I returned from my recent trip to Arkansas and Texas with new and precious family memories, my Wendy’s Kitchen plaque, two treasures from Sarah’s House, and a nasty cold. I had spent a busy week with my dad and Nadine and then accompanied them to Dallas for my niece’s wedding, there joined by family from Seattle and Wichita. Every interaction I had with those that I love was priceless. As a bonus, we played tourist and explored three museums, each dedicated to a renowned man and each vastly different from the other.
Dad, Nadine, and I stopped by the Walmart Visitor’s Center in Bentonville, Arkansas on a whim. Located in Sam Walton’s original 5 & 10, the Center houses a replica of Sam’s office, his ’79 Ford F150, and his Medal of Freedom awarded by President George H. W. Bush. My favorite exhibit was a collection of items returned to Walmart over the years including an outdoor thermometer that wouldn’t tell time, an electric pencil sharpener that wouldn’t sharpen pens, and a fishing pole that didn’t catch fish.
With time to spare in Dallas on wedding eve, we visited the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas Book Depository building and the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza out front. The museum’s collection does not depend on artifacts. Instead, it consists of videos, pictures, and posted information on the political culture in the ’60s, the assassination of President Kennedy, the manhunt for Lee Harvey Oswald, and the conspiracy theories of additional shooters that still surface. Those graphic images—the Zapruder film, the freeze frame of Oswald’s murder, the newsreel of the riderless horse in the President’s funeral procession—brought back distinct memories of how we fifth graders understood the events of November 23, 1963. “I bet it was the Commies.”
On our last full day in Dallas we visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of SMU. Truthfully, I was ambiguous about this jaunt, not for lack of admiration for the second President Bush, but I was tired, and the idea of visiting a library sounded dull. I am so glad that my inner team player won out over my inner wet blanket that day. Every exhibit, every interactive display, and every artifact added to my understanding of Bush’s presidency and to my appreciation of it. Most impressive was a jagged portion of Ground Zero wreckage surrounded by video screens replaying the images of carnage on September 11, 2001 and the strong leadership of the President in the aftermath. Toward the end of the museum is a recreation of the Bush Oval Office, and we were encouraged to have our picture made behind the President’s iconic desk. Dad and I obliged.
The Walmart Visitor’s Center celebrated a visionary businessman whose goal was to improve the lives of his employees and customers by giving them the lowest possible price on everyday items we all need. The Sixth Floor Museum explored an American tragedy, the assassination of its President, in a somber and respectful manner. The Bush Library examined burden of the presidency during the horror of terrorism and natural disaster as well as the nature of the man who was honored to hold that position. Each museum was fascinating and thought-provoking in different ways. I went to Arkansas and Texas to spend time with my dad and to celebrate a family wedding; these museums were gravy. But, I still have that cold.
“One time I went to a museum where all the work in the museum had been done by children. They had all the paintings up on refrigerators.” ~Steven Wright