We didn’t do a lot of family vacations when I was a kid. But one year when my aunt was getting married we made the drive out to Minnesota for her wedding and to see our relatives out there.
On the way there or back we stopped by Mount Rushmore and gazed on the chiseled faces of historic men. As young children, the importance of the monument was lost on us.
“Is this it?” we asked, fidgety and bored. This was it. You couldn’t even get close to it. Bringing children to Mount Rushmore was a terrible idea. We ran around the visitor center, recently remodeled and lovely with its well defined stone walkways, but dull enough that we didn’t even want to see the gift shop. We loaded back in the car, annoyed by the detour that had cost us precious time at the hotel pool – always the highlight of these vacations. It was a really outstanding day if we could convince our dad to relive his high school swim team days and do a cannonball into the pool, despite his bad back.
In the car, we were tempted by a roadside sign for a REPTILE HOUSE some miles ahead. The car was instantly in an uproar. “CAN WE CAN WE CAN WE” This couldn’t have been more different than Mount Rushmore. Reptiles! That were ALIVE! And we could touch (maybe) and watch as they did both stuff and THINGS. It was an exciting opportunity and we begged my parents until they finally caved. I mean, I have to give serious props to the marking team for the Reptile House – they knew. They knew there were hundreds of cars filled with disappointed children who would gladly watch a snake just chill in a hollowed out log if their parents would let them.
My parents paid for our admission and we started moving counter clockwise around the park. I believe somewhere there is a photo of me looking uncomfortable standing a few feet away from a large snake draped around a handler’s neck. But the REAL discomfort came later on.
I was running a few minutes ahead of the group and was poking my head in the different exhibit houses. Lizards, more snakes, frogs… I bounced around at a lightning pace until the Galapagos Tortoise House. The informative plaque explained that these tortoises were huge and old. Really, really old. Over 100 years old which in kid years was ancient.
I walked into the tortoise house and saw two large tortoises ambling around their enclosure. They moved slowly, huge and old just as described. I tilted my head to the side, however, as they moved towards one another and I watched Tortoise One place a leg on the shell of Tortoise Two. Then another. Then with the speed of a totally unrelated species (sloth) watched as they began the ancient dance that has kept their species around for millions of years.
THEY WERE DOING IT. IT. IT WAS HAPPENING IN FRONT OF ME.
Mortified, I ran out of the tortoise house and shut the door behind me. I told my parents the exhibit was closed. My mom peeked in a proceeded to call me a prude.