It was the carrot after the stick. When Mom had to take us to the dentist, who had his office on the Upper West Side, we would always visit the Museum afterward. Dentist visits then were painful, really painful. I remember this dentist well though he shall remain nameless here. He was a balding sadist who didn’t believe in any painkillers and would drill your teeth until you bled and cried. I suspect Mom knew the man was nuts, but he was somehow related to our Aunt Mildred and God Forbid we didn’t do what that loon wanted (more about her later). Mom always planned the visits for the morning so she could take us to the Museum of Natural History afterward. A few hours of roaming around those hallowed halls with all their treasures, and our pain was forgotten.
There was the Leakey Hall of African Mammals where I marveled at the majesty of lions on the African Veldt recreated by brilliant artists. Now, this was before I understood how the museum got those lions, so I didn’t have any negative feelings at the time. I abhor hunting of any kind but especially the big game kind. Now I know that it was accepted by society at one time, but hey so was slavery. It’s called Evolution people – get with it! But I digress, and I will admit the dioramas did what Teddy Roosevelt amongst others knew they would – instill a lifelong interest in learning more about these creatures and ultimately dedicate oneself to their preservation.
And then there was the Dinosaur Hall. Every kid loved Dinosaurs. Utterly fascinating and to this day I marvel at being able to stand next to the actual skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Stegosaurus or a Triceratops, my all time favorite. I would imagine the world they inhabited and longed to visit; I envied those that made their living digging up this stunning past for a living. Then there was the Hall of Insects with its marvelous diorama that put you in the earth with worms, ants, and spiders! And the North American Mammal Hall with its mighty Kodiak Bear standing proud and strong. And the Ocean Hall, where you could stand under a Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling, not to mention the entry hallway with its heard of African Elephants seemingly on the move forever.
It was and still is an amazing place; nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It was educational and humbling; fascinating and frightening; it made your spirit soar and your mind bend; it was just what a young boy needed to teach him the world was a big place with a long history and endless layers of culture and science. It puts your silly life into perspective, that’s for sure. At one time the earth literally shook with the weight of Brontosaurus, and now he stands in front of you, a mass of re-assembled bones. Everything has its time; a good lesson to keep in mind; we are just passing through like they were; we are just doing it a whole lot quieter. Well, maybe not a whole lot.
A cup of hot chocolate before heading back to the train topped off the day. And though we were lucky enough to come whenever we wanted, at least we knew we would be back again in six months when it was time for our next check up with the dentist.
Hot and cold; pain and pleasure; endings and beginnings. And so it goes.