“Laughter is America’s most important export.” Walt Disney
So I spent last week with a mouse. In his giant house. With a bunch of kids, big and small.
Most mice are pretty small – and nuisances at my cottage under the sink – but for Walt Disney (1901-1966) a simple mouse he helped create in 1928 became a very big thing indeed. Crazy how that can happen, huh? Disney, who’d been struggling financially for years, was further stung by film producer Charles Mintz, who refused Disney’s request for an increase on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Instead, Mintz demanded a 20 percent cut while also revealing he’d signed most of Disney’s employees to his new contract and reminding him that Universal Studios owned the character. Disney refused the deal, resolved to never give up rights to his characters again and started working on something new.
But what should it be? One of Disney’s main and loyal cartoonists, Ub Iwerks, drew sketches of dogs, cats, a female cow (which eventually became Clarabelle Cow), a male horse (eventually Horace Horsecollar). All were rejected. It was some sketches by another cartoonist drawn a few years earlier around a photograph of Disney that Iwerks started fiddling with that made the cut. The reason for the sketches? Apparently Disney had a tame mouse at his desk when he ran Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City. (Perhaps I should tame those mice under the sink? Too late?) Originally christened Mortimer Mouse, the mouse became Mickey because Disney’s wife thought Mortimer too stuffy. Proving, yet again, that the wife is always right! Ha ha.
I’ll admit, I was apprehensive about going to Florida. Why? Well, there are shootings in Florida, horrifically one at – of all places – a yoga studio in Tallahassee as we returned home. Also? I’ve been watching way too much news coverage, mostly on the hot political midterm election battle in the US. Like the Germans who, according to CNN “still can’t look away” from Trump, I find him weirdly addictive. I mean, what outrageous thing might he say or do next? Consequently, one could get the impression that all Americans fall into two distinct categories: those passionately FOR Trump and those passionately AGAINST.
But guess what? Americans, like Canadians, like Germans – like anyone anywhere – are people first, right? And people – while complex and sometimes struggling – are capable of goodness. Of laughter. Every person we came into contact with on our trip, from the airport to the vacation home we stayed in to the amusement parks, were helpful and kind. Mostly smiling. Smiles are contagious, don’t you find? And when you smile? You feel happy, don’t you? Whether you felt it just before your face stretched or not?
So we had this situation at Hollywood Studios. Have you noticed how at amusement parks, museums, etc, you get dumped out straight into the gift shop? This can be hard for curious little ones, already over-stimulated and naïve on financial matters. One of my granddaughters had a meltdown over not being allowed to purchase an Elsa (Frozen) doll. A woman who worked at the park came up to us with a big smile on her face, said, “Folks, how can I help?”
We all looked at one another, distraught. How on earth could she help? Instead of running from our despair, she said, “It’s my job to make sure you’re having a good time.” She found out what was going on, talked to my granddaughter, said, “If you get a new doll, how can you give the ones you have enough love? Maybe, just maybe, if you give the dollies you have lots of love, maybe the next time you come you can get a new one.” My granddaughter got out her Minnie Mouse doll and gave her the biggest hug.
Love. And smiles. Make the world go round.
It is a small world (after all). Like the song. Like the ride. And it was a small, very real, mouse that grew into an enormous cartoon character with the power to unite people of all ages, nationalities and political stripes. And make them laugh!
It makes me realize that all a person can do, day after day, is perform small acts of kindness, with love, with smiles, in his or her community, in his or her own way. The more people we have performing these small, very real, acts of generosity? The more likely we might feel the enormous dream of happiness for our world stretch into a beautiful reality.
Photo credit – my granddaughter Simone.