Jennifer Kennedy, PA

Senior Writer

Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications from Susquehanna University, where she minored in creative writing and business. She worked in marketing and public relations at Prudential Financial and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins before becoming a freelance writer. She creates marketing and public relations content but most enjoys the personal side of writing. Jennifer has published three stories with Chicken Soup for the Soul series, including one about life in quarantine in a new book releasing this summer. Last year she wrote about the extraordinary way her father has faced pancreatic cancer in “Darkness & Light” for Deborah Norville’s bestselling “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive, Live Happy.” She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband of eighteen years, two sports-loving sons and a well-loved rescue dog.

As a Story Terrace writer, Jennifer interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

Space Mountain at Midnight

If I close my eyes, I can still smell the sweet scent of the air that night thirty years ago. It was different from Florida daytime air—crisper, cooler. And somehow, because it was at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, it smelled that much sweeter.

After a long day at the parks, my mom, dad, younger brother and I had just finished a late dinner at our hotel restaurant. As we walked to our room, my dad, carrying my already sleeping brother, shot me a “break the rules” smile and whispered, “Let’s go back to the Magic Kingdom and ride Space Mountain one more time.”

So my roller-coaster-loving, always-up-for-the-next-adventure partner-in-crime and I boarded the bus that most vacationers were getting off. I remember walking through the gates, not believing how amazing this was. It was far past my bedtime, and as I walked down Main Street holding my dad’s hand, the whole park looked like a bright fairy tale. We exuberantly rode Space Mountain, and the wind made our hair dance as we threw our hands high in the air.

Flash-forward thirty years, and I am standing in a long line at our Disney hotel about to make a $1,000 frivolous request to a complete stranger. I close my eyes and contemplate whether I should keep standing there or just be smart and leave, saving myself the heartache of another rejection. Just a few days earlier, I had pleaded my story through tears but the Disney employee on the phone said, “I’m so sorry for your situation, hon. Adding an extra park day for everyone in your family would cost $1,000. And if you don’t arrive until the evening, the park may be already be sold out the day before Christmas Eve. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

I was mad at myself—at us all. We should have planned this trip better for my dad. This was his very own “Make-a-Wish” trip, as he jokingly called it. Diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer a few months earlier, he was not expected to make it to Christmas. But he decided he would—and he would fund a Christmas trip to Disney to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with my brother and me and our families.

The two park days that we planned were chosen by my dad for the grandkids’ special interests—Animal Kingdom for my nieces and Hollywood Studios for my boys, with their recent Star Wars obsession. The third and final day, my dad had planned for my mom to visit her extended family in Florida—leaving us to return to the hotel at night just in time for our early flight the next morning. It was typical of my dad to make the trip perfect for everyone else. I wished I had fought harder to incorporate his beloved Magic Kingdom into the schedule.

Just like that, a cast member named Michael, holding an iPad, walked up to me and snapped me back to reality, smiling. “Happy holidays. What can I help you with today?”

The floodgates opened. I let is all out. My anger that my fifty-nine-year-old dad would not get to see my young boys grow up. Or grow old with my mom. Or retire and enjoy all he had worked for. Anger that I hadn’t even been able to buy a Christmas gift for him yet this year. How do you choose what you know will be the last Christmas gift you ever give your dad? Anger at the suffering that I knew was coming for him. Anger at this black cloud of terminal cancer that I could see closing in on us, closer and closer each day.

The angry tears came out so fierce I couldn’t get my story or my reasons out, just, “I need to get my dad back to Magic Kingdom tonight to ride Space Mountain. And there are ten of us. And we won’t be able to arrive until late. And we don’t have tickets.”

And somehow my eyes must have told the rest of the story because he returned thirty minutes later and smiled magically, saying “Merry Christmas,” and informing me that we all had tickets for the Magic Kingdom and fast passes to Space Mountain that night.

I watched the four cousins giggle together, wide-eyed with adrenaline and excitement. My brother and his two girls, and me and my two boys—with our memory-making dad. I knew they’d recall every detail of their night-time adventure, even thirty years later.

As we walked down Main Street with my boys holding my dad’s hands, the whole park looked like a bright fairy tale lit up for Christmas. The crowds slowly shuffled out as we rushed in. The air was invigorating. The crisp, cool Florida air smelled sweeter in front of the spectacular lit-up castle. Once again, I was with my roller-coaster-loving, always-up-for-the-next-adventure partner-in-crime, riding Space Mountain late at night. The wind made our hair dance and we threw our hands high in the air.

“Space Mountain at Midnight” from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wonder of Christmas, Copyright 2018 by JL Kennedy. Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

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