Monday, October 1, 2007

Grandpa, Disney World, The Superdome and The Statue of Liberty

On Friday October 1, 1971 - after seven years of planning - about 10,000 visitors converged near Orlando, Florida, to witness the grand opening of Walt Disney World.

My Mom, her parents, and 2 brothers were among the first to see the theme park.

I guess technically I was there too because Mom was pregnant with me at the time.

My Grandpa actually helped build the facility. He also worked on the, now infamous, Superdome, as well as the Statue of Liberty for the 1986 renovation.

He was a very interesting fellow. I got to thinking about him today when I saw the news story about Disney World opening. I thought I would write down a few stories about him before they are lost forever (some probably should be Ha Ha).

Hopefully I am remembering these correctly but if I miss a few details witnesses please feel free to speak up.

Off the top of my head I can think of the following topics and I will add more details later: Afternoon bar trips to the fox's den lounge with grandpa, Running to the store for grandpa AKA Gin and a carton of Benson and Hedges, driving like a maniac to the hospital for my birth, The infamous Halloween party of 71 (well maybe we won't go there), Pink Panther, Weird Al's predecessor, making kites, landscaping, Little Dick in the store room, beach house fashions and beer can hats.

Grandpa's favorite bar to hang out at was the Fox's Den Lounge. It was kinda like Cheers-he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Except they said Dick! instead of Norm!

I went to the bar with him a few times when I was a kid. It was New Orleans in the 70's, kids could go into bars and strip clubs and no one much cared. They also weren't too concerned about drunk driving back then. I am not saying it's good I am just saying that's the way it was.

So we would spend the afternoon in the bar while my Mom was at work. Everyone was really nice. The floor behind the bar was wooden slats over linoleum so when drinks spilled you could still walk without slipping. Whenever things would get dropped down between the slats the adults couldn't reach them because their fingers were too big. I was the official retriever. My tiny little kid fingers could grab stuff from between the slats and I got to keep whatever change I found. They had a slot machine in the back so I could play the slots with some of the money. I don't remember ever winning though.

One time a police officer came in to have a drink. He didn't say anything about me being in there but he didn't want me to sit right at the bar. Grandpa told him I wasn't doing anything wrong so just leave us alone. The officer protested one time. He said "I'm serious Dick she can't sit at the bar." Then he decided it wasn't worth the trouble and he relocated to a table in the corner and left us alone.

Things were really different in the 70's.

We lived right across from a little grocery store that sold liquor and cigarettes too. Grandpa would run out of Gin, or 7-up, or cigarettes or all 3 and send one of the grand kids over to the store to do some shopping for him.

So I would go across the street with a list and some cash and they would sell me Gin and a carton of Benson and Hedges cigarettes even though I was like 10. Like I said New Orleans in the 70's. When I would get back Grandpa would have me mix him a Gin and 7-up. He taught the 3 oldest grand kids how to mix drinks so we could be his bartenders. I believe the mix was 2 parts Gin to 4 parts 7-up.

When my Mom went into labor with me someone thought it was wise to let Grandpa drive. Well he liked to make an entrance and he had always wanted to use the "some one's in labor going to the hospital" excuse. So he drove like a maniac and sure enough got pulled over (not hard for him they probably recognised his car). He told the officer what was up and got his own personal escort to the hospital.

The infamous Halloween party of 71.... OK maybe I won't share that one here. Let's just say it ended with most of the people in attendance getting beat up and arrested and several NOPD members leaving the force.

Pink Panther was Grandpa's favorite cartoon. He loved to watch it on TV and he would just laugh and laugh. We joked that he was going through his second childhood (or maybe he never grew out of his first). For one of his birthdays we got him a stuffed Pink Panther. He loved that thing.

He liked to make people laugh. He was Weird Al's predecessor. He would make up new words to popular 70's songs on the radio while we were driving. I am trying to think of an example but it may have been too long.

He bought kite kits for the grand kids and planned to make one with each of us so we could fly them together on the levee. They were pretty elaborate and difficult to assemble. The kites ended up winning that battle. He bought us ready made kites to replace the kits. We had fun working together though.

He had grand plans for landscaping the backyard. He paid us grand kids 2 dollars for each bag of yard waist we cleaned up. Then he had a big load of sand delivered. I am not sure what he wanted to use it for. That's as far as the plan progressed but we had a blast playing in our huge sand yard under the magnolia tree.

One year for Christmas we were hunting for the perfect gift for Grandpa. We saw a store that had personalized bar glasses. We didn't think we would find any with his name on them but we went in anyway just to see.

His real name was Forest Wood (and yes, he lived on Live Oak Street and No, people didn't believe any of that was true). He went by Dick. Every body called him that. It would have been hard to find anything personalized with Forest. We figured it would be impossible to find anything personalized with Dick.

Here is proof: He really was Forest Wood of Live Oak Street.

The store employees loved that we asked though. They were having lots of fun with it. Dick, I don't know if we have any Dicks, Have you seen any Dicks? Maybe there are some Dicks in the storeroom. Hey run back to the store room and ask if there are any Dicks back there. Hey you got any Dicks hidden in the store room? It went on forever and everyone was cracking up. Then amazingly enough they found some Dicks in the store room. 4 gold rimmed glasses that said "Dick's Private Bar". It was one of the most perfect gifts of all time. He loved them and used them every day.

We spent a lot of time at the beach house along the Mississippi. Grandpa had lots of fun there. He always wore shorts, often pin stripped, and a button up shirt in a bright color. What made the outfit was his beer can hat and pull tab vest.

I tell all of these stories with a smile on my face and love in my heart. He was an unforgettable character and quite a bit devilish trouble maker. He loved his family fiercely and no one can say he regretted his escapades. He always lived life to the fullest and had a great time during his too short trip. I am sure he is up in heaven now taking care of my Grandma and making everyone laugh. If it really is heaven for him he will have a drink in one hand a cigarette in the other and be surrounded by friends.

I don't have a date for the picture. There are no names either so I don't know who the other couple is. I am guessing this is from the early 50's.

It's kinda hard to see in the small picture but I just noticed this today. I was looking at the hands because I saw that Grandma had hers on his arm. I thought that was sweet then I realized why. Grandpa is flipping off the camera man. Look at the fingers holding the drink. Grandma had her hand on his arm because she knew what he was about to do and was trying to stop him. That pretty much sums up their personalities.

I found this clip that shows Dean Martin flicking his cigarette ashes into George Gobel's drink on the Carson Show. This has always reminded me of my Grandpa. He has the same kind of sense of humor. I could see him doing just this same thing.

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