Alice Ann

At first it seemed to me that this autobiographical entry differed in an important way from the others. It does not center on a relationship with an other. Memorable events are almost always about meeting others, developing relationships, and separating from an “other” or “others.” If I am right why was I so fascinated by the Egyptian Gods and mummies? But perhaps this entry is really about my sister, Alice Ann. So perhaps the difference is not so great as it seems at first glance.

But let me begin at the beginning. During my third or fourth grade in Peoria Elementary school some wonderful pedagogue arranged for the most outstanding learning experience of my formal educational career: a school trip to the Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

We all piled into a bus at the school, and were dropped off at the front doors of the museum. Then an event happened that modern people might find unbelievable. We were taken to a central location on the main floor of the museum, given maps of the museum, and told to go and explore, but to be back to this spot at a specified time. As I recall they allowed us about two or three hours for exploring. In those nïave days it never occurred to our adult supervisors, or to us, that there were probably killer-pedophiles lurking (for that’s what they do – they “lurk”) behind every display case.

And that was it. First, here’s a map of the place. Second, be back at the specified time. There clocks all over the place if you don’t have a wristwatch.

I might point out in passing that, as we increasingly limit the freedom of both children and adults in the name of safety we increasingly impoverish our lives. We may or may not actually increase the overall safety of our lives, but we make them less worth living. But to ease your worried mind, my reader, let me assure you right off that on that day, at least, we did not lose a single child to a killer-pedophile.

The first thing I did was to run through the whole museum two or three times, and with the aid of the map, get a basic idea of the lay of the land. I wanted to know where the exciting things to look at were, and how to get from place to place in the most efficient manner.

With regard to exciting things, there was one display that stood out in my mind more than any of the others. This was the Egyptian mummy display. I looked at a lot of other things, but I spent the lion’s share of my time devouring this utterly fascinating display. I read all of the explanations scattered throughout the display. Also, as I recall, there were a couple of videos that I was able to watch, but I’m not sure I’m not conflating this with the memory of another museum. What I recall most vividly is the information that was imparted rather than the mode in which it was done.

I was delighted to learn that the undertakers back in those ancient times sometimes took shortcuts to increase their profits. For example if the coffin that they happen to have on hand was a bit too short for the body they were burying, they would remove a sections of the two femurs to shorten the body. (The modern people had made x-rays that showed what was beneath the mummy wrappings. I also was interested to learn that they sent the internal organs of the deceased to the afterworld with the body in jars. I loved the image of the mummy arriving at the afterworld and stuffing all his organs back into his body cavities. If the undertakers were not above shortening of body to fit it into a coffin, I thought they might not bother to send all the organs along. I wasn’t quite clear on what they would do with the pilfered organs. Feed their cats. Whatever. What if a liver or lung was not to be found in the assortment of jars that were sent to the underworld.

The class structure of ancient Egypt was also apparent in this display. Only the wealthy could afford to be embalmed and placed in an underground room.

I had a special interest in Anubus – the dog headed God who was associated with the judgment and disposition of the dead.

Why was I so interested in the funeral rites of the people of ancient Egypt? I saw an occasional student from my school group – either singly or in small groups – wandering through the Egyptian rooms. But I noticed that the none of them seemed to share my preoccupation with this part of the museum. I wondered about that but had no theory to explain it at the time. As I look back, I do have a speculation. When I was about seven or eight I had a baby sister who died. She had diabetes. I recall being called out of school to be told of her death. I was standing in a line in a hall possibly waiting for lunch. One of the school authorities asked me my name and, when I told him, asked me to come with him. This, of course, was unusual. I could tell by the manner of the authorities that something big had happened. At home somebody told me my sister had died. I wanted to go to my mother – either to comfort her or to seek comfort myself. I wasn’t especially close to my sister – she was just a baby. But the fact of death with something I didn’t know how to deal with. I thought it would be devastating for my mother. And, of course, it was. I saw her at the top of the stairs. Although I recall no reason being given for it, I was told not to go to her. Somehow I came to understand that Alice Anne and her death was an event that was never to be spoken of. It would be too overwhelming for my mother. Only by pushing that back out of her mind that she go on living.

My mother did not open or look at any of the sympathy cards that were sent to her.

It occurs to me that a part of my fascination with the Egyptian mummies was that they provided a detailed description of what happened after we die. I would have had a special interest in that topic. I recall two dreams that I had some time after the death of my sister and my visit to the Chicago Museum. In one I was in the kitchen of our house and I have pulled the refrigerator away from the wall. A very thin pale girl who looked to be maybe six or seven years old came out. It was Alice Anne. As I have said, my memories don’t supply time frames etc. very well, but I suspect this may have been a dream I had six or seven years after her death. The idea would have been that she continued growing behind the refrigerator.

In a second dream that probably happened when I was junior high school age Anubus came into the room where I was sleeping. I dreamed that I woke up in and saw him in the doorway. He was very tall – like maybe 8 feet or so – and was wearing a modern suit. I remember thinking that I was awake as I looked at him.

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