Museum of Wonder

Museum of Wonder

A student of mine was assigned a book written as a journal called The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney. Of course, I read it and was quite taken with the chapter “Welcome Pest Controllers Association” that discussed a young man’s Museum of Wonder. Butch had created a museum with found objects and his own art. What was most intriguing to the author was the Victorian cabinet of curiosities. Mooney reminded the reader that Nietzsche said that the capacity for awe of spectacle existed in every ancient culture, as an experience that sustains life (101).

I’ve already written about my family’s time each summer in the Catskills. However, in August the family (without my father who visited only on the weekends so that he could stay in the city and work) vacationed with my mother’s sister’s family in Lakewood, New Jersey. Each day we would get up early in the morning and begin the ritualistic dressing for and packing for going to the beach. This was Point Pleasant, a family boardwalk and beach with coppery colored sunbaked elders and whining children all congregating under their family’s beach umbrella.

Periodically, one or a couple of the congregation would take a whining child by the hand down to the foam speckled beach and help the child jump in the waves. Shrieks of laughter and shock at the impact of the waves would accompany the exercise and all would feel good and wend their way back to the family umbrella. Egg salad sandwich quarters would be passed around with promises of ice cream later in the afternoon. This was all quite ceremonial. It went on each day for years – except on the days it rained. Oh, the potential misery of a day of rain.

My aunt and uncle had very cleverly purchased a house next door to a Native American Museum created in the neighbors’ house. The creators of the museum were very old, and, on rainy days, we could go to the museum if we promised to be very, very quiet. Frankly, for me, the wonder of the museum was that these old people had created it at all. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the couple had collected the artifacts in enough quantity that they could say it was a museum.

It was a Museum of Wonder. What then was a museum, I would wonder. If I had a collection, could I call it a museum? Apparently not. There had to be information on handwritten cards next to dusty display cases. For years in a row we went to the museum on rainy days. Then, one year it was gone. I remember asking about it, but the answer was the kind adults give to 4th graders who ask inconvenient questions. My mother said that the house was sold so the museum wasn’t there anymore. Since this was shared in an annoyed voice, I guessed that the old people had died and didn’t ask anymore questions. I was sorrier than my mother could understand. I had been sure that this was the year I was going to figure out what the mystery of a museum really was.

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