Have you ever gone back to a place you were familiar with as a child? It’s usually smaller, dingier, and doesn’t hold the magic that you remember.
Except sometimes it’s just as good, or even better.
When I was a kid, our big vacations usually involved visiting relatives who lived within a couple of hours of our house. Once we went to Kings Island, in Cincinnati, and once, all six of us fit into a Woodie station wagon with a pod on top and drove from Indiana to see Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. That was the furthest we ever went on a vacation, because my parents knew about staycations way before they were even called staycations.
We spent one week each summer going to various museums in Chicago. We lived in northwest Indiana, and it was only a 30 or 40 minute drive into the city. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry; the Field Museum of Natural History; the Adler Planetarium; the Shedd Aquarium; the Museum of Art; and Brookfield Zoo. We didn’t do each of them every year, but we went year after year.
My daughter is now nine and a half, and she’s finally gotten to the point where she will sometimes pause and read the labels on exhibits or play on the interactive computers most museums have now. I’d been afraid to take her to a Chicago museum because I didn’t want her to completely rush through it, and I wanted to enjoy it, too, since I’m the kind of person who likes to linger at the exhibits, and read everything possible that the curators have given me to see.
So for Spring Break last week, we took the South Shore train into Chicago, and spent the day at Field Museum of Natural History. I remember it as one of my favorite places to go each summer.
When we walked inside the limestone building and I could see Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton who has an honored spot in the great hall on the main floor, my memories came rushing back–walking by case after case with the most interesting things in the world.
I could spend days there. It was even better than I remembered. The halls are vast, and the variety of animals, plants, and cultural items collected there is indescribable.
The case showing extinct birds brought tears to my eyes, as did the digital counter showing that 20 species had become extinct already that day.
We saw a special exhibit on bioluminescence–did you know that each firefly species has a pattern of blinking, and that pattern is different for males and females? We saw an exhibit on the caves of Lascaux, including some models showing what the cave walls look like. We saw the dinosaurs and the birds and the plants of the world. We went to Africa and Ancient Egypt and underground to see what lives in the soil, magnified 100 times. We looked at gems and jades and meteorites and minerals.
I was the girl who had an encyclopedia in her bedroom and read it for fun. Field Museum was the encyclopedia laid out in front of me.
Not many places live up to your childhood memories, but this place certainly did. My daughter isn’t quite the encyclopedia-reader that I was, but I hope it was the start of magical memories for her, as well.