2. Carol Heidbreder - March 28, 2019 10:11 am

    Ah yes! The phone cords, fried chicken picnics, Gulligans Island, and the pine needle baskets!. My grandmother taught me. Even taught me to look for the long leaf pine needles. Still have one of them in my kitchen that we worked on together. Just looking at it takes me back to that wonderful little girl time. Nothing lame about these things. Sorry kids today are missing them. Especially the early summer mornings when we cooked our breakfast over a fire on the eastern shore beach of Mobile Bay, played in the smooth early morning water and as it promised to be “another scorcher” headed home by mid morning. .If I ever wind up in a memory care facility with a silly grin on my face, I’ll be back having breakfast on the beach, then working on a pineneedle basket on my grandmothers back porch ! You brought it all back to me! Its early and I’m already smiling! Many thanks!

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth - March 28, 2019 10:30 am

    I miss Earnest T. Bass and all that went along with him. Age brings on nostalgia and wisdom!

    Reply
  4. Debbie Phillips Hughett - March 28, 2019 10:35 am

    I loved Country Bear Jamboree!

    Reply
  5. Wanda Corbin - March 28, 2019 10:36 am

    Thank you so much for affirming my opinion on loud music. Did you know there are churches that play it that loud, too?

    Reply
  6. Cathi - March 28, 2019 10:37 am

    I’d love to dance with my mama again too!

    Reply
  7. Sherry - March 28, 2019 10:47 am

    As a teacher of middle school students, my heart aches for what I know they will never get to experience….

    Reply
  8. Naomi - March 28, 2019 11:49 am

    Sean, I’m pretty sure that I am older than you. My brother and I grew up in Birmingham, AL, but in 1960 our parents let us take the train to California to spend the summer with our aunt and uncle who had moved there in 1953. I actually turned 16 in Beverly Hills. Anyway, our cousin took us to Disneyland; this was just a few years after they opened. There were no crowds like there are now and we got to go on all of the rides.

    Reply
  9. Gary - March 28, 2019 12:24 pm

    I miss those things !!

    Reply
  10. Christy Keyton - March 28, 2019 12:56 pm

    I still love the Country Bear Jamboree and especially Big Al singing “Blood on the Saddle”. This story brought back some great childhood memories! I have tried to assure that my kids have some similar ones!

    Reply
  11. Shelton A. - March 28, 2019 1:04 pm

    A world without Ernest T. Bass is a lesser place (and having Barney Fife going into apoplexy a the sight of Ernest T. makes me miss him all the more).

    Reply
  12. Sandi Gorin - March 28, 2019 1:05 pm

    Your post touched me! I grew up in the era of good music, innocent living. I still have my teddy bear, Paddy O’Cinnamon, based on a radio series that played before Christmas. He is now 78 years old and showing his age. But, when I see him, my mind goes back to my childhood days. Bravo!

    Reply
  13. Connie Havard Ryland - March 28, 2019 1:09 pm

    The world is, indeed, changing. I’m an old lady, and I can’t begin to tell you the things I will my grandchildren could have known. My kids got to see most of it, because I never got over being a country girl and they experienced the joys of being children in the woods of South Alabama. I miss a lot of it still. But mainly I wish we still had clean rivers and creeks to swim in. Trees big enough to climb. Music worth listening to. The best we can do is try to introduce our young people to as much as we can, and thank goodness for the immortality of music that was recorded. Love and hugs. Thanks for the memories this morning.

    Reply
  14. Anne-Marie Sweeney - March 28, 2019 1:31 pm

    Thank you for the trip down memory lane this morning. I grew up in Orlando, Florida. My family moved there in 1970 when I was three years old. I remember going to the Magic Kingdom when the park first opened. It WAS truly magical! AND I too, loved the Country Bear Jamboree. My favorite was Teddy Barra who came down from the ceiling on a swing! As a teenager, I worked at Disney and loved seeing the smiles of all the people that crossed my path in the ice cream shop on Main Street. It truly was/is the happiest place on Earth! I miss “old” Orlando…where you could see orange groves for miles, smell the bread baking at the Merita Bakery off of Interstate 4 and nothing could beat Skeeters for a late night feast after sneaking in to Rosie O’Grady’s/Church Street Station! So many great memories of a time gone by. Ahhh those were the days.

