Place: Kansas Fish and Game Museum, Pratt, KS
Who: A middle-aged couple with preschool granddaughter
Mission: For the granddaughter to embrace the love of wildlife through the life-like displays.
Result: Terror and screams like gut-shot panther coming from small child.
Yes, that child was me and I admit I have been a sufferer of a condition called ‘Taxidermaphobia.’ I also confess I could possibly be the weirdest person on the planet. While I don’t think I am alone, I believe I am the only one who has ever put a name to it. It makes no sense whatsoever and it hasn’t been a huge problem, but has caused a few tense moments and a lot of beating up on myself for being so irrational. Let me give you a few examples.
1. Broke my Grandpa Charles’s heart because he thought I would love museum. He knew I loved animals so.
2. Vacations to Colorado were interesting. Every store, hotel, eating establishment had a stuffed critter of some kind displayed. I would lock up and not eat or function at all.
3. Our family love museums. Oh, to know how many times we backtracked through them so we could go ‘out’ the ‘entrance” because of room of creatures. (Of course this frustrated my dad to know end. No cajoling, bribery, or threats would work.)
4. Nightmares came frequently with them as the main characters, even if they never moved.
Oh, this was not just a childhood issue! In college I about passed out when I saw a reflection in some glass of what was behind me through a doorway in the campus museum at Fort Hays State University. A giant polar bear, standing on his back legs. He was the mascot for a room chocked full of more fur covered styrofoam. Yep! It didn’t take long to get me out of there. I would have preferred being locked in a room with a real one, thank you very much! After finding out the art class I really had a passion to take took place in that very room, I snuffed out the passion like cigarette butt and stomped on it.
To add insult to injury, my kids loved anything stuffed! Actually residing in the Kansas Fish and Game building would have been considered the coolest bedroom ever. Every time we were in Pratt they begged to go, so I would send them in as I sat by the goldfish pond outside, praying that Cole would not get the idea of try riding the full-sized deer mount.
The kicker was I knew it was irrational and stupid, which made the fear so frustrating and down right humiliating. I would really, really try, giving myself pep talks and simply knowing that mind over matter was the key. Nevertheless, my mind was not on board with my plan. I would lock up and panic would take over. I couldn’t speak and my heart rate would race off the chart. The feeling of passing out would come next. The ‘flight’ reaction would follow and I was gone! Finally I got to where I could be in a room with a couple of varmits, but I could sniff out stuffed quail in a glass coffee table like the best bird dog. I am sure if I had a tail, it would have been straight as an arrow the entire time until I was freed from that room. To be totally free, there was no way I could do it on my own.
Little did I know that hope of getting over this came when I unsuspectingly married a hunter. Before long a very excited Cliff and his brother came home with a deer carcass and a dream. This 10 point buck would be mounted for all the world to see and admire. Far be it from me to rain on their parade, so I suggested a nice display place would be the garage. Cliff suggested the bedroom. EEEKKK! I conceded with our office, which I no longer spent much time in, but was forced to go into on occasion. While in there I would talk to “Dexter” and never took my eyes off of him as I edged around the room. Finally trust was built and he wasn’t a big deal.
After hearing about one of the trips to ‘critter hell’ in Pratt with the kids, Cliff orchestrated a plan where just he and I went shopping. On the way he broke it to me that we were also going to deal with this. Truly, I was really kind of relieved. He held my hand and was very patient as I inched through stuffed cranes and under gi-normous elk heads. He couldn’t believe it when I would always gingerly peek though a door jamb to see if anything hung above the door. “If something is above it, you can’t get out” was my theory. He’d shake his head and just keep holding my hand and encouraging me. Another couple was in there and I can guarantee we were the topic of their conversation when they got in the car.
Where am I today? After a trip to Bass Pro in Springfield, MO and Cliff walking me through it again, something broke. I went from starting out in that exhibit with my fingernails digging into my forearms to shaking hands with a giant grizzly. (We have pictures to prove it as my kids would never believed us if we told them.) I watched as a little girl in a stroller reach out to pet a lion in pounce form with not a bit of fear. I can’t say that is what did it for me, but something indescriable happened did. Incredibly, I have suggested to Cliff that we would go to Woolorock in Oklahoma to see the biggest display of non-typical mounts ever. Yea, I would say I’m healed.
Fear doesn’t have to make sense, in fact most don’t. Oh, the power they carry! The acronym False Evidence Appearing Real is so appropriate. I am amazed at how that fear still tries to creep back in-until I think there is someone to hold my hand and walk me through whatever with compassion and encouragement. That Someone helps me see what really is and I can have freedom and joy. To remember that “God is our refuge and our strength an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Psalm 46:1-2 is very hard, but very powerful and a comfort. You don’t have to do it alone.
By the way, ironically, my son has the exact same reactions in wax museums. Honest to goodness! Ask the people at The Wax Works in Newport, OR about the kid with ‘waxidermaphobia”.
Dexter now goes on the road with me once in while when I have done childrens sermons and the like. He likes to ride shot-gun which attracts strange looks in traffic.