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 months ago—seems like years ago now. 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.
Not long ago, 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.