Teach kids to enjoy city with family

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 28, 2013

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.

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