My earliest memory dates to the summer of 1955, when I was a few months shy of four years old. I remember my feelings and the sights as if it was yesterday, not five decades ago.
A vast, empty parking lot, with few people and almost no other cars.
Red and white striped tents gleaming under the perfect California sun. Curious carnival rides poking into the skyline. Booths selling books of entrance tickets. Planters and planters of manicured red and yellow rose bushes. And Mickey and Minnie Mouse, greeting me, my baby brother, and mom and dad.
I vividly recall staring... really staring... at the tents from the parking lot. My childish imagination sparked with the unexpected promise of a bigger, more interesting world than I knew on our suburban street lined with one-story tract homes.
Sleeping Beauty's castle. A terrifying boat ride through the African jungle. Dumbos soaring children aloft in the afternoon sky. A circus train, with monkey cages for parents.
To children today, the terms "magical kingdom" and "the happiest place on earth" are stupid marketing hype. Every major American city has multiple amusement parks. And Disneyland of 1955 pales when compared to the common technological miracles of the 21st century.
But my deep sense of wonder that sublime, youthful moment was the seed of my creative life.