A wide eyed little girl sits at the feet of her grandfather, listening attentively while he warmly laughs and tells his tales of when he was young. An old lady, with a slight croak in her voice tells of her first love to a group of little ones gathered around her, while a nearby teenager with stars in her eyes eavesdrops, wishing her life to be that interesting when she grows old.
We all know those tales, don’t we? The ones our grandparents told us when we were young, those ones that always sounded so fanciful, and we never quite knew if they were real or somewhat embellished but we chose to believe them anyway because it made life more exciting.
Well, I come from a family with many of those tales.
On the one side, my dad’s parents grew up here in South Africa. Granddad grew up on the plots around Germiston and Johannesburg, and then apprenticed as a mechanic, and became a mechanic in the copper-belt (an area of land from South Africa through Zimbabwe up to Zambia), and he has many fanciful tales of life in “wild Africa”. Grandma went to boarding school and then studied to become a pharmacist before getting married.
On my mom’s side, Granny grew up in the farms of Danmark. And my grandfather grew up in Budapest, Hungary, fleeing to South Africa as a refugee during the 50s.
So tall tales and amazing heritage abounds. At 25 years old, I still love to sit and listen to them weaving their stories, I close my eyes and imagine a youthful figure of my beloved grandparents running though fields in summer, or sneaking through towns in the dead of night.
And then I thought to myself oh how selfish of me! Why not share those wonderful adventures with the world? If all the world’s libraries are filled with books, some fiction and some fact, if people are still writing and selling stories, if people are still reading wonderful tales, why not share tales of old from my family? So every now and again, I’ll do a blog in a new series called “Tales of old” and this is part one!
The Mean Elephant in the Zoo
My grandfather was a young lad at school and one day him and his buddy decided to bunk school and go down to the Joburg Zoo. So in their uniforms with their school bags they meandered around the zoo looking at various animals. Now back in those days, there were 4 or 5 big African elephants who were allowed to wonder around the park-like lawns with a handler always nearby. My grandfather and his friend had been reading about elephants recently and learned that animals, especially elephants hated it when people would point and laugh at them. So like the mischievous little boys they were, they decided to test the theory….. The stood at a little distance and pointed and laughed and laughed and laughed at those three big elephants.
Now you must know, an African elephant is much more temperamental and aggressive than an Indian elephant. Those elephants started to show signs of annoyance after a minute or two, their big ears starting to flap. The boys finding this even funnier continued their laughing assault, until suddenly the big bull elephant let out a trumpet and turned to face them head on. The angry glint in his eye told the boys it was time to run, and so they did, two naughty boys trying to outrun the big angry elephant, they sprinted across the picnic lawns through the center of the zoo, hearing the keeper yelling behind them. Glancing back they saw the elephant gaining on them (remember in those days kids were skinny little things with plenty of energy), at the end of the lawn was a big clump of bamboo, ah safety they thought and darted into it, splitting up for safety, but they couldn’t catch their breath, because although it slowed him down, bamboo is no real obstacle to elephants, especially an angry one. So on the boys ran, they were nearly at a fence, “safety” they thought, and scrambled over that 6 foot high fence. They stopped to breath as the elephant paced along the fence, but then looked around thinking they had jumped the fence of the zoo and were safe. No such luck!
As they looked around they discovered they had actually landed in the Blue Wildebeest (Gnu) enclosure, and although Gnus are not very aggressive they were beginning to look somewhat unhappy with the intruders. So the boys ran to the next fence and jumped it, getting out of the zoo and landing on the tram tracks and ran home.
And so the story ends you may begin to think.
But not quite yet! A good 15 or so years later, my grandfather then married to gran with at least one toddler, had a big family picnic at the Jo-burg zoo with many of the extended family. Sitting on blankets there on the lawns with the elephants milling around, my grandfather swears the big bull elephant remembered him and started eyeballing him and edging ever closer. Every time my granddad would look, the big elephant was a few steps closer and looking straight at him, until granddad could take the threat to his family no more. Swearing that it really is true, elephants never forget! He took his family and left, refusing to return to Jo-burg zoo until the elephants were no longer allowed to roam free.
Disclaimer: the three photos used on this post are from a google images search.