While I was fever ridden in bed at my American Consulate General Karachi apartment oddly enough I dreamt of my childhood, beginning with a field trip our fifth grade class had made to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles…
1959: Walteria Elementary School—Torrance, California
Field trips were the neatest things that could happen in elementary school. A few days beforehand the teachers announced the field trip destinations. They handed out permission slips for the students to take home. The kids were all excited. Our class would be going to the Natural History Museum in L.A.
We boarded the big yellow-orange bus in the school parking lot. For me it was another great adventure. My parents never ventured too far past Torrance because they didn’t have much “spending money.” A big night out was to go to the Roadium Drive-In and watch a two-feature (mom would bring southern fried chicken and potato salad along with cold RC Cola). Other than that our neighbors across the street, the DeShield’s, had invited to go with their son Moe to the Long Beach Fox Theater to see “South Pacific.” Mom bought me an Hawaiian shirt for my birthday. Boy was I excited when the film began and I first saw the islands of the South Pacific accompanied by luring music.
The Natural Museum of History
Our teacher Mrs. Shoulder liked to pair students up. She said it was a good way to learn how to get along with each other. Then she would assign responsibilities. My partner Lynn and I had the job of handing out the cartons of milk when we arrived at the museum. Lynn and I sat next to each other in class. Mrs. Shoulder often paired us up as we made a good team.
The museum was located right behind the Coliseum where my baseball team–the L.A. Dodgers played their home games. The bus driver pulled up in the parking lot. We marched single file into the museum. Mrs. Shoulder led us while the teacher’s aide named Miss Adkins took up the rear.
When I first saw the skeleton of the Brontosaurus dinosaur I gasped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could there have been an animal so big.
While the huge skeleton had captured our undivided attention Mrs. Shoulder would not only talk to the class but she would walk amongst the students and ask individual questions. She smiled before she began a sentence with “Why…”
“Because there was too much food?” I said in response to her question.
“Why were some dinosaurs like the brontosaurus so big and other dinosaurs not so big if there was plenty of food?” she said to my partner Lynn who answered quickly with, “Because their bodies were different?”
“And why were the dinosaur’s body’s different?” she said to Chucky Kellogg, who always laughed.
Chucky finally said, “Cause some of them had really big teeth.”
“Very good, Chucky.”
This question and answer session went on until Mrs. Shoulder’s face would light up. That was her magic moment. She would catch the eyes of all the students.
“THE DINOSAURS WERE SO BIG because of many reasons. You are who you are because of the color of your hair, and eyes, what you eat, and how you view the world.” She glanced at me and said, “Dinosaurs ate immense amounts of vegetation. That’s one reason why they were so big. Their size meant that they could defend themselves easily. Unlike we humans the dinosaurs were cold-blooded, which meant that their bodies adjusted to the temperature. Scientists believe this may have lent to their great size.”
We learned about all kinds of dinosaurs that morning. My favorite was the stegosaurus. It lived over a hundred million years ago, had sharp plates along his spine and had a razor sharp tail that no other dinosaur wanted to mess with. Mrs. Shoulder said it was an herbivore—it ate vegetation—and that it was bigger and taller than our bus.
Mrs. Shoulder didn’t smile when she introduced the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Most of the girls stepped back and gasped when classmate Johnny Reyes made a growling noise. Mrs. Shoulder gave Johnny a stern look and said to the class, “T-Rex was a fierce predator. She glanced at Chucky Kellogg and said, “It had a powerful jaw and huge teeth.”
She didn’t need to tell Chucky why the T-Rex had such huge teeth (he ate other dinosaurs).
When the Natural Museum of History tour was over Mrs. Shoulder gathered the class around her. She said, “I hope you all have enjoyed learning about prehistoric dinosaurs this morning. In the coming weeks we will visit the La Brea Tar Pits where you will discover how scientists found these dinosaur bones and how they put them together.
Mrs. Shoulder loved to watch the awe and wonder in our eyes.
“Now everyone line up single file so we can return to the parking area. We’ll be having milk and cookies so I want everyone to show good behavior.”
I joined in the chorus, “Yes, Mrs. Shoulder.”
Outside we sat on the lawn and had milk and cookies. Lynn and I handed out the cartons of milk.
The boys copied Johnny Reyes and made faces like T-Rex and growled. The girls grimaced as we marched back to the bus to return to Walter Elementary school.
Author note of June 15th 2018:
My Walteria Elementary school field trips left a lasting impression on me and collectively were partly responsible for my soon (hopefully) to be published story Portuguese Bend. The novel includes some scenes inspired by the following field trips:
- The Museum of Natural History (Los Angeles)
- The Farmer’s Market (Los Angeles)
- CBS Television City (Los Angeles)
- The La Brea Tar Pits (Los Angeles)
- The Torrance Dairy
- The Griffith Park Observatory (Los Angeles)
- The Point Vicente Lighthouse (Palos Verdes Peninsula)
- Portuguese Point/Abalone Cove (Portuguese Bend)
- The San Pedro Shipbuilders