Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Random Thing I Wish I Could Ask Mom

This will be the first of (I hope) many posts centered around the "Random Thing I Wish I Could Ask Mom" topic. VERY random. If anyone has any insight into any of these questions, or thinks they can fill the memory holes, please let me know.

For Memorial Day this year, Brian and I packed up the dogs (both of them) in his single-cab truck and drove to Randolph, Nebraska to visit his mother. The weather was cold and damp and didn't lend itself to doing much outdoors, so we spent some time driving around and looking at the town - the schools, the businesses, the homes of his friends. It took about 20 minutes, tops.

That his city actually has enough kids to support its own school system kind of surprised me - seems like most of the people I know that grew up in small towns have seen their schools bulldozed and students sent to some consolidated school a couple towns over. Brian and quite a few of his high school classmates wound up going to the University of Nebraska and studying engineering, so the Randolph school system must have been doing SOMETHING right, at least in math/science education.

And yet, they never did science projects or had a science fair.

My suburban-raised response: "What do you MEAN, you never had a science fair? How can you consider yourself properly educated if you never did a science project?"

Of course, if you asked Brian, he'd probably tell you I didn't do a science fair project either - Mom did. Which might be about 40% true, and that's a pretty low percentage for where I grew up. Smart parents were the #1 weapon in a Westwood View Elementary School student's arsenal. They may not have technically done the work, but in a time before Internet made all the finer points of a science project and professional-looking presentation available to a fifth grader, having willing/able/eager parents made anything possible.

The first and pretty much only project stipulation was that we were not permitted to experiment on animals. I understood why that rule existed - the thought of a bunch of budding grade school animal torturers comes to mind - but I was still sorely disappointed that I couldn't do something with dogs, my favorite animals after I figured out unicorns probably didn't exist. So somehow, Mom came up with the idea of working with spiders.

And not just any spiders - specifically, the Spiny-Backed Orb Weaver (gasteracantha cancriformus), a small crab-like spider that looks like it hitched a ride straight out of hell. Apparently, they're quite common in the south, between Florida and Texas, but I'd never seen anything quite so creepy looking in person.

I never remember Mom showing any particular interest in spiders one way or the other. She was neither disgusted nor fascinated - webs were just another thing to clean out of the corners of the ceiling or point out to us, if she saw a particularly large and interesting one. (I also remember carefully pressing an orb web suspended on the back porch into a piece of sun-print paper and laying it out in the sun. As the paper darkened, the web stood out in bright contrast. Pretty cool.) But because she was a teacher, and a good one, she made ordering a bunch of red-and-black monsters from Carolina Biological and observing the effects of light on their web-spinning habits seem...well, normal. So normal I never really thought to ask why she put that particular idea into my head.

Twenty years later, driving down a muddy gravel road in a small Nebraska farm town discussing the merits of science projects as a part of the elementary curriculum, I wished I knew. It's a memory hole - not a big one, but it's there. In this case, not knowing why makes it sound like Mom did all the work and Brian is vindicated.

I know she'd back me up, if she could.

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