You would think that by now I would know that certain places must be avoided by Afrocity. Whether its places like Whole Foods store with scary compost obsessed “greenies” or a seemingly innocent cultural excursion, I must realize that compressed within my mind between the many layers of anguish, nostalgia and glee are memories that I would rather not revisit.
Sometimes even the good memories we harbor can turn suddenly sad. The next thing you know , you are crying over the smell of a gingerbread scented Yankee Candle because it reminds you of when your mother used to bake cookies for Christmas- granted they were from a box mix. Too much holiday cheer sends me to a place where I will never come back from without my tears licking the regret off my face. As Glen Beck demonstrated last Friday during a Christmas show featuring our troops and singer Andy Williams, such regrets are often difficult to harbor in solitude.
My initial refusal to accept an invitation to join friends for an afternoon touring the “Christmas Around the World” exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry had nothing to do with my busy schedule as I had pretended. It had everything to do with my avoidance of a place which held some of my happiest memories …Sounds rather odd but here lied my dilemma. ..There are times when I want to avoid all aspects of my past. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Memory can kill.
By recalling happy moments, I will be reminded of the absence of my mother’s life. “Remember the good times” is simply a sentiment of official rubbish in my book. Afro-Grinch wants to be left alone, slouching away from the decorated windows at Macy’s , denying that the smell of caramel wafting from Garret’s Popcorn store makes her float along State street searching for $5 to get a small paraffin paper bag filled with the thigh cellulite building stuff.
“Afrocity, please come with us. You never do anything with us and you have turned every invitation down for the past three months.”
Do I continue to come up with flimsy excuses for not going with my friend?
Or do I face the place that I dread to enter because I will be confronted by a harmless little black girl holding her mother’s hand as they walk from exhibit to exhibit? Looking at the circus, the Fairy Castle, taking a ride through a coal mine or learning about solar energy as you glide through a tunnel in half moon shaped mechanical chairs. On a Sunday afternoon when church was done mother and I would often pop over to the museum which resides in the Hyde Park neighborhood or “Pill Hill” as she would call it. Hyde Park received this moniker due to the many doctors and professors that lived in the area.
Being the home of the University of Chicago, Hyde Park also conjures images of theatrical productions of Proof and of course Barack Obama. His home is not far away from the Museum of Science and Industry.
At the time, during the 1970’s and 80’s when mother and I would take the long ride on the number 55 bus to get to the museum enduring sights of declining living conditions and braving abominably cold winters, Barack Obama was in Indonesia or Hawaii, someplace other than Chicago. Little did mother know that someday this neighborhood would put forth America’s first president of color. Nor did she realize that she was sitting on the 55 bus next to a little girl that would someday not vote for the presidential candidate from Hyde Park and become a conservative blogger of color.
On this visit to the museum, I was in a car. As we pulled into the underground parking lot my first thought was that I could safely say that in all of my years coming to the museum, I had never arrived in a car with door service. Once inside, I felt a lump in my throat. Everything had been changed and updated and ADMISSION was $23. Jumping Bill O’Reilly!!! Mom and I would never have been able to afford that. We mostly went in for free. I paid for my ticket which included the regular exhibits and a tour of the new “S M A R T H O M E” aka Chicago’s greenest home. The Smart Home is an actual home built on the museum grounds as proof of the city’s commitment to green technology. I will talk about my experience in the Smart Home tomorrow in a special Moonbat Monday –holiday segment (maniacal laughter) featuring Al “Goracle” .
Walking around with my head looking up at the ceiling, I began to recognize the old parts of the museum. Tour groups of kids surrounded me all leashed up to their teachers. What’s up with that? I wondered. God, how awful it must be to be leashed to your worst booger eating nightmare. I rolled my eyes as the teacher unleashed the kids in uniform for a potty break.
This is not so bad after all I thought until I got to the circus exhibit, then the memories began to swell and overtake my cynical composure.
