Thursday, June 12, 2008

6/12/08 Dazzled by Electrical Storms and Museums in Kansas City

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A break from rain and listening to our favorite detective Spenser solve crimes made the drive from Omaha, Nebraska to Oak Grove, Missouri go quickly. KOA campgrounds aren’t our first choice (they are too sterile and surprisingly expensive), but it was a relief to spend three days in cookie-cutter comfort compared to our last campground with no services, mosquitoes and flooded campsites.

I was feeling better, but it was Sarah’s turn to be feeling punk. Fortunately, there was a book trade library with a Janet Evanovich book that made her laugh, a bottle of “sexy” orange juice (she’s been captivated by the marketing campaign for Tropicana juices – she’d love to become a commercial photographer) and soft ultra Kleenexes. Unfortunately, she felt awful longer than that one book, so she started into the Twilight series, one of Dave’s favorites. Topic of book? Vampires, of course!

Dave started his Coastline Community College course online! Taking this 4-unit College Algebra course is quite a milestone for him – We’re so proud! It was sweet to read his bio posted for his teacher and classmates “a mushroom amongst the daisies” describing his life on the road in the RV. Wouldn’t be my personal choice of images for him, but it certainly got him lots of comments from his fellow “daisies” adult students, mostly female teachers, from all over California. As is typical while living in close quarters of the RV, Dave became sick, needed his own Kleenex box and suffered stoically. The CPAP breathing machine he uses nightly for his sleep apnea helped greatly, so he spent a lot of time sleeping.

We packed our pockets with tissues and headed out to enjoy Independence, Missouri, the home of President Harry S. Truman and a terrific German restaurant. I talked the kids into trying Spatzle, a type of egg pasta that Mel and I love. I looked longingly at the German beer choices and decided on ice tea instead. It’s sad when you don’t feel well enough to drink!

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum was delightful. It was markedly different than the Clinton Library we saw in May, which took your breath away with its design, lighting and presentation – you got the feeling that it was the very best money could buy. In contrast, the Truman Library felt like coming home. It was beautiful in its simplicity and quiet elegance; it had recently been remodeled.

Harry S. Truman was president under remarkable circumstances. He had been the vice president for 82 days when President Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945. During his presidency he oversaw the ending of the war with Germany and approved the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan. History has been rewritten since that time and the museum had a terrific exhibit exploring both sides of the issue. Many historians now believe that Japan was ready to surrender, that the bombing was not necessary, and others believe that the 80,000 people who died was a small number compared to the numbers that would have died had the conflict continued another year. Dave has been troubled by the bombing since he toured the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque. He was glad to read both sides of the issue, especially the warnings that the US gave Japan before the bombings. The next room featured the Marshall Plan, the $12 billion European recovery program, put in place after the war to alleviate poverty and starvation – creating an interest juxtaposition of America’s actions. President Truman also signed the papers founding the United Nations and NATO (creating a military barrier to protect Europe against Soviet expansion), defended South Korea from communist invasion in the Korean War (a fascinating exhibit about General Patton and President Truman) and recognized Israel as a new country. He desegregated the armed forces and forbade racial discrimination in Federal employment. We got to see the love letters between the President and Mrs. Bess Truman, the famous newspaper “Dewey Defeats Truman” and the desk plaque “The Buck Stops Here.” After his presidency he returned to Independence for twenty years as “Mr. Citizen.” The excellent films about the President left one feeling that his was a remarkable life and that we were lucky to have him as a president during those difficult years.

Our Kleenex supply was running low, so we breezed through the traveling Lincoln exhibit about the Civil War. There will be plenty of Civil War studies during our East Coast trip of 2009. On the way back to the RV, we dropped Dave off at a Barnes & Noble, conveniently with a nearby BBQ restaurant.

Sarah and I got back to the RV and I began following the tragic news about the tornado that tore through Little Sioux, Iowa (where we had been scheduled until bad weather rerouted us) killing the four boy scouts. Fox began putting up weather maps saying that the Midwest was due for even more storms and tornadoes, especially Kansas City (25 miles away) which was expecting a significant storm with tornado warnings in an hour. Yikes! I jumped in the car, got Dave on his cell phone, told him to hurry and purchase a book, and picked him up just as the storm began to hit.

We got back to the RV just as the skies opened up around 8:00 pm and were dazzled by the most amazing electrical storm we’d ever seen; it lasted through midnight. We kept all the blinds open and the lights off to experience the dazzling brightness. It rained fiercely all night and the tornadoes touched down 20 miles from us, but we were safe and dry. We took a day off to rest, study, read and write.

