My father had a lifetime family membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, for which he had paid a princely sum. This membership entitled us to an unparalleled array of delights, including discounts at the gift shop (my second favorite exhibit at the museum), admission to the Members Library (a sanctified place with polished wood chairs behind smooth wooden tables at which it would be a sacrilege to read anything less erudite than illuminated manuscripts), and priority admission into every Art Institute exhibition.
This lifetime membership imparted to each of my father’s children a sense of boundless elitism. During a recent trip to Chicago on a pilgrimage to the Art Institute, I discovered that an exhibition of Edward Hopper’s paintings was all the rage. People were standing five wide in a line that staggered down the stairs and continued along Michigan Boulevard.
Not for me, though, the common herd. I gazed pityingly at the rabble, strode up the steps, and flashed my father’s membership card at the guard.
“Go right in,” he said. And I did.
Other children may have had their own speedboats or yachts, country club memberships, jewels, boyfriends, tuitions at Ivy League colleges, gardeners, butlers, and cars, and in our neighborhood, they did. But Samuel Reuben’s children were members of the Art Institute! We strode past glum guards with confidence and aplomb. We knew every inch of the place, from the administration offices, to the school, to the Thorn Miniature Rooms, where tiny parlors and palaces evoked images of what dream domiciles might be. We marched up the stairway beneath Picasso’s Guernica, we drifted beyond boring Chinese vases and expressionless Buddhas, and like cream, we rose to the inexpressible wonder of the paintings and sculpture on the second floor.
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