On the Next Train to the Museum

WHEN I was a kid, I used to love to go through the encyclopedia at school and look at the pictures of dinosaurs. This was long before videos and VCRs, so those black-and-white pictures of dinosaur skeletons left a lot to the imagination. And my imagination was full of giant tyrannosauruses stalking the land, while brontosauruses peacefully chewed on vegetation.

It was pretty exciting to think about how things might have been in those days. And while the skeletons in the pictures were great, I kept wondering how big they were and what it would really feel like to see them.

One day, somehow, I learned that if you looked at the tiny print along the side of the pictures, you could often find out where the picture had been taken. I kept seeing ``American Museum of Natural History'' beside these dinosaur pictures. I also found that the skeletons of early horses - from the little ones that looked more like dogs to those that were truly horselike - were in that same museum. That clinched it: I had to get there.

The problem was that my parents weren't very keen on too much education. It was OK to go to school, but they didn't believe in my being excessive about things. Also, there wasn't a lot of money for extras. So I knew that the trip to the museum would have to come from a different source.

Time went by, as it always does. Things happened. My father died, my mother remarried, and I was finally going to high school. So much changed in our lives, but nothing seemed to bring me any closer to the museum. Until one day when it seemed as though my dream was going to come true.

A high school trip was planned, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City was its destination! I had earned some money doing odd jobs. My mother signed the permission forms, and it looked like I was all set.

There was just one small obstacle.

The trip was scheduled for a Saturday, and on Friday nights I had to help my mother by doing chores and washing dishes at the club where she worked. It was hard work, but it was a way to earn some money. And it was fun to make gallons and gallons of coleslaw or to cut up buckets of potatoes for french fries. We were so busy that the time just flew by.

When I got off from work this particular night, however, it was around 3 o'clock Saturday morning. I was beat. But, I kept telling myself, in the morning we leave for the museum! I showered and got all my clothes ready. Then I made a big mistake: I lay down on the bed just ``to rest a little.''

You guessed it - I never heard the alarm. In fact, I wasn't even sure if I'd set it. By the time I woke up the next morning, the bus was long gone. I was so disappointed, I could hardly get over it. Nobody else seemed to understand how important this had been to me. That night I washed dishes again and did chores. I was so discouraged that I wondered if I would always be washing dishes, if you know what I mean.

But I kept studying and kept thinking. I went on school trips whenever I could, but none of them went to the museum.

It probably wasn't an accident that I wanted to go to college in New York City, since that's where the museum was. At the time, though, it didn't seem possible to do that either. But still I wanted to see the place, since all the college handbooks said you should visit the school and really look at the campus and the facilities. You know, to make sure it was worth the money and that you would be happy there.

So with my dishwashing money, my best coat and dress, plus my mother's suitcase filled with clothes, I headed off to the Big Apple.

After I checked into the cheap hotel a friend of my mother's had told me about, the very first thing I wanted to do was get to the museum. It was late in the day, but I felt that even five minutes inside would be proof that I had finally made it. So I got directions to the subway, and clutching my purse tightly, I went down into the noise and darkness. I had never seen a subway and had never even been on a train except at an amusement park. In fact, I'd never been on my own far away from home before.

Everyone was taller than I was, and everyone seemed to know how to tell which train was which, how to get where they were going, and how to move fast enough to get on the trains. I didn't have a clue about how things worked. All I knew was that I had to get the ``AA'' train.

Even though I had been taught never to talk to strangers, I had to ask someone! So I chose a woman who looked kind and asked her about the ``AA'' train. She smiled in a friendly way - New Yorkers really are friendly, by the way - and said, ``Oh, it just left.''

For a couple of seconds I wondered if I was ever going to get to that museum. No matter how hard I tried, I was always too late. I felt so frustrated that it must have shown.

Probably the woman thought I was going to start crying, which I might have, if she hadn't looked down at me and said, ``It's all right, there'll be another one along in a few minutes.''

Right then and there, I knew New York was the place for me. It was a place where even if you missed the train, you got another chance. You didn't have to wait years, as I'd been doing. Just ``a few minutes.''

Well, you know, the train did come. And I did get to go to the museum. It was just as great as I had dreamed it would be. Greater, actually. The next day I went again and spent the whole day there.

Somehow life seemed different after that. I can't really explain it, except that I felt more hope about the future. Getting to the museum was a kind of proof that good things could happen even if they didn't seem likely. Even though life at home didn't change much, I was able to get enough money for college in New York City. The high school and others helped out, and I got there.

And you know what? That first year, especially, I went to the museum practically every weekend, and I never got tired of it.

The funniest thing is that after that experience with the ``AA'' train, I began to see that opportunity always keeps coming, no matter where we are. And even if we happen to miss this particular ``train,'' as long as we're keeping our hearts and eyes open, there really will be another one along in just ``a few minutes.'' `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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