A long-time Disney fan passes away: This is Alice's story
Her name was Alice.
She was born in 1924, the third of four children whose immigrant parents came to this country from eastern Europe [specifically, Ukraine and a long-forgotten nation called Prussia]. She lived her early years in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., then grew up in Brooklyn. She graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Queens in 1942.
Her father Michael was a tailor, her mother Mary worked at a variety of menial jobs, often overnight, for very little money. Alice and her siblings lived through the Depression, so money was always tight. But through it all, the bond between Alice and her younger brother Bill and older sisters Therese and Estelle was always strong, always loving.
After World War II, Alice worked in Manhattan and, a few years later, started dating a strapping young man from Queens named Richie, who had served honorably in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. Prior to his war service, Richie worked at several jobs, including at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, just a short drive from his home in Whitestone.
Alice and Richie were married in 1949 and the two embarked on a 40-year journey together which ended when he died in 1989. Along the way, they had two children, a boy and a girl, lived for a time in Ridgewood, Queens, and then on Staten Island for nearly 20 years before retiring to a community called Crestwood Village in Whiting, N.J.
During those retirement years, Alice and Richie often took motor tours or train trips across the country, to places in Florida, the Midwest or the Northwest, often to attend Air Force reunions. They took these trips in a car or on a train because Richie, the Army Air Corps veteran, refused to step onto a commercial airliner. After Richie's death, Alice expanded her travel itinerary with her sister Therese, taking cruises to places like Alaska, Tahiti, Hawaii, Bermuda and Nova Scotia. "There's nothing like a cruise," she'd always say.
Alice had plenty of hobbies, too: Taking photographs with her trusty Kodak camera, growing and tending to flowers, painting in oils and doing intricate mosaics. Many of the paintings and mosaics she did were of colorful floral arrangements.
In 1992, Alice's daughter-in-law Janet asked her if she'd like to join her family on a trip to Walt Disney World. She agreed ... and she had the time of her life.
That was the first of many, many Disney trips for Alice. She went to Walt Disney World about a dozen times, sometimes riding on Amtrak's AutoTrain from Virginia to Sanford, Fla. She went to Disneyland in the late 1990s and renewed her love of cruising during two Disney Cruise Line excursions, one to the Bahamas in 2002 on the Disney Wonder, the other to Canada in 2012 on the Disney Magic. Her home was covered with photos and memorabilia from those trips, many showing her smiling alongside Mickey or Minnie Mouse.
Some of those photos showed Alice seated in a wheelchair, as her health became an issue during her later years. But the fact that she used a wheelchair never deterred her and, in fact, made her a celebrity of sorts among cast members, who often gave her special treatment.
Alice's last trip to Walt Disney World was during the fall of 2010, when she was 86. Her then-93-year-old sister Estelle, also a widow, went along on that adventure, in part to see what all the excitement was about. Indeed, whenever Alice returned from her many Disney trips, she came back with stories of special experiences, including enthusiastically riding on Splash Mountain, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and her favorite attraction, it's a small world.
Alice reveled in showing Estelle around the Magic Kingdom, which at the time was decked out in all its Christmas finery. She took special pride in pointing out the amazing floral arrangements and topiaries that are displayed so prominently around the property. They posed for pictures together at a number of places, often holding Mickey Mouse plush dolls. They even lined up their matching wheelchairs side-by-side along Main Street U.S.A. to watch, wide-eyed, as the afternoon parade passed by in front of them.
That Disney trip, like her life itself, was filled with wonderful, cherished memories. While Disney was important, first and foremost to her were her children and their spouses, her five grandchildren and her five great-grandchildren.
When Alice passed away on Sept. 21, those Disney memories became even more special to those she left behind. Those precious memories were captured and preserved in the photos of her and the photos taken by her, which fill dozens of photo albums.
Why is Alice's story so special? She was my mom.
When she passed away, her daughter Wendy, my wife Janet and I were at her bedside in the hospital. Since her passing, we have been flooded with a myriad of emotions, most of them happy thoughts of a life well-lived.
She was the one who nurtured my love for music and art. Indeed, she bought me one of those John Gnagy "learn to draw" kits back in the '50s and I honed my artistic abilities while watching him on television. Years later, my mother and I attended art classes together, which are among my fondest memories of her.
She was the one who was instrumental in setting up family trips to Freedomland U.S.A. in the Bronx in the early 1960s and to the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair in Queens, thus planting in me the seeds of affection for theme parks in general and Disney in particular.
She was the one who allowed me to watch the Mickey Mouse Club on our tiny black-and-white TV set after school. And she - caught up in the national hysteria - managed to buy me a complete Davy Crockett costume, right down to the coonskin cap, which I took great pride in wearing.
Alice packed a lot of living into her 92 years. Corny as it might sound, I'd give just about anything to push her up Main Street one last time.