Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Our children straggled in and out during this family holiday, allowing us some lovely one-on-one time with our L.A.-residing, single son, and some wind-down time with our oldest son's family after the major hoopla had ended. I'm so grateful that during that wind-down time my son suggested we head to D.C. with his family and visit some of the Smithsonian's wonderful museums. It was a spontaneous decision, and it provided a tender experience shared between my grandson and I.

We began at the Air and Space Museum which dazzled my thirty-three-year-old son, his wife and their two-year-old far more than it did their four and seven-year-old who found the cartoon of Mickey flying the highlight of the venues. That was except for the paper-airplane-flying lesson and contest. Every hour on the hour, the hands-on area features some wonderful, educational activities for families. The science behind the games were terrific and the children all loved it. I highly recommend it.

We next visited the Natural History Museum. These Utah residents have spent dozens of hours at the zoo and the dinosaur exhibits at Thanksgiving Point, but even so, they were fascinated by the animal displays, particularly the ocean exhibit. There are crocheted replicas of coral reefs that are spectacular as well as whimsical, and if it sounds unscientific to imagine a yarn-made reef, go see it. You'll be dazzled. It was the absolute highlight of my grand daughter's visit.

The children were running out of steam by the time we reached the American History Museum--my favorite. We hurried in less than an hour before closing so we could visit the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit. With the bicentennial drawing near, a wonderful venue has been created, and I was spell-bound.

I remember well my first visit to the museum's Star-Spangled Banner exhibit. Back in those days the flag was sewn to a linen backing and suspended, revealed to spectators through am electronically-controlled curtain that was drawn back to reveal the flag. It was a dramatic display that left goosebumps on my arms. I only had a dollar or two to spend at the museum store, but I remember how I and every child breathlessly spent a portion of that precious money on a postcard of the real Star-Spangled Banner so we'd always have a picture of our very own.

The stories we were told about the flag and its tattered condition have been proven incorrect over the years. Science and technology have verified which of the many accounts of the Battle of Baltimore and that perilous night were actually true, and the new exhibit reflects that new information.

I've been fortunate to spend some time with the exhibit's curator in the past three years, while researching my Free Men and Dreamers books, and the additional information he taught me came in handy this morning. My grandson's heart was breaking as his parents packed to return home. He snuggled close to me with tears in his eyes, telling me how he wanted to stay with us a while longer. I secretly felt the same way, but instead I tried to lift his spirits by reminding him what he had to share with his classmates when he arrived back in Utah. After all, he had seen the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, and now he could tell his friends that he had also seen the real Star-Spangled Banner!

The story was already unclear to him, so we snuggled together as I told him about the whole story--about the burning of Washington and how Dr. Beanes had been kidnapped as the British returned to their ships. I spoke of Francis Scott Key's efforts to save his friend, and about how his heart ached as he heard the British discuss their plans to raze Baltimore. Tommy's eyes grew large as I explained how Key sat on a ship in the Baltimore Harbor, watching the bombardment, and how he began to record his feelings on the back of a letter. As I repeated the words of Key's poem, little Tommy's eyes grew larger still. "I know that!" he said.

He began repeating the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner" as I explained the meaning of its somewhat obscure language. At the end, he smiled once more. "Isn't that a great story, I asked. And it's all true, and you've seen the flag!"

I saw the change in his eyes. Now he was ready to tell his friends about his visit to see the great banner. Now he understood that he and his folks and grandma had shared something special, something he might not fully appreciate until he was a man, but already the seeds of patriotism were swelling, and I was privileged to see it begin.

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