“Come on Afrocity let’s see the big top, “
Mother would say dragging me away from the souvenir shop. I was always upset that she was not buying me something. Food stamps would never get me that kaleidoscope I wanted but it was still bad mommy’s fault for being mean. In silence and pouty stuck out lips, I would stomp through the museum as a virtual ice child until she got me into the circus exhibit. We would watch a model three ring circus with moving fat ladies and strong men. Special mirrors were installed so a little girl could see what she looked like 20 feet tall or short and fat. Lights that painted your face like a clown when you stuck your head in a box. Of course there was an educational film about a day at the circus, which we would sometimes watch at the exhibit’s end. It was shown in a tiny theater and they would give you popcorn. Whether we stayed to watch or not depended on what shoes my mother was wearing.
Somewhere between memory and disbelief, I was jarred back to 2009 as I espied bottles of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer next to the exhibit stations. The kids were pumping the Purel gel away as they climbed up the tiny ladders to the clown light boxes. Poor things, so young, so innocent, so H1N1 compliant.
Incidentally, the next time you hear me say I wish I were young again …give me a swift kick in the shin as hard as you can with your Ugg boots.
Between the leashes and sanitizing hand goop, I would NOT trade my days of having to type term papers on my grandmother’s old sea green Smith Corona (which was missing the “s” key) while listening to my Sony Walkman for an Ipod, school shootings and Obama Kool Aid drinker, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on ANY DAY. Now I know what mother meant when she would pity my generation saying “you will never know what the good ol’ days were like for us during the 1950’s…when a child never had to worry about being snatched from the roadside and we could sleep with our doors left unlocked…when a penny would buy you six pieces of candy and not one…when you felt gloriously lucky that Santa left you a stocking filled with apples, nuts and oranges for Christmas.”
I suppose that while technology gets better as time goes on, people get worse… The 1970’s seemed abysmal and inflated through the lens of my 1938 born mother. The worse thing for her was crawling under a school desk during the nuclear bomb fear craze. The enemy was the Japanese or some atomic monster, not your Doc Martin, trench coated classmate. Now as I watched the school groups gather around the Christmas trees of the world exhibit, all leashed, amber alerted and cell phoned up with everything not going wrong for themselves except a ball added to their bungee cord chains of bondage, the 70’s look pretty damn good to me now. Give me Charlie’s Angels, Fluff sandwiches and non organic fruit drink beverages colored with red dye #2 in a big brown paper bag—and hold the liberal sanctimonious scowl.
Fortunate for my sanity the museum’s annual Christmas tree exhibit were the same. Each country had a green artificial tall furry representative. There were trees from Brazil, Germany, France, and Mexico. I recalled mother and I standing in front of a tree covered with flags from Great Britain. The new millennium has brought new politically correct additions to the “Christmas around the World” exhibit. Now we have Bosnia, a Ramadan display and depictions of Kwanzaa.
Each tree is adorned with ornaments of dolls, handmade crafts and virtually anything that generically symbolizes the country as we Americans see it. It was clear that the curators were being as inclusive as possible but I am not sure whether or a Christmas tree is a typical December staple in many of the Asian countries as the exhibit assumed. We all know the bamboozlement of political correctness. At least for this afternoon it was a harmless Christmas tree and not a machine gun pointing at me while I mailed my holiday cards in the local post office.
Sigh even still..I felt the presence of mom here with me, Of mother and child. Of the joy of being with the person who will protect you from the ugliness of life. We were homeless together, starved together, she held only a GED education. She rose above the conflict within our live to give me a day at the museum and for that I am forever appreciative.
This museum is a main artery which leads to my past, kept out of circulation until this day. After seeing every tree and eating a grilled cheese sandwich in the café, I was tired and ready to go home. On the way out, I heard a child’s cry. A small boy was protesting because his parents were making him leave the museum’s souvenir shop. He pulled the old limp dead weight body trick. Ah, my young friend. It never works. The adult simply picked him up and carried him out into the parking lot without a kaleidoscope or a rubber snake.
I smiled to myself as I followed behind them, thankful for the sparring I had just witnessed between mother and child. I had just witnessed a holiday miracle. I began to fully understand the message God was giving me. Technology and social ills may change our lives but whether we listen to our music on an old radio, a Walkman or an Ipod some things will never change. At the end of the day at the museum, a child still reluctantly goes home.
Autographed Letter Signed,