There was a time when I was a bad influence. Some – those who have children, primarily – might even argue that not much has changed. But I haven’t always been. I can even point to a specific period of my life when everything changed.
Back in the 80s I was fortunate enough to get into the Walt Disney World College Program. In fact, both my sister and I got in. This was before they exploded this program, mind you. These days students are housed in terrific, fully furnished suites. Back then though, that wasn’t the case. The program was much smaller than it is now, and Disney put us all in… wait for it… Snow White Village. Sounds cute, yes?
The Village was tucked away behind the KOA Campground in Kissimmee, FL. We had a pool, a little conference/meeting hall, and a tiny little general store and office. Oh, I almost forgot to mention… Snow White Village was comprised entirely of double-wide trailers. During the busy sessions (typically summer) each trailer would be home to 8 students (2 per room) and had a shared kitchen. Since we were there in the Fall, though, there were significantly fewer students on the program. In several trailers, including my own, there were only three of us (which means we had a dedicated party room!).
Now, remember this is back in the 80s. No one had cellphones or laptops. I don’t think there was even a computer on property, even in the office/general store. There were about 120 of us there (compared to the 2000+ that are now enrolled in this program each semester) and everyone knew everyone. We hung out at the pool together, went to the beach together, took trips into the parks together… no one ever really did anything by themselves unless they absolutely wanted to.
Because there was such a focus on socializing, the entire semester turned into, basically, a 4 month “spring break” type of environment interrupted by bouts of weekly employment (it’s amazing none of us got fired, really). Which brings me back around to the whole bad influence thing.
There were a few of us who got together almost every night and, well, socialized. We were fairly well behaved, for the most part, and good old Howard “I’m old as Moses” the security guard didn’t have to roll up in his golf cart too many times. But our little group grew and grew as the weeks went on, and soon there were a full block of doublewides all but cordoned off as the official nightly socializing section of the trailer park.
Now, my sister and I have always loved all things Disney. When she was just a wee lass, she got a big ol’ Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal that she carried with her everywhere. And of course she brought that silly ol’ bear with her to Florida. Pooh was a huge hit, let me tell you. Sis brought him along to all the parties and introduced him to folks. Before too long, folks were stopping by her trailer just to see him.
All this attention sort of went to his head unfortunately, and soon Pooh was out partying every night. And since he was freeloading never had to go to work, he never missed a party. Not one. It didn’t matter what time, Pooh was the first to show up and the last to leave. It wasn’t long until he started disappearing for hours at a time. He’d hang out all day at the pool with the night shift folks, and then all night with us day shifters. He stopped leaving notes, stopped sending word that he’d be coming home late. He’d fly through the door at 3 AM, land in a heap on the floor, and just stay there until sis picked him up and helped him into bed.
Those were rough days. Sis just didn’t know what to do with him.
And then one night, Pooh didn’t come home at all. Sis was in a panic and looked for hours – went door to door, trailer to trailer. Nothing.
One night stretched into two.
She formed a posse and scoured the woods, coordinating a grid-based search using graphing paper, string, paperclips and duct-tape (I never did understand what the paperclips and duct-tape were for, but it was her search so I just followed directions).
Two nights stretched into three.
Sis convinced the KOA to let her search their grounds for some sign of Pooh. She had hoped to find his hat or sunglasses, anything that might indicate he had been there. But there was nothing to be found.
And then, finally, on the fourth day, word arrived. A cry went up throughout the Village…
POOH! WE FOUND POOH!
It was not a pretty sight.
It took less than 3 months for Pooh to go from a shy, upstanding, silly ‘ol bear to… well… something quite less.
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Pooh had hit rock bottom.
See, Pooh had an effect on us all… he had an influence. Everything I know about socializing I learned from Pooh. So now when my sister frowns at me for saying or doing something questionable within earshot or eyesight of her children, all I have to do is mouth his name and she knows. She knows, deep down, that it’s not my fault.
I am who I am because of Pooh.