Monday, March 26, 2012

It's All Happening at the Zoo


Some families unite around a common heritage. Scots may share a love of bagpipes, and the Irish may take pride in their talent for telling stories. Television programs such as Jersey Shore, Desperate Housewives of Anywhere, USA, and the recent GCB suggest that many regions share a love of tanning and gossip. My family, from Mother through her daughters and grandchildren, share a love of zoos.

Mother is fond of telling stories about the Oklahoma City Zoo in the late 1940s and early 1950s when admission was free. Because it cost nothing to go, Mother and Dad, just starting out in life, often took me to the zoo even after they moved east to Tulsa. Near Memorial Day, they would travel back to Oklahoma City to tend to their stillborn son’s grave. Then the family would visit the Zoo before going back home.

No matter where Mother lived, she visited the closest zoo. She paid for annual family memberships when she and Dad no longer required free entertainment. And for Mother’s Day, she often requested a trip to the zoo.

One of Mother and Dad’s last trips together included a visit to the San Diego Zoo. Dad had quite an attitude about going and announced that he didn’t care about seeing a zoo. I reminded him that Mother cared very much about seeing that zoo so he relented, and they spent a day there.

I inherited a love of zoos. When we vacationed in San Antonio, we took a day for the zoo. In Albuquerque, we toured the zoo. The Oklahoma City Zoo was one of the first family outings for which we took far too many pictures. Most years, we celebrated some one’s birthday or Mother’s Day or Labor Day with a picnic and a stroll through the zoo.

My daughter enjoyed two summer sessions at Sea World’s camp in San Antonio. She fed penguins and swam with sharks. At home, she applied for a spot as a Junior Zoo Curator, a glorified name for youth volunteers who prepare buckets of food for gorillas or birds and who scoop more than their share of dung, cleaning cages large and small.

My husband and I now promise that we’ll visit the zoo soon, but it’s been years since we’ve been, and the last time we went—just the two of us—was not quite as much fun. Zoo-goers need little ones whose eyes widen at the sight of a lion, tiger, bear and gorilla. Their wonder pushes us on down one more trail to another habitat.

Imagine my impatience now that my first grandchild is set to debut. It won’t be long before visiting the zoo will have that same childlike magic that it once did, and another generation will learn to love the animals at the zoo.