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Mack Williams: Museum and memory

Mack Williams

For my birthday, my children Rachel, Jeremy and daughter-in-law Rose took me for an outing at the Greensboro Science Center. To this special place, my late wife Diane and I took the kids when they were small (mainly 1980s). They and the museum have grown.
I always associate the Greensboro Science Center with Greensboro’s WFMY-TV-Channel 2 and their “newsman emeritus,” Lee Kinard. After moving to Yanceyville in 1974, I was more within Channel 2’s broadcast radius, being greeted daily by Lee Kinard’s “Good Morning Show,” as I was once greeted by Arthur Smith’s Crackerjacks on WBTV-Channel 3 before boarding the bus for that ride down the Old Concord Road to Granite Quarry School.
In the 70s, Channel 2 featured a weekly visit by employees and docents from “The Greensboro Natural Science Center” (as The Greensboro Science Center was known then).
One visitor to Channel 2 was an older volunteer of the Greensboro Gem and Mineral club. As he weekly rolled a different rock or mineral back and forth in his hands, I felt like I was touching it too; for I’ve never met a rock I didn’t like and didn’t want to touch (some geologists say different rocks taste differently; but I’ve never really met a rock I wanted to lick, have you?).
He invariably wore a bolo tie featuring a specimen of turquoise, evoking the American West, where rocks can be seen and picked up, unlike the “verdant East” where only road-cuts and construction provide that possibility.
There was an astronomy man, precise (as astronomy men should be) about wonders to be skyward seen.
Another educator had a “Ben Stein demeanor,” and while holding an amphibian or snake, gave the impression of amazement in doing so.
Seeing these men made me think: “Wouldn’t it be great to be a strange old science museum guy!” (and having done that since 2002, I know).
A plethora of living animals have been added to the museum’s zoo, but sadly, groundhogs “Melvin” (whom I honestly believe was named after then-Mayor of Greensboro, Jim Melvin) and “Woody” have passed (their shadows now inseparable from the Underworld’s great Stygian shadow).
A room full of displayed fossils now contains a few, each featured in a case with a little holographic “Indiana Jones” treading on it and talking about it, but not speaking loud enough to be heard over the public din and the room’s own “artificial dinosaur growlings.” Some monitors rest on “museum crates,” but despite earnest efforts to evoke the Indiana Jones aura (and likewise, Roy Chapman Andrews), and by moving the majority of the wonderful previously-displayed fossils to the storeroom, I would have to say they chose poorly. But the fossils which remain are also wonderful, for just as with rocks and minerals, I never met a fossil I didn’t like.
Along with the wonderful zoo animals, are added the marvelous aquariums of their “aquatic zoo” as well. Living animals can’t be “dumbed-down” like some exhibits. The only way for an animal to be “dumbed-down” is for it to be dead (although I do remember a neurotic serval at another zoo, constantly pacing round-and-round its enclosures plexiglass rim). However, in the Greensboro museum, I did see an indoor display of living “outside” birds, robins, I think; but I don’t recall seeing outside access to a likewise, caged-in area (I wonder what the robins thought about having essentially become parakeets).
Walking past the outside animals, I suddenly saw something out of my eye’s corner: a safety-helmeted person working his way through the trees. I looked around and saw a multitude of people up there, as if having returned to a long ago, simpler, arboreal existence.
This helmeted crowd above made me think, “Mr. McBeevee’s family, and we caught them all at home!”
The sight of all this “upper-dimension goings-on,” utilizing tree-attached ropes, tubes, chairs, etc. startled me, making me remember Captain Kirk’s critique of Kahn as only thinking two-dimensionally (imagine my surprise at being Kahn).
When I saw no netting below the temporary tree dwellers, I thought of the Wallenda Family tragedy of 1962; but when seeing that each person had a safety line, I thought of Mary Martin.
This “exhibit” is called “Skywild,” for those (in good shape) wanting more than just a “climbing wall.”
It was fun being there with Rachel and Jeremy again. I thought back to their youth, and an old exhibit we enjoyed back then, which only a few years ago, left the museum, “adopted” by some other organization since it had become antiquated, less “glitzy” (in other words, now requiring an on-looker with an attention span beyond that possessed by a gnat).
When the starting button was pressed, a light, representing an astronaut flashed, traveling a path from a picture of Earth to a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy and back. An electronic voice told of the millions of years passing on Earth, while the astronaut aged only a few.
Like the Earth, my body had aged to the point of needing new parts (hips); but like the astronaut, my mind was still within “memory’s ear-and-eye-shot” of past family times at the “Greensboro Natural Science Center” on Lawndale Drive.

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