So, over the past 24 hours or so, we took a quick little overnight down to Montgomery.
It’s a little more than an hour from here.
I’d been twice – once, years ago, when Michael and I dashed through on some massive, odd, road trip through the South, and we visited Hank Williams’ grave, drove through the city and then headed right to Selma, and then a month or so ago when we saw the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.
Joseph had been for the obligatory 4th-grade field trip (4th grade being The Year of Studying Your State’s History) – they’d visited the capitol, had a photo taken with the governor, gone through the state museum and floated on a riverboat.
We covered most of what I’d hoped this trip, save one site.
It’s an easy drive, straight down I-65, and Montgomery’s easy to navigate, too. Not a lot of traffic.
First stop was the Rosa Parks Museum. It’s part of the Troy University Montgomery campus, and is built near the spot where Mrs. Parks boarded the bus that day.
There are two parts to the museum, which is clearly set up for school groups. The first is a “children’s museum,” in which you sit on a replica of a bus and do a bit of time travel via films that you watch through the windows of the “moving” bus. The film takes you through some essential points of African-American history, most significantly Jim Crow laws. Very well done. We happened to hook up with a school group, and not for the last time over this day. They were everywhere. Spring, obviously, has sprung, and no one wants to be in class!
(Last week, when I took Michael to his homeschool class at the Zoo, I noticed a list of visiting groups for that day on the ticket window – I counted 18…)
Next door is a museum which offers a very detailed history of the bus boycott in four large rooms, rich with artifacts and tableaux, including a really great recreation of Rosa Parks’ moment: There’s a half of a bus with a rear-projection film being shown in the windows – it’s as if you are standing on the street watching the events as they unfold.
You’re led through the exhibit initially by a guide – ours was a young man named Ricky, who did a great job – and then encouraged to stay and explore more deeply. No photographs allowed, however.
I highly recommend this – quite good, and deeply moving.
We then attempted to go to the Dexter Street Parsonage, which was MLK’s home when he was a pastor, and during the boycott, but it was closed. I don’t know if they close for lunch, but that was too bad. I’d read so many rave reviews of this tour and I was looking forward to it…
So after finding a Jason’s Deli for lunch, we headed to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. I knew where it was, since it’s in the same gorgeous park that houses the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
It’s a smallish (free!) museum with well-chosen, thought-provoking exhibits.
The children’s workshop section was pretty good. It was oriented to children a bit younger than mine, but they still enjoyed making prints, learning about bronzes, fiddling with some racecars and posing in a Hopper painting.
(So far, the children’s workshop at the Frist in Nashville is really the best I’ve seen. Go there, if you have a chance.)
Side note: How do you take children to an art museum? I’m often bemused by discussions of this on travel boards: people suggesting that children can’t or shouldn’t be taken to art museums and that a kid-friendly vacation is one that involves mostly amusement parks and waterslides.
Well, this is how I/we do it:
First, it’s an expected thing. We go see art all the time. We stop on the street and look at faded advertisements painted on the sides of buildings and details sculpted into stone cornices. We make art at home. We go to art festivals and peak into galleries.
And so when we stroll through a museum, we do just that: we stroll, relax and enjoy. I’m not ashamed to say that I tend to point out the grotesque, strange and amusing – it’s what gets their attention. I stop in front of a piece and say aloud what I like about it, even if it’s only the colors or the size. I ask them what they think a piece might be about. There’s never a wrong answer.
I know next to nothing about art, so it’s not a challenge to keep it light. I do, however, try to make certain points, when they come to me, that is. Montgomery has that Hopper, so I reminded them that the Chicago Art Institute, where we were a few weeks ago, had Nighthawks, but I had been disappointed because it was on loan. So we looked at Montgomery’s Hopper and we talked about what we saw in it, about perspective and color, and I said that part of what it’s about is how you can be in a big city full of millions of people…
“….and still feel all alone…” one of the boys finished.
See? They get it. Just give them a chance.
We talked about what a person could think the painting’s story was all about by just looking at it, and how that story might change once you knew the painting’s title:
Who is forgiving who?
You could wonder forever, couldn’t you?
(answer: nothing. Much like the rest of Montgomery’s downtown. Picture my shocked face as I tell you that Birmingham might actually not have the worst downtown scene in Alabama. So far, Montgomery and Mobile have shown themselves to be no better, and in some ways, worse….)
I have a shot like this from every trip, great or small, I think: boys encountering a wide open space and racing into it.
Basketball at the Residence Inn (it’s an outdoor pool, and it was way too chilly for that, so basketball would have to do), and then bed.
This morning, we headed back to the state capitol area. We first hit up the VERY exciting MOOSEUM – basically a few rooms about cattle in the offices of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association building. Hell, it was free, so why not?
Then across the street to the very good Alabama Archives and Museum. As I said, Joseph had been here in fourth grade, but the exhibits had changed a lot, and the new “Alabama Voices” exhibit was exhaustive, engaging and really something to see. It was comprehensive, fair and honest. Really an excellent overview of Alabama history. Plus smaller rooms on Alabama Indians and then the geography of the state.
At this point, I had to decide if we’d try the parsonage again. It was 12:30, we had to be back in Birmingham for scouts later, and we still had the zoo to go. So I made an executive decision that the parsonage could wait – at some point in the near future, we’d be back to cover that, the Freedom Riders museum, the Fitzgerald House and the Hyundai plant. (tours for that are booked up months in advance, so hopefully we can get it in by August…..Why are there so many Korean restaurants here? Well…..)
(By the way, the museum has one Zelda Fitzgerald painting on exhibit:
It’s called, “Hope.”
The zoo was a good, small zoo. We saw an elephant take a lot of time giving itself a mud bath – I was fascinated to watch it push dirt down into the waterhole and mix it around with its foot before scooping up a batch with its trunk – a sweet Simiac family, a trio of jaguar cubs and something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in captivity before, and indeed, never seen not dead by the side of the road:
And we were back home by 3:30.
One of the things I’ve always known, but has really come to the forefront of my brain the last couple of years, is how important it is for a parent to model learning by being open to learning. It’s something of which I’m aware, but also something I have to remind myself to articulate just because I’m an introvert and tend to keep things in my head. So I make it a point to say things like, “I learned a bunch of stuff today…I’d never seen that before..it was very interesting…”
As we were driving to the MMFA, we passed several large ponds/small lakes in this expansive park. A heron was standing at the edge of one of them, looking down at a gray lump. I stopped the car and we watched. It was a fish: not tiny, but not huge, either. Definitely wider than the heron’s narrow beak. The heron didn’t just scoop it up and finish it off, as I expected. He stalked toward the water, then returned. He poked at the fish on the ground, pushed it about, then picked it up – and tossed it back into the water.
I couldn’t get over it. Perhaps there’s an ornithologist out there who can explain, but I found it fascinating that the heron returned the fish to the pond. If it wasn’t to his liking, why didn’t he just leave it there on the shore? Was it too small and he “knew” that it needed to grow, and therefore, live, in order to be of some benefit to him in the future?
And yes, I kept talking about it, and about how mysterious I found that moment. And yes, the boys were probably bored and wondering when I was going to shut up about it. But maybe they’ll also get, in some, annoyed way, that being a grown-up doesn’t mean knowing it all and never asking questions. In fact, it’s the opposite: knowing less, asking more questions, and finding it all – the answers and the questions – just amazing.