Harold the Wandering Elephant

November 21st, 2011 | Tags: , ,

I have a little story for you–a trivial yarn about meaningless things. But it is 100% true. I am writing it because it serves as much to be something to write about as anything else, and with all the craziness happening here in the US (much less abroad) I thought it’d be an interesting indulgence in the banality of our existence. Feel free to read below the cut.

So I got into a car accident this summer. Late spring, maybe? I’d have to go check. It’s more or less irrelevant. But I was rear-ended while coming to a stop at a traffic light in Chapel Hill, with the setting sun behind me, hurriedly applying the brake behind a minivan who decided that the yellow was safer to stop at than plow through. (A rare bird indeed, for Chapel Hill.) Thank goodness for generous following distances, right? That’s the idea, anyway.

Well, a young lady behind me was less attentive to the situation. As she put it, she was trying to figure out why her son in the back seat was gesturing so frantically, so she turned to look at him instead of the road. WHAM, the cars went. Just like that. At a full stop, the impact shoved my car forward, just far enough to tap the bumper of the minivan. I had enough time to brace, which could have been a bad thing, but it was low enough speed that I was not affected in the weeks after.

But the story isn’t about the car accident. It just sets in memory for me the last time I saw the elephant on my dash whole. I named him Harold–the Sidhe had gotten him for me when we went to the Asheboro Zoo a few years ago. I had glued him onto the dash so he wasn’t a hazard to any other occupants of the car; despite the little well on it, he was a crafty elephant, and took any turn as an opportunity to scramble up the sloping walls of his confines and scamper in the lap of the passenger. But gorilla glue fixed him on the spot. Well, except for his waggly head. That was why the Sidhe got him for me in the first place. And Harold as a name just seemed to fit an elephant whose head, ears, and trunk were bobbling up and down, this way and that at every dip, rumble, and curve in the road, as if he were laughing to himself. Harold the Laughing Elephant.

Harold and I had many adventures over these last few years. Mostly getting up late for work at the clinic, but then the move to Raleigh. Sundry trips up to Maryland to see friends and family. Even a blowout on the freeway on the way home from work. All accompanied by his jolly, pithy silence, a mere observer to the whims and follies of the master of the Aluminum Falcon. But after the accident–I’m not really sure when–I noticed that I no longer had my merry friend nearby. His head had come out of its socket! I initially thought it a result of the accident itself, that it had flown backward from the force of the impact. Harold the Flying Elephant? But a thorough search in the car turned up nothing. I even did more than a Man Look™! So I figured I had put enough effort into it, and resigned myself to the possibility that it had been swiped from the car or Harold had wedged himself somewhere. Yes, I abandoned Harold.

Months passed by. I began to think that Harold had abandoned me. His hollow shell remained firmly attached to the dash, a sardonic reminder of the merriment and mirth that was now absent from my daily driving. I would look at it and shake my head, wondering for the nth time if one of the neighborhood kids might have swiped it and whether he or she might be troubled to put it back. Why would someone keep an elephant’s head? But the alternative, that Harold lay somewhere in the disorganized mess of my car, was too troubling to seriously consider. So I would put such thoughts aside and simply sigh. The notion of removing his body from the dash was not on the table, either. Not because it would have caused excessive damage to the car’s interior–years of punching the roof in joy, of carrying lumber around in a sedan, of spilling innumerable drinks had seen to that long before. Nor was it the simple inertial weight of laziness that I sometimes accuse myself of possessing. No, it was because I’m a sentimental, stubborn bastard, and removing it was ultimately giving up on Harold. And after so many years of his silent companionship, I could not bring myself to do him that disservice just yet.

It’s been a busy summer, so Harold was always only in the back of my mind. I was making the beer for Rob’s wedding most of the time, including taking it up to Assateague for the tasting, so beer has dominated my thinking much moreso than my wrinkled and gray friend. But a funny thing happened on the run-up to the wedding itself. I had been in a mad frenzy balancing school, work, beer, and the wedding activities (including the stag party), and I had been doing considerable travel at that point. The drive up to the campground in Flintstone was simply amazing on account of autumn’s glory, and we had a roaring good time around the campfire that weekend. I was feeling pretty fuzzy on the drive home, so I stopped by my sister’s to crash for the night rather than legging it home–I probably could have made it back without incident, but I can speak for everyone when I say I’m glad I didn’t try.

And when I was finally pulling into my apartment complex in Raleigh, who do you think I finally noticed, wagging his trunk at me from his accustomed spot on my dash?

How long had he been there?

How had I not noticed him?

Who put him back?!

I am filled with unworthiness as I type this. Harold’s back! He laughed with me all the way up to New Jersey and back, and since then it’s been as though he was never gone at all. I could ask questions of people–the guys I camped with, my sister, maybe. But I’m not going to look a gift pachyderm in the mouth. I am glad to be in the presence of Mystery at last. Ladies, gentlemen, and entities, I present to you:

  1. December 14th, 2011 at 13:35
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Hi, Steve,

    I’ve been reading your blog recently. I found this story particularly charming.


  2. Steve Killen
    December 14th, 2011 at 21:38
    Reply | Quote | #2

    Thanks! I still don’t know who the culprit is :)