    Reply
  15. Teresa Tindle - March 28, 2019 1:33 pm

    Such beautiful memories. Yes the world has changed. Children certainly don’t do the things we did as kids. Long days playing in the sunshine. Outside. Life is too busy.. we need to slow it down and enjoy what God has given us. You can’t do anything for fear you will offend someone. My time on Earth want last to much longer. I wish for my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren just to enjoy everything life and God has to offfer. Flowers, birds, sunshine, rain, grass even this darn pollen. You get the idea.

    Reply
  16. Peggy Savage - March 28, 2019 1:34 pm

    Aren’t we blessed to have such memories!!! One of my favorite memories is the one where my brother and I were allowed to stay up late and watch the scary late night Friday movie on our local channel 5 in Mobile. There was a local tv character that played Egor on set, and he made the movies even scarier. We watched such greats as Dracula, The Werewolf, and The mummy…all 1930s versions. Still love these films. Then when we finally went to bed, we knew tomorrow would be great with all the Saturday morning Looney Tunes and shows like Roy Rogers, Fury, The Lone Ranger and The Whirlybirds. Then after the morning shows, outside playing with neighborhood friends. Aw, those were the days…

    Reply
  17. Mary - March 28, 2019 1:44 pm

    Oh, my goodness. Your description of the concert had me laughing out loud (not LOL!). I could not agree more with your description of today’s music. Give me music that has a melody and words you can understand any day!

    Reply
  18. Debbie Britt - March 28, 2019 1:58 pm

    ❤️ I’m right there with you in wishing for the simpler things in life! These kids have no idea!

    Reply
  19. Kathy Spruiell - March 28, 2019 2:06 pm

    Amen and amen!!!

    Reply
  20. Karen Still - March 28, 2019 2:08 pm

    Found this on Wikipedia:

    “The Country Bear Jamboree is an attraction at the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort and at Tokyo Disneyland in the Tokyo Disney Resort, as well as a former attraction at Disneyland Park. All versions of the attraction are similar.

    The attraction is a stage show with audio-animatronic figures. Most of the characters are bears who perform country music. Characters rise up to the stage on platforms, descend from the ceiling, and appear from behind curtains. The audience includes audio-animatronic animal heads mounted on the walls who interact with characters on stage.

    Due to overwhelming popularity, The Country Bear Jamboree was given a “spin-off” show which appeared during the 1984 winter season at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It was called The Country Bear Christmas Special. In 1986 it was given a summertime version called The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. This version was so popular at Disneyland that it became the permanent edition until the attraction’s closing in 2001.”

    Big Al was my favorite, too. 😢

    Karen Still

    Reply
  21. Linda Moon - March 28, 2019 3:32 pm

    Naw…..don’t LOVE this changing world……just like it a little bit. Embrace and LOVE the times you shared with Big Al and dancing to those old records with your Mama.

    Reply
  22. Jess in Athens, GA - March 28, 2019 3:50 pm

    Reference Disney: If I hear Jiminy Cricket sing “Wish Upon a Star” it instantly takes me back more than sixty years to my childhood and the good ol’ days of running barefoot almost all the time, playing games outside until it got too dark to see, basically not having a care in the world and just having a grand time growing up around family and friends. I grew up in a marvelous time in a great place….and I do think about it at times and I realize just how fortunate I am in so many ways.

    Reply
  23. kathleenivy - March 28, 2019 4:06 pm

    Rest assured Sean, those children will have (in essence) the same experience with children in the future that you just had with them. I really enjoyed your recounting these memories. And I have had the same kind of experience with culturally deprived, callow, youth. LOL! After all, who in their right mind doesn’t love Haley Mills? I can picture you dancing with your mother. It makes me happy. Thank you.

    Reply
  24. Jill - March 28, 2019 5:01 pm

    Yesterday, my grandkids were glued to Netflix- watching Mickey Mouse’s The Three Little Pigs complete with the singing of “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf? The big, bad wolf? The big, bad wolf?” That cartoon was over 50 years old and those kids mesmerized. All is not lost.

