Remembering a Favorite Museum Moment

Lorelle van Fossen has started issuing blogging challenges to help people grow as bloggers. Between projects and a much-needed vacation, I didn’t have time to work on the previous one, but I decided to ignore a few things to work on this one. I think part of the reason why I wanted to do it is because it’s about creating a personal story, and I’m about to turn another year older on Saturday. Somehow, birthdays just seem to be a good time for reminiscing.

I am a space geek. I was a museum educator, and I love visiting science centers and natural history museums. I’m also interested in learning about other cultures. It’s important to understand these three things before I begin in order to truly appreciate a day when I was twelve or thirteen.

My father and I had gone to visit my aunt and cousin in Garland, Texas. At some point during the visit, it was decided that we should head to a science center in Fort Worth that was hosting an exhibit on the Russian space program. During the school year, I had been trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet with the help of a teacher, and I’d had a pen pal in Estonia briefly, so I was very excited to go check it out.

Nothing could have prepared me for that day. We went to the museum, got into the exhibit and sat to watch a brief film on Russian history. That’s the first thing I’ll never forget because it ended with the launching of Sputnik, and the last image on the screen was Sputnik itself, but as we watched, Sputnik became three-dimensional. A moment later, the lights brightenend slightly, and we could see that the screen had actually been replaced by a model of Sputnik. It was very creepy.

I don’t remember much about wandering through the exhibit. It was an audio tour narrated by William Shatner, and it was terribly dry and boring. It was far more fun to walk around and read the signage. I remember seeing a satellite that was supposed to have the word “perestroika” painted on it, but there was an error in the Cyrillic, and it instead said “repestpoika”. I remember walking into a mock-up of Mir that was tilted thirty to forty dergrees to give the visitor a feeling of the disorientation of weightlessness. It was definitely dsiorienting, but it was so much fun I went through it three times!

Early in the exhibit, I had escaped from my father, aunt, and cousin, and was having a wonderful time finding areas without other visitors. The best, though, was the Lunokhod diorama. I had just read about it before we went to Garland, and I was very excited to see the mock-up posed on a stage designed to look like the moon’s surface.

There were two gentlemen near the exhibit. Being a friendly child, I struck up a conversation with them. It turned out they were engineers from Russia who were available to chat with and answer questions. One spoke only Russian, and the other spoke both English and Russian. They were both very polite men, and we had a wonderful conversation. I would ask a question, the translator would translate my question, the other gentleman would answer the question, and the translator would translate the answer. By the end of our conversation (when other visitors started appearing in the area), the translator was doing very little translating. It was pretty cool, but very creepy.

I wanted to thank them both for their time, but knew no Russian, so I asked the translator how to say “thank you” in Russian. “Specibo” was the first word I ever learned in Russian. I said, “Specibo,” to the other engineer, and he said the Russian equivalent of, “You’re welcome.” Off to the side, we hear a voice, “I bet that’s not the last Russian she learns, either.” We didn’t know it at the time, but two officials from the museum had been watching most of our conversation, utterly fascinated.

Eventaully, I regrouped with my family and told them what had happened. My father wasn’t at all surprised, but my aunt just thought it was wonderful and was sad my cousin didn’t get to meet the engineers with me.

It’s one of my favorite memories from my childhood.

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