Walt Disney and the Life Changing Power of A Christmas Gift
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A young teenager by the name of Walt Disney had a special gift on his mind. It was a gift that would make him very much like the other kids at school, it was a pair of new boots. Boots were the “in” thing among his peers and young Walt wanted a pair of leather high boots, with metal toes, and decorative leather highlights.
Walt already knew that money in the Disney house was tight and these boots were an extravagance that his father would never agree to purchase. He even tried to sell the idea by explaining how the boots would be handy and useful for delivering newspapers through the rough winter weather. The boots would enable him to be more productive, get the papers out quicker…but Elias was tough and unmovable, He was not going to purchase the boots.
But if Walt was anything, he was always a dreamer. He kept up his constant chorus for the boots and had hoped they might show up as a birthday present early in December. His birthday arrived but the boots did not. What Walt did not know is that his mom, Flora, had been putting aside some money each week and brother Roy had latched onto some additional work so that on Christmas morning, Walt got his boots. It was a dream come true…Walt would recall later.
This special Christmas gift would be a life changing gift for Walt. Although he did not realize it. Sporting the new boots he headed downtown to hang out on the corner at the local drugstore hoping that some of his friends from school might drift by. He was anxious to let them see his new boots. So there he waited, this particular Christmas was warmer than some and the ice was starting to melt.
As the day turned to dusk, Walt decided it was time to head home. Always creative, as he was walking home, he created a game to play to pass the time. There were chunks of ice sitting frozen in the streets because the ice was melting off and breaking up in various sized chunks. Walt started kicking those blocks of ice playing a form of frozen soccer. The new boots thudding against the ice allowed him to kick with force. It was fun. Each kick would knock the ice loose and send is sliding across the street in front of him. Changing velocity, changing angles, and changing his form he discovered he could control the ice and where it was headed.
Walt Disney lined up a kick on a big chunk of ice and slung his foot forward for the kick. Pop! And then…nothing…he was stuck. He tried to move his foot and he could not. He was actually stuck to the ice. What he didn’t know in that moment, but would know soon, was that there was a nail hidden in the ice. It was frozen and now that horseshoe nail had gone through his shoe and was lodged in his foot. The sudden sharp sting, the frozen ice, the sudden impact delayed the wave of pain that was to follow.
[How often is it that our lives unfold this way? One minute we are having fun, everything is going our way, and then pop…we are stuck! Unexpected, unplanned, and unpredictable…and then we have to change whatever we had planned to deal with it. That is the way life unfolds isn’t it? We each live in real time and have to make choices based on what is happening around us but the life changing events are more often than not, events that we did not know were coming…there is much we could chat about here…but let’s get back to our Christmas story]
Walt Disney is stuck, impaled on a nail through his new boot!
He yelled for help.
No one responded. After all, it was Christmas. Why would anyone be out wandering around? There was some usual traffic to be sure but people were at home spending time with family and doing what they did on Christmas night. He was hopelessly stuck, he couldn’t break lose, his foot was starting to hurt and he couldn’t put any pressure on it to break free. Panic began to creep in like the cold and he continued to yell for help.
The people who were out in streetcars or surrounding streets would glance, but honestly, thought Walt was just a kid who was clowning around. They ignored him. Finally after being stuck 10, 15, and then 20 minutes a delivery wagon, pulled by a horse clomped by.
Walt yelled, “Help! I’m stuck! ”
The driver looked skeptical but as the young Disney began to cry, the driver stopped.
Walt quickly tried to explain what happened. The driver was still suspicious.
“Are you kidding me?”
With a tear stained face, Walt pleaded, “No, I’m stuck!”
The driver got off the wagon and began to inspect what was really going on. He pulled out a tool he carried in the wagon to chop away the ice and then scooped up the boy and took him to the doctor’s office down the street. The doctor checked the boy and determined the only thing he could do was use a pair of pliers to pull out the nail. Two people held Walt’s legs and the doctor removed the nail from his foot. It was painful and Disney watched as the doctor cut away his new boot, pulled the nail out, cleaned out the dirt and then gave him a tetanus shot.
As bad as he felt then, for the next two week it was even worse. He had to lay in the living room of his home with his foot elevated while he healed. He was miserable. He replayed the moment when he kicked the ice over and over again. It was innocent but dumb and the end result was the boots were ruined, he was hurt, and the sacrifice that had been made for the boots to be purchased was wasted. He knew the boots would not be replaced and he had time to lay there and think about it over and over again.
After being stuck on the street in the cold now he was stuck on the couch healing. He would spend his time reading and drawing on a sketch pad that his aunt had given him. This pad became a distraction and release as he filled it with cartoon sketches. He had always loved to draw. His mother would carry some of the cartoons he was creating to school to show his teachers as she picked up his homework. She told Walt how much people enjoyed what he was drawing. Sometime during those weeks he decided that he was destined to draw.
Although he didn’t like it, with great hesitation, Walt’s father allowed him to take his first art classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. Later Walt took more classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art after the family moved. The road was long, there were many lessons, much practice, time overseas with the Red Cross Ambulance Corp, and then finally he would begin to pursue being a cartoonist professionally.
But that gift of boots, that came at a great sacrifice for Flora and Roy, was a gift that helped changed the world of Walt Disney and ultimately…the world as we know it.
Those boots would become holey…and in some ways holy as young Walt was forced to think through what his future might be.
Christmas is a time where we should all be thankful for the gifts we have been given. Christmas begins with the gift of a baby in a manger in a little out of the way place called Bethlehem. The ripple effect of that birth continues to move through time. Christmas gives us a chance to think about others in our lives and how we express our love to them. Sometimes the search for the special gift involves a journey, some sacrifice, and the lessons learned that come wrapped up in a gift may be the most valuable part of the gift.
In a gift of boots we discover a sacrifice by a loving mother and supportive brother. We find a pair of boots that were a dream come true. The same gift was immediately lost and we are reminded of just how precious some gifts can be. The aftermath of the gift allows lessons to be learned and moments to be created that change who we are forever…and some of those gifts have the ability to change the world.
If Walt had never gotten a pair of boots would he have ever made the decision to be a cartoonist? Well, it is hard to know and there is no way to answer the question…but the gift of the boots did help that decision to be made and the way it happened was something that no one could have ever predicted on that Christmas morning when the boots were unwrapped.
Never underestimate the power of the gifts you give or the gifts you receive. They have the power to be the key ingredient that might change the life of the giver of the gift and the one who gets the gift forever. And who knows? The gift might just change the world.
Give generously, bless the lives of others, express your love to those in your life…just because they need to hear it and you need to share it.
And of course, have a very Merry Christmas!
*Note details for this story come from articles and stories discovered by Jim Korkis, author of the Vault of Walt and a featured writer for Mouseplanet. In addition the gift of the boots is mentioned as one of Walt’s favorites in the Neal Gabler book, Walt Disney