Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Because I Said So: Teach kids to enjoy city with family

The kids' spring break was a couple of weeks ago and I had big plans. I was going to get on a plane by myself and fly to Antigua where I would charter a sailboat and wend my way down through the Caribbean. Those plans didn't pan out - didn't even make it out of my head - so I opted for a "staycation" instead. I loathe that word, but there it is. I hate it almost as much as the word "blog," yet stay we did. And we cationed, I suppose. And now, I blog.

G & S dig Isaac Hayes' ride
My plan was to see the city, to introduce the kids to where they live, from what they are molded and what it is they should cherish. I wanted to see Sun Studio and the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Botanic Gardens and the Mississippi River itself. I wanted to stroll around the grounds of the Dixon Gallery & Gardens and maybe watch the ducks march at the Peabody Hotel. I wanted soul food from the Four-Way Restaurant.

Fate, however, conspired against us. There was some sickness and days of rain and cold. And, all of these things are quite expensive to do, so we had to be choosey. We visited the Stax Museum of American Soul and had lunch at Dino's Grill, now celebrating their 40th year in business (congratulations!). There was a chalk festival at the Brooks Museum of Art, and some time at the Memphis Zoo.

It was a nice week without much structure as is our wont. And there was plenty to learn, and to relearn, about the city and all it has to offer, from music to food to friends and family. Everyone everywhere, given the chance, should get on a plane sometime and head to the islands and, if you can't do that, then get out in your city and explore. You never know what you might learn.

Last week's Because I Said So column:

Teach kids to enjoy city with family

The week before last, for about half a week, it was springtime in Memphis. Remember that? Temperatures in the 70s, sunshine, the
saucer magnolia in my front yard even dared to show its colors. Luckily for my kids, that was during their spring break, and we took full advantage of it.

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art held a chalk art festival with folks creating their own works of art on the plaza in front of the museum. Kids got into the act as well and turned the concrete into a rainbow of butterflies, puppies, squiggly lines and shapes. It looked as if spring had fallen upon Midtown alone and blossomed in chalk dust.

From there, it’s only a hop and a skip to the Memphis Zoo. A short trip unless it’s 70, sunny and spring break. The line of cars waiting to get in snaked through the park and down Poplar. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see the snakes. Or, more accurately, they wanted to touch a stingray. We never did make it into that exhibit; the lines there were too overwhelming for impatient children (and adults). We’ll make a special trip for the rays.

The highlight of the week for me was a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The museum is a treasure trove of soul, blues, styles and grooves. My kids laughed at Isaac Hayes’ hats and boots; they dug his car with its fuzzy floor and gold detail. They swayed and strutted on the dancefloor in front of a floor-to-ceiling episode of “Soul Train,” and they marveled at the display of black Frisbees. “Those are records,” I explained.

My favorite part is the short film shown at the beginning of every visit. I’ve seen it before, and it never fails to bring a lump to the throat. Stax, in its heyday, rode a wave of hits, fame, funk and, most inspirational, family. Steve Cropper, legendary guitarist for Booker T. & the MG’s, says in the film that when you walked into Stax, you were family. Color did not matter. Until it did. When things turned after that tragic April 4 in 1968, a day we’ll commemorate next week, neither Stax nor the city of Memphis would ever be the same.

In the 10 years since the museum opened, though, that tide has turned again. I saw it two weeks ago in a museum where black and white, young and old, all studied the rise and fall of a great American sound. We laughed at the size of the collars, wiped a tear at the story of a plane crash and danced to the same beat. In a park across town on another day, my kids sidled up to others from throughout the city to revel in color. At our world-class zoo, where there was once a day of the week set aside for black-only visitors, multitudes of all ethnicities wandered.

Last week saw the official first day of spring, though the predicted snow the following day said otherwise. Either way, the long winter hibernation is over. It’s time to get out and visit your city, wherever you live; learn what it holds, its history good and bad, and enjoy time with family that you know, and that you have yet to meet.
© 2013 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.