Most children dream of what they want to be when they grow up; chief among these dreams are policeman, fireman, astronaut, even schoolteacher.
I, however, was a peculiar child. None of these things appealed in the slightest. Instead, I wanted to be an archaeologist. At the age of 6.
I picked up my first book on dinosaurs as I was entering first grade. I was immediately taken. Dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years ago? Some were even bigger than the house that we lived in? Some ate ONLY vegetables (Ugh! How could they?)? Some ate ONLY meat (Ugh! Raw?)?
Some had giant plates on their backs. Some had giant balls of spikes on their tails. Some had tiny brains the size of peanuts (MY brain was bigger than that!).
Luckily, I had a really wonderful, and very patient, mother, who both nurtured and encouraged my interests, so after the umpteenth time of my checking out that particular book, and painstakingly going over the pronunciation of every dinosaur in there with me, she took me to a larger library so I could read about other dinosaurs and further my learning.
I also learned that there was a group of scientists called archaeologists who dug up, among other things, such as ancient cities and artifacts (which of course got me interested in those things, as well, and to this day I am still a lover of all things history, especially ancient history), dinosaur bones.
And so my choice of career was born. It wasn’t until I was in fourth or fifth grade that I learned the actual studying dinosaurs would require a change in career to paleontology, but my heart was set — I wanted to discover, so archaeology it was.
That early career choice and interest served me well for a long time. I went fossil hunting everywhere, especially on my grandparents’ land when visiting during summer vacations. I found some fossils; I found a lot of arrowheads, too, which only proved to my younger self that I was on the right track. When my father bought his first metal detector, there were Indian-head pennies and buffalo nickels to be found.
In England, there were a few Roman coins dug up, which I still collect to this day; the Mildenhall treasure was found about 10 minutes from where we lived, and that, again, was more evidence that I, too, could uncover great wonders once I became an archaeologist. And I was convinced that I would one day prove that Tintagel Castle did, indeed, exist in Cornwall on that Cliffside and that it was proof of King Arthur’s and Merlin’s existence. But I was still looking for fossils, and I was still going to find some dinosaur bones on one of my digs.
Alas, it was not meant to be. After my struggle with higher math, my mother informed me just how much math was involved in my chosen field, and just like that, the dream was busted.
I decided I’d be a forensic psychiatrist and study Charles Manson and his ilk, and be the first to crack the serial killer code. That lasted until midway through college; instead, I became an English and psychology teacher.
When I had my son, I passed that dinosaur bug to him. I took him fossil hunting, and in summers during visits to my mother’s in Maryland there was the mandatory trip to the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. He still loves the subject, and is passing it on to his children.
I still look for fossils. I still read books and articles when I can. Because that 6-year-old in me still dreams about digging up dinosaurs.
Stephanie Ratts Grissom is a Herald correspondent.