    Reply
  25. Barbara Mc - March 28, 2019 9:43 pm

    We are a real Disney family making more trips than I care to remember. As each new member of our family makes their first trip to the Magic Kingdom they get to experience The Country Bear Jamboree. We are now talking about the children of our children. They are always mesmerized with this fun show. Mine have always loved it and always look forward to it on return trips. Same goes for It’s a Small World. I bet those kids of your cousin would love Country Bears too! Even with all the other adventure rides we never miss these 2!

    Reply
  26. Cathy Moss - March 28, 2019 10:46 pm

    Gosh, you’ve got me goin! This week in Birmingham the traffic is slow and the stores are not crowded. That’s because everyone leaves town. I was thinking yesterday abt what I did with my three children during spring break when they were young. We shopped for Easter clothes, took picnics to Homewood park and one yr we took a field trip to Montgomery to the state capitol. We ended that day at a mall . .?!you remind me of .?? in Montgomery and they got to buy candy of their choice. If they felt deprived they did not tell me . I spent my summers in a small town in north Mississippi. One set of grandparents on a farm in the country and the other on Main Street. Best memories of my childhood. Our world has become frantic and it scares me for my grandchildren. They need to put peanuts in a bottle of co cola and shake it. Devine! Then take an empty jar and poke holes in the top with an ice pic. Fill it up with lightening bugs. Magical. We are robbing children of so many magical things

    Reply
  27. Jack Darnell - March 28, 2019 11:35 pm

    okay dude you said: I wish I could show kids that there is more in this world than ear-splitting music and gross movies. ……………. But They won’t know that until they very old say 38. hahahaha But then they will look back and say, “but that was so cool!” maybe.

    But I do wish you could teach them what music really is..
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  28. Sandi in FL. - March 29, 2019 12:35 am

    Sean isn’t your Mama still living? I suggest you invite her to go dancing with you soon, even if it’s in your own living room. No doubt it would warm her heart and bring back a flood of happy remembrances!

    Reply
  29. Charaleen Wright - March 29, 2019 1:30 am

    Reply
  30. Ann Marie Bouchet - March 29, 2019 4:28 am

    Sean, I ,too, have always loved Country Bear Jamboree at Disney World. It is a familiar favorite and kids today are too pseudo- sophisticated to admit they enjoy that show. But even they laugh at the corny jokes !!!!!

    Reply
  31. Mary - March 29, 2019 6:50 pm

    My days earlier than Big Al and I do have a bear that talks to me.Have no idea what he is saying. Sometimes it is spontaneous but mostly when I talk to him or make a loud noise passing by. My great grands love him.
    All so true.

    Reply
  32. throughmyeyesusa - March 29, 2019 10:11 pm

    To watch young folks sitting around a table, eyes glued to their “smart” phones, texting each other instead of talking is enough to make one despair of this generation entirely. Music is a thing of the past, the art of conversation is lost, and the values we were raised on are in peril. Hate has caused psychosis in
    a quarter of the population, a compromised media has misguided another quarter, and those who remain are under constant attack.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, Sean, and your voice brings a welcome, if momentary, respite.

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - March 29, 2019 11:07 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree with throughmyeyesusa’s remarks above. They are right on target in today’s world. Thank-you for stating them so well.

      Reply
  33. Tina Berry Armistead - March 31, 2019 12:12 pm

    👍🏻👍🏻 Great post and so true.

    Reply
  34. Brenda McLaine - April 2, 2019 11:20 pm

    It’s sad Sean but the things you mentioned enjoying are a bygone era. Sometimes I think this world has left me behind!

    Reply
  35. Rochelle Thompson - April 26, 2019 11:52 am

    Go do it! Today!! Do it while you still can!!

    Reply
  36. Sonya Tuttle. - April 26, 2019 12:13 pm

    Alice in Wonderland. That was a great old movie, with songs to sing along! Nostalgia wins!!

    Reply
  37. Beth L. Smith - April 29, 2019 12:40 am

    And Earnest T. Bass!! It’s a crying shame that the younger generation has no clue who he is. Or anything else you mentioned that is beautiful and honorable and classic. I’m not so sure that I want to change for this new world! Everything you write always gets me right in the gut! I’m so glad that I discovered your writings!

    Reply

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