Lost in the Magic Kingdom

When you’re young I think that Disney media plays a big part in cultural development. It’s really a go-to, though the company went through a lull in content which has thankfully recovered with recent offerings like Tangled, the brand maintains strong and recognizable. And as a kid, one can’t help but be enchanted with the idea of going to Disneyland, of riding the rides (Matterhorn! Pirates of the Caribbean! Even that Pinocchio ride that freaked me out! and that Star Wars ride that used the footage from Episode IV! revealing my age here, but it’s all good), watching the shows, and all kinds of other things that Disneyland has to offer.

Funnily though, what I remember as my first time in Disneyland I don’t really remember that much of it. Of course with all the years I lived in SoCal I would have a lot of chances to go to the theme park and create memories. But that first time what I remember is the parking lot.

Now that I remember it I wind up thinking of that Seinfeld episode where they spent the whole thing in a parking lot just searching for their car. Because that’s what my aunt, Tita Men, and I did.

Tita Men was a plump, boisterous aunt. She was lively and loud and her laugh was a chuckle with a machine-gun like clip, high pitched. I remember lots of Sunday barbecues at her house in Wilshire. When we’d go to her house we would have to pass by the La Brea Tar Pits and I would always gape and imagine the dinosaurs that once roamed our communities. At her house would be a grand mix of Filipino food, Kare-Kare and Adobo, Potchero, Morcon, Lechon Paksiw, and so many other mouth-watering dishes. My uncles and aunts had specialties, and each would bring dishes to the family barbecues. It’s no wonder then that later in life the petite Tita Men rounded out, and she wound up with certain complications. She enjoyed life and ate her fill of it. Had her fill of living too, career, lots of kids, came from a big family and made a big family herself.

That night though, I was the only kid she was taking care of. By the time I arrived in the States and Tita Men was taking me to Disneyland her kids were mostly grown up, the youngest in college already if I remember right. And so she and her daughter, Ate Lota, wound up spoiling me. Part of that spoiling involved hanging out and playing around with all the cool things in Ate Lota’s dental office (you know how when you go to dental offices you get all kinds of freebies and fliers and stuff? that was great for me), and Tita Men driving me around taking me places to see and to eat at. And that night a good heap of cotton candy. I also remember, halfway through the night we were exhausted from looking for her car that we ducked into a diner and I had a plate of spaghetti. I have to admit that I can’t remember what it tasted like (it was probably cheap with a good mix of ketchup in it) but according to my memory it was the most glorious spaghetti I had ever had in my life. That and the best can of coke too.

After that bit of eating, we kept looking. This experience has allowed me to be understanding of all of the people I’ve ever been with who forgot where they parked their cars. I’ve spent my time in parking lots since then, and the wandering and searching can be frustrating, true, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to bond, to hang out and get to know each other. When you’re with a hothead who can’t accept that they can’t find their car, it’s a terrible time, but when you’re with someone like Tita Men, you can make a night of it. And similarly I see other opportunities to just go and wander and find things in the process.

We went back and forth, doubling over places we’d been dumbfounded how we had lost a car. It was well into the night, I suspect sometime near or past midnight (hey, I was a kid, I was used to being made to go to bed at 8pm) and we were both exhausted. On the verge of giving up and wanting to call to get picked up, we stood in a row of cars, looking at the far end where we thought the car was. Then we watched a van move, a van which we believed was the last car on the lot. As it slid backwards it revealed, behind it and covered up, Tita Men’s car.

She laughed and blushed and I wonder what went through her head. She said, sometime a few months ago when someone mentioned me, that what she remembered most was my asking, “If I were a car, where would I hide.” She said that got her laughing enough to have enough energy to ge through the night. I hope that that was her last memory and thought of me, and that that laughter is something that stayed with her til her last days.

I remember Tita Men fondly. I know that my family has had squabbles and fights and periods of people not getting along with each other. And I haven’t seen many of my relatives since I moved back to the Philippines. But I still hold much love for them, and I have these fond memories of Tita Men which I will hold with me and tell of; my own attempt at keeping her here. She’s gone now, slipped away a day or two ago (depending on which time zone you’re receiving the news in) after having outlined the due date the doctors gave her. In my mind though I’ll always have her face and that smile that spread across it when the van pulled away and we saw her car.

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