It’s amazing when inspiration hits. To me, it’s like a giant wave that catches my foot in its undertow. I get caught up in the flow and forget everything around me. This happened to me this past weekend at the D23 Expo; I was reminded why I write and why I love Disney. I met various readers who continued to tell me how much they miss this blog. My heart was warmed and I felt inspiration finally start to creep back into my life. This led me to remember this story…..
They had been best friends since childhood and grew up about 5 blocks from Disneyland. I was on my normal lobby rounds (at the Grand Californian) when I noticed the two sitting close to the fireplace. They were laughing and cracking jokes. In a scruffy voice, an elderly man motioned me over. I remember his gleaming blue eyes that were magnified by giant thick-framed glasses. The other man had hazy green eyes that disappeared when he laughed and were surrounded by wrinkles that all told a story.
I sat down by the fireplace and the two men introduced themselves as Ralph and Larry. I could tell from the very beginning these two shared a bond that only time could create. Larry told me how they had met at a local restaurant. It happened when Larry threw his straw wrapper across the room and hit Ralph in the head. At that moment, Ralph interrupted and said, “It was a spit wad and you know it.” At this, they both chuckled and teased each other (I never did get a straight answer out of them about which one it was). Well, Larry’s mom saw what he did and made him walk over to Ralph’s table and apologize. Because of this, the families ended up eating lunch together. As Ralph described it, this is when they became best friends and they spent the rest of the summer together.
After high school, they both enlisted in the Navy and were stationed at Pearl Harbor. I noticed that the conversation got really quiet and Larry’s eyes started to glisten. Larry broke the silence and said in a weak voice, “If it weren’t for Ralph, I would have died that day.” It took me a moment to figure out what they were referring to and then it dawned on me—the Pearl Harbor attack. Larry told me that when the attacked happened, a piece of shrapnel shot into his left thigh and he started to bleed to death. He was about to pass out when he heard a familiar voice. It was Ralph. Ralph had been onshore that day too and not on board. As Larry passed out, he felt Ralph pick him up and walk him to safety… At that point, Larry looked at me and told that no matter what happens in life, make sure someone always has your back.
They continued to tell me more stories about their life and how they married the loves of their lives. They even told me that on the night before the opening day of Disneyland they camped out so they knew they would get in. It was their weekly tradition since 1960 to go to Disneyland, find a bench, sit, and talk. Then I asked them what the secret to life was. Larry took off his glasses and with a grin said, “Live a good story, keep your friends close, and follow your dreams.” Then I heard a scolding tone, “Ralph! Larry! Are you bothering this nice lady?” I turned around to see two elderly women holding shopping bags. Ralph nudged Larry and looked at me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…we married sisters!”
I reassured the women that they weren’t bothering me and asked if they had plans for dinner. They told me they had reservations at Storyteller Café. So I walked them over and shook their hands because they were such a delight. I then told the manager that their meal was on me, because both of these men were Pearl Harbor survivors. The manager wanted to make this moment special, so we ordered them special cakes from the bakery and arranged for Mickey to make an appearance. After the plans were all set, I left the restaurant with some of the best advice of my life.
I wrote that piece of advice down and kept it taped to the back of my nametag. What struck me was keeping friend close. Often in this life we let friendships fade due to different paths, responsibilities, miles, and schedules. In fact, our idea of catching up is going through their newsfeed, perhaps liking their photo or commenting “LOL.” But friendship is much more than that. There is something about sitting down with an old friend and talking about life. In fact, I often think about Larry and Ralph.
In my own life, I know I need to spend more time just talking to people. Not letting distraction or anything keep me from connecting with that moment. I hope one day to sit down with an old friend and be able to share a story like that. Having someone who will walk through life with you is priceless. Hold your friends close.