The cradle of our democracy
Every American has at least two places to call home: a birthplace and the cradle of our democracy.
That’s what I felt, at least, when I first saw the marble monuments of Washington, D.C. It was a city designed to inspire awe and respect, and that mission struck home. I was lucky to live here for four months during an internship for my master’s in journalism. At the time, my daughter was 8, and together we took in the wondrous offerings of the Smithsonians, the majesty of the monuments and the dramatic significance of American democracy.
It’s hard to beat Washington, D.C., as a destination for kids, especially those who are old enough to absorb the educational opportunities. Two Houston families, the Mitchells and the Roths, recently made the trip, and both came back making plans for a return.
The trip was a long-deferred dream of Ed Mitchell, the patriarch of a growing clan that had dispersed across the country. As a veteran of the Korean War, he had always wanted to pay his respects at that memorial and the others.
(The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., was another lifelong goal, because Ed had been signed by the Yankees at the age of 19 for their AA farm team. He had great success but was called to duty before the 1953 baseball season began. He was wounded in the war, which ended his professional baseball career.)
This year for Spring Break, Ed, 77, and wife Liz, 73, rounded up son Scott and his family: Scott’s wife, Amy, and their three kids, Jacob, 11; Beau, 9; and little Maggie.
Maggie, 4, tickled the family with her excited rendition of the coming trip: “We’re going to go to the White House to see the presents!”
Also joining them were older daughter Debbie Bossie and granddaughter Brittany Bossie, a 2004 Bellaire High School graduate and Southwestern University graduate.
“It was just great, traveling with all of them. Every few minutes, it was, ‘Dad, look at this! PaPa, look at that!’” Ed chuckled.
The visit to the Korean War Memorial was a somber and pensive moment for them all. Looking down at the reflection pond and the 19 statues that replicated a march through the rice paddies, Jacob came up to his grandfather and said, “PaPa, were you like that?”
“Yes, son, I was,” he responded quietly.
Keeping the large group together was the biggest challenge. Keeping the boys engaged was easy.
“Being Spring Break week, my thought was that it would be so crowded we’d be crushed and stuck in all these long lines, but it didn’t really happen that way,” said Liz. Especially helpful was the Old Town Trolley Tour that goes to Union Station and throughout the historic district.
“The kids could see so much that we weren’t able to stop and go in, but the tour guide was explaining things as we passed. When we came to the Air and Space Museum, the kids said, ‘We want to do this,’ so we just hopped off.”
Jacob, who has been fascinated by fighter jets since an earlier visit to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, was especially drawn in by the National Air and Space Museum, where he was able to see something he’d dreamed of flying: the R-14 Falcon.
Museum exhibits related the history of the space program, including the first space capsule, and included the latest models of bombers and jets. Jacob and Beau were thrilled when they discovered a simulator of the F16. They climbed in, with Jacob at the wheel.
“He flew that thing just like he’d been taking lessons,’” Ed recalled. “It was turning and twisting and doing the loops and I said, ‘Nobody else is doing that, but our Jacob’s doing it.’ They wanted to get in and fly it again but at $10 a pop, I said once is enough.”
The simulators are pricey, but the museums themselves are free.
Other highlights included the National Museum of American History, where they saw Dorothy´s shoes from The Wizard of Oz, Fonzi’s jacket from Happy Days and the chairs used by Edith and Archie Bunker in All in the Family.
The highlight for them all, however, was the tour of the White House.
“It looks a lot bigger on TV,” said Ed. “The rooms are not that big. The East Wing is big, where they hold the press conferences, but the actual dining room is not that big.”
A trip to Arlington National Cemetery was another highlight, one that Brittany considers her favorite part “because of the serenity and rich history it possessed.”
Overall, the trip had a profound impact. “It just makes you feel really proud to be an American,” said Liz.
For the Roths, the D.C. trip was a father-son duo, since the other half of the family, Robin and little brother Cameron, had decided to go on a ski trip. Dad Rodney and Gavin, 10, were casting about for ideas and hit on D.C., where Rodney has a brother. It was cherry-blossom season, and the city was abloom in pinkish-white clouds of fragrant flowers. The tradeoff, unfortunately, was the size of the crowds, which necessitated long waits, so they visited only two museums.
Gavin was thrilled with the wax museum, a new addition, and he had fun posing with all the wax presidents.
The National Museum of Natural History was a big hit as well, from the three-story Tyrannosaurus Rex to the exhibits of snakes and insects.
“It was just like Night at the Museum,’” said Rodney, recalling the Disney movie.
The two enjoyed their walk on the Mall, climbing up into the Washington Monument and noticing the subtle differences in color in the massive obelisk, which is constructed of two different types of stone.
At the other end of the reflecting pool, they climbed up to pay their respects to the iconic Abraham Lincoln, who sits on his throne-like marble chair in the columned monument.
They were struck by the compactness of the city, with all the federal agencies packed into a relatively small area, and made easy to navigate by the clean and efficient Metro subway system. “You don’t really need a car in this city, which is great,” Rodney said.
Their one regret was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything they wanted. Next time, said Rodney, they’d like to see the White House and several other museums, including the Holocaust Museum.
The trip was an excellent learning experience for them both – “not your typical trip of beaches or skiing or whatever,” said Rodney. “The history, the Smithsonians, the monuments – it’s just a great place for an educational vacation.”
Editor’s Note: Tracy L. Barnett is a freelance writer based in Houston. She is making a yearlong journey through Latin America. To follow her travels, go to www.tracybarnettonline.com.