In the nearly five years I’ve lived in Vegas, my mother has visited me about twice as many times as she had in the twenty-plus years I lived in Colorado. Naturally, when family comes to visit, the inclination is go out and see the sights. As a result, we’ve racked up quite a bit of touristy time. But since Ma, who will turn 80 in a few weeks, does not drink or gamble, and has a bum knee, we have to choose our destinations with some care. No dropping her off at a video poker machine, or strolling down the length of the Strip at midnight. Fortunately, there are places in Vegas you can take your Mom.
One can’t miss spot is the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The displays are sort of like Rose Parade floats, because everything is made of flowers, but there is an added advantage of shooting bursts of water. Over the years, we’ve strolled through fabulous scenes of summer pastimes, gorgeous displays of autumnal splendor, and magnificent Christmas fantasies. Round out your evening oohing and aahing at the dancing fountains outside, and Mom will be happy.
What’s Vegas without a show? We’ve gone the pricey route, with tickets to Bette Midler. In fact, this one was actually a request from Ma, who planned her birthday visit around the show. I’d no clue she was was such a Bette fan, but she had a fabulous time, and even insisted on buying the souvenir program. Another time, we caught Tony and Tina’s Wedding. If I could do my wedding over, it would be like this – lots of domestic drama and a priest who drinks himself under the table. Our favorite moment was when the brother of the groom drew his finger through the frosting on a piece of wedding cake at our table – and then sauntered off, leaving the cake behind.
One still another visit, we coupled dinner at the Top of the World restaurant with the American Superstars show at the Stratosphere. Where but Vegas can you dine in a revolving restaurant overlooking an entire valley, plus take in a show peopled with Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Elvis and a few other well known entertainers? The impersonators were fun, and the food was fabulous. Ma called the night magical.
Of course, we do get away from the Sin City hijinks, too. We took Ma out to the scenic drive at Red Rock, where we sighed over purple mountain’s majesty. We floated on Lake Mead for a dinner cruise. We even toured Hoover Dam. The walk pushed the limits of the knee, but the art deco design scored major points with my interior designer mother. Plus, Ma really enjoyed seeing something in this town that is almost as old as she is.
Still, with all those frequent visits plus tons more, we were running out of ideas for something new and different. But it is in times of desperation that inspiration emerges. This past visit, we went to the Atomic Testing Museum.
Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure about this one. In my younger years, I had nightmares about nuclear holocaust (thanks, no doubt, to those under-the-desk drills in first grade). So I was a bit anxious about visiting here. My first impulse had been the Springs Preserve, but it was just too hot. Whatever we did, it had to be indoors. So off we went to view some atoms.
As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” This visit turned out to be one of our best outings yet. Of course, as a history buff who loves all things midcentery, I thrilled to the cultural displays, the vintage TV programming, and the concise explanations of historical context. The cartoon explanation of atomic fission was not only a treat, but I think I learned something. Plus, we traversed the museum alongside a group of Russians. Gotta love irony.
But the absolute best part of this trip was the spontaneous commentary from Ma. One by one, the various displays, arranged in chronological order, evoked memories of her childhood. She talked of living on a farm during WWII and remembered how she and her high school classmates danced in their small town street when the war ended. She talked about being invited to go to Cuba while she was a young nurse, about being courted by my father, and about being a young mother in the 50s. She even remembered a few bits of the early years of my childhood in the 60s, when she switched from nursing to decorating.
In the ninety or so minutes it took to walk through the museum, I heard much more about my mother’s life than I think I had heard in the entire previous 48 years.
Must have been something in those atoms…