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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Museum Mania and Life Lessons



I am starting a mini-series of sorts. Every once in awhile, I’m going to be posting about some unique, out-of-the-ordinary museums that we have come across, whether at home, or in our travels. I’m sure that there are some near where you live, and in this economy, many families are opting for stay-cations, keeping close to home for any time off. Check out the treasures that are in your community. If it’s particularly germane, I will mention the exact museum location and name.

You see, I spent part of my early childhood in a very remote northern territory. There were birch trees, and bears, and lots of snow. People skated and went ice fishing. In early spring, we saw maple trees on tap with wooden buckets hanging to collect the delightful syrup. In the summer, residents went to small holiday homes to swim in freezing lakes. There was not a whole lot to do beyond these basics.

Occasionally, our family resorted to a small eatery offering chicken-in-a-basket. Now, this was a treat. (Only those of a certain era will identify with this unique culinary presentation featuring either a wicker or plastic basket and semi-waxed paper, upon which fried chicken and french fries were placed. For children before the time of fast food, it was heaven.)

Anyways, attached to this eatery, for a nominal Entrance Fee, was a Museum of Local Artifacts, prominently featuring a real “Shrunken Head!!!” Because of the gruesomeness of said item, children had to be over a certain age to glimpse its utter goriness. Unfortunately, I was never old enough, which I regret and disturbs me to this day….

I have always been interested in museums, whether whimsical and wacky, or straightforward and scientific. I remember visiting one museum in Calcutta where the bird droppings inside were so thick, it was difficult to see into certain glass cases. The upright ones more than made up for the soiled ones, as we examined the belly contents found in the Eastern Indian saltwater crocodile growing to sizes longer than 15 feet long and holding bracelets, anklets, and other jewelry and paraphernalia gobbled with its victims. Alright, it was a local holiday (Guru Nanak Day) and there was nothing else to do….

Most of these serendipitous “finds” have been discovered while trying to fill time–whether for myself, or for our children. There’s that strange pause, when you think you should be “doing” or “experiencing” something in your city or another, and yet, if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to join the masses at the usual, overcrowded sites. And hence, we find ourselves stepping into unique experiences that would not normally be on our Top Ten To Do lists.

This past week, I took the kids to a local archaeological museum. It was all of one room, and turned out to be more educational and informational than many museums boasting budgets in the millions. An elderly volunteer greeted us, while university interns worked on computers. We were taken through the steps of research, site evaluation and preparation, stratigraphy, tools, sifting of earth, collecting artifacts according to site squares, rinsing back at the lab, reconstruction of anything broken, photographing and publishing the findings.

On the drive there, we had one of the most lively discussions ever, with the children enjoying the idea of finding “treasure” hidden beneath the earth and what it could tell us about previous inhabitants.

“What would an archaeologist be looking for in a dig?” I challenge them.

“Deenozah’beree!” Sashenka shouts out, not yet having mastered the raise-your-hand and wait-to-be-called-on process.

“Dinosaurs? Good, but that’s more for a paleontologist, rather than an archaeologist.”

“Bones!” Pasha chimes in.

“Possibly, but again, an anthropologist might be the one interested in actual bones….  After someone dies, or if a home burns down, or a war is fought, what would inhabitants leave behind that would tell us something of their lives?” I suggest.

“Jewels!” Petya enthuses, always aiming high in life.

That’s my boy. He was obviously referring to my demise.

Once at the museum, they were a bit dismayed to learn that older privies (outhouses) were ideal dumping grounds for cast-off pottery, tools, and even weapons that were no longer in use. The four spent time at a favorite table, collecting plate pieces that had been smashed specifically so that children could try their hand at putting them back together again, like a real archaeologist would do.

We talked about the items that might typify our culture and again, they blossomed and came up with many insights. Usually, thinking creatively in a free-form fashion, stumped them. This time, I sensed real progress being made in a fun environment.

It took all of an hour in the museum itself. Several of the staff came to meet us, discussing the old handwriting found on a letter from long ago. They had me read it aloud to my four children, never imagining that mine were once orphans. It was from a son who was too young to run off to war, but had, anyway, against his father’s wishes. He begged for forgiveness and talked about how, should he survive the battles he faced, he would always value his family and respect his father. “If God lets me get home safe again, I will try to behave and mind my parents better than I have….”

Everyone grew a little misty-eyed. We were home in time for lunch, greatly benefited in more ways than one by visiting this diminutive display of a museum.



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