When I was eight years old, my mother and I traveled to the United Kingdom for a three week vacation. I probably was a little too young to fully appreciate the voyage, as I only have two memories of the trip.
The first was our approach to Glasgow on the airplane. I remember the lush rolling green countryside beneath us and being amazed that anything could look so beautiful.
The reason I remember this is because I also remember the entire plane laughing when we flew over a golf course, and I saw a sandtrap. I remember excitedly yelling at my mom to look at the footprint left behind by the Loch Ness Monster. Hey, I was eight, okay?
The second thing I remember from the trip is going to the National Museum of Science and Industry in London. I was a pretty self-reliant 8 year old, and had convinced my mom that I was a big enough boy to visit this museum while she was across the street at the Victoria and Albert Decorative Museum, which really didn't hold any interest for me at all.
It was such a cool experience, far better than the Museum of Natural Science in Houston, the only other museum I'd visited up to that point in my short life. There was so much more interactivity geared towards kids in the London museum. I was in proto-geek heaven.
Until I saw the giant Tesla coil in action, that is. The staff would give a demonstration of this thing every hour or so, and had posted "polite notice" signs (the British equivalent of a crass American "WARNING" sign) saying that the demonstration could be loud and frightening. I couldn't imagine what such a strange device could do that would warrant such caution. So I stayed for the demonstration, watching other people as they gathered around.
The only other child my age present was a girl, there with her father. We smiled at each other, and waved, made faces and did silly things that only 8 year olds could possibly understand, and then the demonstration began.
A staff member gave a brief history of the coil, and of Nikola Tesla, and then gave people one last chance to vacate the area were they easily startled or bothered by loud noises. Still far more intrigued than alarmed, I didn't even stick my fingers in my ears, as did my peer.
More fool me. As soon as the thing started up, as soon as the first intensely bright bolt of pure electric death started crawling up the coil, snapping and writhing, and illuminating flourescent lights without benefit of cords or plugs, I freaked out, and started to cry. I didn't want to cry, especially not in front of a girl my own age. I couldn't help it. At least I didn't wet myself, though I gave the matter serious consideration to show everyone just how distressed I was.
Fortunately, both the girl and her father were compassionate people, and rescued me, taking me upstairs to the cafeteria for some tea to soothe my nerves. When the pair discovered I was American, they resolved to buy me lunch as well. We got along very well, my composure regained, the embarrassment of the demonstration and the coil far behind us. When my mom came to fetch me, the father of my new friend, after explaining why I was in his wake ("oh, he had a bit of a small fright, that's all", was how he put it) asked if he and his daughter could take the two of us on a resident's tour of London. Mom, charmed, agreed.
I don't have any memories of that tour, but my mom says that they took us everywhere, they bought us dinner, drove us to our hotel, and drove out of our lives. Their kindness was so great as to compare with Nessie in my memory, so it must have been very great indeed.
I've been a confirmed Anglophile ever since.
Recently, I asked my mom what memories she had of this experience, and she told me that the strongest memory she had of the pair was the bond between the two of them, how it reminded her of the bond she and I had together at that time. She remembers thinking if the special relationship of a father and daughter was anything like that of a mother and son.
Wow. After twenty seven years, electricity can still make me cry.