When I was eight years old, we lived near Burlington, VT. It was beautiful there, and the house that we lived in bordered woods that we loved to explore. We found creeks, trails, and even old sugar shacks. There were always things to do and adventures to be had. My middle sister (my youngest sister was just a baby) and I had vivid imaginations, and it wasn’t unusual for us to be in the woods for hours at a time acting out whatever drama we had conjured up for the day.
Imagine my surprise one day when my pretending turned into a real adventure. As I was traipsing through the woods, something caught my eye under some greenery. I investigated and realized I had uncovered something monumental. It was a bone. A backbone to be precise. I brushed it off and ran home to show my parents.
My dad and my grandpa took one look at the bone and started whispering to each other. I knew I heard the word “dinosaur” in their murmurings. I was so excited! To think that I had uncovered a dinosaur bone was a dream come true! They stopped whispering and talked to me very seriously. They told me that I should take that bone to school to let the librarian try to identify it.
That’s exactly what I did. I remember plopping that backbone right on the librarian’s desk the next day at school. I vaguely remember the librarian’s discomfort and hesitancy to handle the specimen. She guessed it to belong to a long-gone cow and politely asked me to pack it back up and take it out of her library.
For some reason, I was unfazed. I took it back home, and my dad and grandpa agreed she was unreasonable in her assessment. My grandpa offered to use his new computer (those were uncommon back then) to write a letter to the Vermont Museum for me. We asked them to identify the bone, and dad and grandpa kindly packaged the bone and sent it and the letter to the museum.
The letter I received a few weeks later in response was one of the best moments of my life. It came from the Vermont Museum, and it was addressed to me. My hands were trembling as I opened it. I read that letter over and over. It thanked me for my contribution to the museum – the contribution of a dinosaur bone! It went on to identify the species of dinosaur and to tell me that the bone would be displayed in the museum. Wow! I was thrilled.
Fast forward to me in college. I was a biology major taking every class offered by the head of the science department, Dr. Allen. He was brilliant, his classes were challenging and thought-provoking, and I had to work really hard to make A’s in his classes. It was important to me to impress him. I even facilitated a study group for one of his biology classes.
One day, his lecture was on dinosaurs, and I (being the overachiever that I am) raised my hand and told him and the rest of my collegiate biology class about the discovery I made in Vermont as an eight-year-old.
I remember feeling my confidence in my story waver a little bit when he asked me for the details, but I knew I had the evidence at home – the letter from the Vermont Museum. I ignored his obvious skepticism and smugly assured him I would bring the letter with me the following day.
I went home and dug through the years of school work, art, awards, and report cards my mom kept from my years of schooling. After quite a search, I finally found it, still in the original envelope addressed to me.
My mind went back to the first time I read that letter. I relived those proud moments before I opened it – the moments I contributed to the anthropological history of the great state of Vermont – the day I confirmed that I had discovered a dinosaur bone.
I looked at the envelope. Huh, that’s funny – no return address…
I opened it and unfolded the official letter from the Vermont Museum. And it’s not on letterhead. Maybe they didn’t have it back then…
Then I read the letter, and my world came crashing down. This is a hoax!!! The letter is a fake!
I quickly found my dad and confronted him with the letter, and he readily admitted his part in the joke. Good one, eh? Grandpa and I really had you going. You ate that up when you were little. You really thought you found a dinosaur bone!
DAD!!!!! I JUST TOLD MY BIOLOGY PROFESSOR THAT I FOUND A DINOSAUR BONE WHEN I WAS LITTLE!!! NO ONE EVER TOLD ME THIS WASN’T REAL! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW!?
My dad rolled on the floor laughing.
And I promptly changed my major from biology to English.