Before Jerry met me, he had never been to Florida before. We lined up quite a few places to visit while he was here, and we still have plenty more we haven’t gotten around to yet.
In West Palm Beach, we took a day to visit the South Florida Science Center. It was a bit busier than the last time I was there, but we still enjoyed bouncing around the activities and acting like kids again. Playing with magnets, building blocks and electric currents inspires a wide-eyed wonder that’s difficult to outgrow, especially when surrounded by kids who are full of questions.
I have a few memories of that science center from growing up in South Florida. I’m sure I must have gone there once or twice in middle or high school, when I volunteered at the Palm Beach Zoo across the street. I definitely remember visiting the center with some kids that I nannied for a summer as a young adult. I inexplicably caught a pigeon during our lunch there, and at a loss as to why, I ended up giving the four siblings an impromptu explanation of bird wings before I let the poor thing go.
I also visited the center a few years ago with a couple of coworkers to see the exhibition “Our Body: The Universe Within.” If you’re unfamiliar, the show featured plastinated anatomy and parts of real human cadavers. There is some controversy surrounding the origin of the bodies used, which has led to the show being banned in some areas.
We spent the first half of our time there observing fish, drawing dinosaurs and trying on costumes that were marked as being for kids only. The light-hearted camaraderie allowed us to prepare for the heavier topics on display behind the black curtains.
As an artist who is interested in biology and anatomy, it was worth going to see. That half of the visit had a very somber tone and it felt a lot like walking through a mausoleum. It was important to us to respect the bodies not just as objects, but as people, regardless of where they came from.
In stark contrast, the special exhibit when Jerry and I visited was a Marvel-themed one about superheroes and the real-world science behind their superpowers. It was swarming with kids, so we only took a quick glance before leaving the children and parents to their fun.
Jerry was more than happy to show a confused kid the purpose of a sluicing fountain in the play yard, where the science center gives them a small bag of sand to sift for colorful rocks. There were little bits of sediment stuck in the fountain from previous siftings, which they picked out and compared to a chart with the names of the semi precious stones.
Here is my favorite thing to look for whenever you visit a science center or a museum: the little hole-in-the-wall exhibit with the elderly volunteer in it. That is where you will find the loveliest and most passionate people.
When I visited the Tallahassee Museum with my family, there was a grandmotherly figure in period dress who was baking cookies in a reproduction oven and answered all of my curious mother’s questions about colonial life, and then gave us little books to take home. In the science center, we found a gentleman with a passion for amateur radio with a little room full of antique equipment, who was so pleased to be able to share his ham radio trivia with three curious millennials.
Even if I don’t remember everything these volunteers share with me, I do remember their enthusiasm. They make otherwise unremarkable visits memorable and fun, and are doing their part to spread knowledge in a personal and genuine way. The charm of a place devoted to art, science or history is that it is often a celebration of some of our best traits - curiosity, creativity, and the desire to understand the world around us.
I also got two tickets for the price of one, so we stopped in the gift shop on the way out and bought a stuffed snake to keep us company on our travels. Because after all, we’re only human.