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By Tim Clark

There is a park, an attraction, in tourism literature it’s a destination, near downtown Columbus. It is nestled between the wealthy, orderly enclave of Bexley, and the restless, chaos of the near east side. Officially it’s called The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

I have driven past dozens of times. However, the name alone has always rankled my strictly egalitarian constructs and most of the rotating attractions seemed to be diametrically opposed to my son-of-the-proletariat beliefs. It was easy to feel superior ignoring the almost fantasy world beauty of the grounds as I drove by Broad Street. It’s neat, precise beauty always caught my eye, though.

For my wife’s birthday my son, and his girlfriend, invited my wife and I to ‘Conservatory Aglow’, a lighted celebration of the holidays at the Conservatory. On the designated day, a Friday, there was an arctic storm that settled over most of the country. The temperatures dropped precipitously, the snow came, and the only sound was howling wind, laboring snowplows, and the sad, sorry sighs of resignation. We had to wait a week.

It was an odd twist, one week from December 23rd, her birthday to December 30th, the day we went. On the 23rd everything was closed, covered in ice and snow, seven days later we were hiking around in flip flops and light jackets.

Our drive was pleasant and quick. Driving downtown is so much easier in the evening. Everybody is fleeing their workplace responsibilities. 

There is a magic in the first hours after sunset, the world still glows with the power of the day, a happy phosphorescence of escape. We took the road through the older, more rundown part of town. It was an odd mix, urban decay giving birth to hopeful re-birth, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the rising of a Phoenix or just ashes. Still, there was a beauty in the aging, intricate architecture. 

You can’t help feeling a sense of awed wonder at the towering columns dominating the entrance to East High School. Built in 1922, it is the picture of what I always thought an urban high school should be. It stands above the neighborhood, imposing, impressive, it makes me wish I had been a better student. 

A block past East High School the lights at the Conservatory were bright and beautiful. You could see them from the road. 

We walked up a long, curving sidewalk to the conservatory. There were several ticket counters inside the entrance, and four docents, two on each side, to answer questions. Several people were angry, they had purchased tickets online, and they didn’t feel they should have to wait. It wasn’t a long wait, but people are impatient. Each question was answered with a smile. 

Once we had paid, and I think our son’s girlfriend had purchased tickets ahead of time and didn’t feel the need to join in the clamor. We stepped through the doors and walked into a wonderland. 

Clouds covered the sky, making the night thick and heavy. Lights glowed across the grounds like beacons for the children’s laughter and exclamations of delight. Almost every photo I took has the shadow of a child darting from one extravagance to another and should be captioned with a parent saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“No worries. This is their show. I just have a bit part,” I said to their backs, as they tried to keep up with a delighted child.

In one courtyard it was as if they had managed to bring the heavens down to earth. Bright, sparkling, white stars hung suspended in a blue/black “sky.” It was hushed and people talked in subdued tones.

Inside the building things were much brighter. The building itself was a work of art. A Victorian style greenhouse built in 1895, it stands tall and stately against the ravages of time. There are 3 alcoves on each side of the second floor, each holding a different sample of a larger ecosphere. In one there were several varieties of tropical orchids and full, lush palm trees, huge leaves hanging relaxed, and carefree a few feet off the ground. It was a perfect spot for a picture. Which is exactly what a family was doing.

The father had his wife and two preschool children, a boy, and a younger girl, lined up in front of a particularly colorful scene. He snapped the photo. 

“Would you like me to take a picture of all of you together?” my wife offered.

“That would be fantastic,” the man said, handing her his phone.

Their child looked panic stricken, almost in tears. He whispered something to his mom, as his dad knelt on the other side.

“That’s ok, honey,” she laughed and hugged the child, “she’ll give his phone back as soon as she takes our picture.” 

He didn’t smile until my wife finished taking the picture and handed back the phone. His relief was obvious, his smile contagious. I would like to have a copy of that picture. Mother, father, and little girl smiling brightly, while the little boy stares suspiciously at my wife, who had his father’s phone. It was a perfect end to a wonderful evening.

Tim Clark lives in Columbus, OH. He is an employee, a husband, a father and a blogger. You can see his blog here, Life Explained.  He loves classic rock, and talks about it too often. He loves to write and read, and he doesn’t mind coffee and a little bourbon, either.


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