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A Disney Childhood
Comic Books to Sailing Ships
A Memoir
Cathy Sherman Freeman
This is the story of my childhood. I started writing this memoir when I received a cancer diagnosis at age 50 that I inherited the same rare cancer that
had killed my father when he was 45.
“Send a flare and we’ll
there!” – Swiftsure, 1975
I needed to find the positive to my new situation. These last two years have been extremely rewarding and emotionally full of kind words from strangers.  My childhood was a magical time. My father worked for Walt Disney where children were respected and whose opinion counted.  I had a rich childhood–not in money but in experiences.  How many children ran free at Disneyland on a regular basis?  Or were invited on a six-week tour of Europe paid by the Disney Studios?  But the rug was pulled out from under me when I was 11 and father was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer (his was the 10th case on file for what was called Chemodectoma, now called Paraganglioma).  The doctors have found a genetic link but not a cure.  That is the exact place I am at the moment.  Knowledge that tumors could grow anywhere in my body along the nervous system and the only chance of catching them are semi-annual body scans.
The idea for this book started when I was 50 and a Wildtype GIST tumor was found in my stomach with a bleeding ulcer on it.  They surgically removed the tumor and the bottom third of my stomach.  My husband and I live on a very modest income and we needed to come up with $10,000 to pay for the surgery (our health insurance deductible).  I looked around our house and the only thing I owned that might be worth that much was an oil painting of Uncle Scrooge given to my father by the artist himself, Carl Barks, as a thank you present.  I emailed the main auction house that dealt with this type of art and learned the last Carl Barks painting of this size sold for $45,000.  I still hesitated selling it.  It was a direct link to my Father and his life at Disney.
But hospital bills don’t disappear. We’ve never been in debt so I consigned it with Heritage Auctions.  I also emailed many Disney historians and comic art collectors that I was selling a Carl Barks original oil painting of Uncle Scrooge (there were only approximately 120 oil paintings of Disney characters done by Barks).  What I hadn’t expected were how many people responded to me with kind words about my father and how they knew him 35 years ago. I also learned his work at the studio in the 1960s had a large impact on the distribution and creation of Disney comic books all over the world. These people who took time to email me and inspired the concept of writing this memoir.  
With the help of Disney historians, father’s colleagues and friends I completed a manuscript in a year’s time.  A woman who I say is the best friend I’ve never met offered to copy edit the chapters. I sent her one at a time and then wrote and rewrote until we had it right.  Numerous retired Disney colleagues read the next draft and offered me suggestions.  Then Didier Ghez who’d read the book recommended a publisher, Ben Ohmart, at BearManorMedia.  I sent him a two page synopsis and 30 minutes later I had a YES!  The one-in-a-million chances that I’d inherit a cancer that only a dozen people in the world have, are the same statistics that found me a publisher just like that.
I’d awake each day with some aspect of my childhood I had just remembered. I then try to track down someone who I could ask if I was remembering correctly. I sent random letters to names of dad’s friends and colleagues.  People who my mother had not stayed in contact with since father’s death 35 years earlier.  I got immediately responses by phone, email or letter saying, “Your father was my best friend . . . “  They all had stories they wanted to share with me and offered their help with editing, critiques, and ultimately finding a publisher.  I hit the jackpot. I sold an object, “Uncle Scrooge,” and received in return an abounding amount of support at a time in my life when my health is on a pinnacle with the question, are more tumors growing?  The day “Uncle Scrooge” was auctioned off the European Stock Market fell and my painting went for $17,000 and not the $45,000 estimated.  I had a day of disappointment before I realized I could pay the hospital bill and it was only a painting after all.
When I was a teenager I started this philosophy.  Whenever I had a bad day I think of who I can help.  I’d take flowers to the hospital where father was paralyzed from the waist down, and give the poppies and blue lupine to the other patients on his floor.  Some would invited me in and share their stories with me.  Other times I’d write my grandmothers or bake cookies to take to a friend or neighbor.  Today I find email is a good way to connect with those I know in need of a kind word.
I’ve lived in a small town for 30 years.  I’ve gotten to know the tellers at my bank, and the cashiers at my market.  They are the ones who also encouraged me and heard chapter after chapter of my journey down the road to publishing.  Their enthusiasm and “I want to read your book” helped me continue on days when my energy was low (the compromised stomach makes eating difficult and not eating leaves me often with little energy).
There is one particular story about the research of this book that I would like to share. On the internet was a tiny photo of the boat that rescued my mother and brothers at sea. I emailed the San Diego Yacht Club to see if they could track down a larger version to print in the book.  Thirty minutes later I got a call from Nick, the captain and owner, of this boat.  He said he had the photo and would have a higher resolution scanned for me.  He did and sent a large print of it as well.  In the photo, on the boat, are Swiftsure’s crew as well as my family and the crew of our boat.  I had flown to Honolulu to wait for family to reappear after the collision at sea.  I sat for three days on the dock waiting (and making sure the media didn’t find out who I was).  I emailed Nick for a few weeks as he told me more of the story about mother and the rescue.  I asked Nick that since he’d sailed all over the world where was his favorite beach because I really wanted to swim in a tropical ocean before any tumors appeared.
He told me it was Hana on Maui.  There was one store, one restaurant and three gorgeous beaches.  Very quiet and very pretty.  I said it sounded perfect.  The next day he emailed me that he was sending Brian and I there–all expenses paid.  I said, “I OWE you, I can’t accept such a gift.”  He said, “I had no choice.”  I said, “Then make it modest, we are modest people.” He said, “Raise your ante.” I said, “I had a hard time accepting gifts.”  He said, “I’ll worry about the money you worry about getting on the plane.”  And so another gift out of the blue that I’ll get to experience in February 2012.  I asked another friend who has a condo on Maui what his rental fee is for a few nights on the other side of the island.  He said, “A signed copy of your book.”  I hadn’t even found a publisher yet and here I was being blessed by the kindness of others.  
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The caption reads: “Robin Hood stole from the rich to feed the poor, . . . But I stole the picture, GEORGE!”
Robin Hood illustrators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, Milt Kahl, Vance Gerry, and others signed the matt; Connie Ropolo, Dick Lucas, Tom Lay, Al Bertino, Edwardo, Don Griffith, Jeff Patch, Pat Lestina, Lorraine Davis, Ed Hanson, Roy Wilson, Woolie Reitherman, took the time to do this original painting for my father when he was in the hospital because of his tumors.  
© 2014 Crystal Castle Graphics, Cathy Freeman web designer