The Last Elephant I Will Ever Know

Grandma’s outhouse had three holes. The children’s hole was tight up against the barn wall where Dick, the principal work horse, the one who believed he owned the farm, stood. He would lean in, pressing his flank hair through the cracks between the wall boards, where I would pluck at them and sing to him.

There’s no place like a circus to get to know an elephant. At Barnum and Bailey’s in Bridgeport, CT, you could buy peanuts to feed them, but we kids had no money. There was this elephant holding a small mucinous glom of peanuts in the far crook of her trunk. I began gingerly plucking them out one-by-one and feeding them into her mouth. She politely received, chewed and swallowed each one in a precise and lady-like manner that my grandfather’s horse could not have equaled. We had gotten our timing down pat and were starting to have fun together when the keeper kindly asked me to stop. “Don’t do that,” he said, “she’s saving them for later.”

Decades later a little circus came to Davisville, NH, at the site of Tobey’s flea market. The Ringmaster began by inviting us all to pray for the safety of the performers. There weren’t many. The fellow, who we thought was just selling popcorn, performed later on a bongo board on which he piled chair after chair, winding up some nine feet off the ground still rolling the board back and forth.

They had an elephant and sold rides in a box on her back. I was seated toward the front, where I began plucking at her neck hairs and crooning to her about her magnificence, poise and general wonderfulness. When I climbed down, the keeper accosted me. “Do you know this animal?” “No,” I said, “we’ve just met.” “Well,” he said, “she doesn’t do that for just anyone.”

I turned around to see her just finishing that vibratory sort of dance that your house cat will sometimes greet you with. We made eye contact. I bowed with open arms.