On our last day, we set off early because we had so much we wanted to do. All three of our destinations were close to one another and we didn’t think they’d individually take much time. We were surprised at how much fun we had at each. We took a self-guided tour of the Hallmark Visitors Center whose slogan “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best” applies to their excellent exhibits, especially the company’s time line and products intertwined with world events giving you a unique feeling of the mood of America seen through greeting cards. Sarah especially enjoyed the films about the creative process and various techniques used by the Hallmark artists. I was fascinated by the different Presidential Christmas cards. There were presses using dies to make three-dimensional designs and embossing, and a machine that makes bows from spooled ribbon.

By far the highlight of the day for Sarah was watching clips from Hallmark commercials shown around the world. To her delight, the commercials touched me deeply, and my eyes would well up and I would cry at the sentiment expressed. We’d watch a commercial with her watching to see if I would start crying -- she thinks I have a future at Hallmark testing commercials. “You’re not crying, are you?” has become her favorite way to tease me. After lunch we headed over to the Steamboat Arabia. Sarah wasn’t feeling that well, so Dave and I left her in the cafĂ© while we took the tour. The Steamboat Arabia was 171 feet long with 28-foot tall paddlewheels and was carrying 200 tons of cargo bound for frontier merchants when she sunk in 1856. All of the passengers got off safely, but the cargo was lost. Over the years, the Missouri River changed course and eventually the Steamboat was discovered 45’ below the surface of a Kansas cornfield in 1988 by four local treasure hunters who have discovered ten other ships.

The treasure hunters were astounded by their find, and since the ship was still in water due to a low water table, the items were remarkably well preserved. Of course, all of the paper and cotton clothing had long since melted away, but the rest of the goods were able to be restored. It was a fascinating look at what was needed by families settling the frontier from tools, nails and hinges to build houses, dishware and pots and pans, shoes and boots, (all shoes were “uni-shoes,” neither right or left in those days), sewing supplies and buttons, preserves for pies, and ladies toiletries, including perfumes. They had sent the perfumes to a lab to determine what it was originally made from, and had recreated the scents. One smelled like baby powder and the other was a lovely floral scent that I gladly wore the rest of the day. We enjoyed their behind-the-scenes look at the on-going restoration of the remaining items that they have preserved frozen in giant ice cubes. The museum estimates that it will take 20 more years to restore all of the items. Next we headed to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. In part because Sarah loves art museums, and in part because Mel’s sister Susan worked there for a number of years and we knew it had to be a very special collection to woo her away from the Getty. Dave always pretends to be dragged along to art museums, but he enjoys himself and the yummy treats that art museums always have in their restaurants. We hadn’t been there for 30 minutes, when Sarah said “maybe we should stay an extra day so we could see everything!”

The Museum buildings themselves were magnificent. The new addition called the Bloch Building glows with natural light and intriguing spaces that make you want to wander. In 2007 it was named one of the ten best recent architectural marvels by Time Magazine. Too bad we didn’t get to see it at night – people say it is magical.

We enjoyed the terrific collections of European paintings by Caravaggio, El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Degas, Monet and van Gogh; Asian art – Japanese, Chinese; Korean and Indian; and we were confounded in the Modern Art section. Sarah has a wicked sense of humor – as we toured the exhibit, she kept up a quiet, whispered-in-my-ear dialog on the bewildering choices of art in the gallery that made me laugh out loud. You should hear her rift on the “cantaloupe on the newspaper,” the all-black canvases and the grey rectangles -- we were lucky we didn’t get kicked out!

We skipped the American paintings since we’d seen so many excellent examples in Oklahoma and ran out of time before we got to the Photography exhibit, which had been donated by Hallmark Card’s Hall family. Instead, we enjoyed the outdoor sculpture park with my favorites – the badminton shuttlecocks that I’d previously seen in picture books. What a treat to see them in person! The gift shop was magnificent, we were lucky to escape without a cow shaped radio, a cow backpack, and cow magnets – are you picking up on the theme? Sarah loves cows. Her new myspace name is “eddielovescows.” She is currently going by Mel’s mother’s name Edith, Ed or Eddie, having grown weary of her boring and common name “Sarah.”

1 comment:

Michael Lockridge said...

What a great adventure and education plan! Since you got linked by the Geeks you shall probably have a few visits. I am a correctional officer who spends a LOT of time in jail, so reading of people living the dream of travel is special to me. Thanks for sharing your adventure!