I actually wrote this a few years ago, and submitted it to a take-home church magazine published by the Mennonites. They have a theme list, and I proposed it for their “Traditions” issue. I e-mailed it off and heard really quickly from the editor, who said, “I love this story. It’s a great fit for our issue on Humor … Thanks so much….it’s wonderful!” Personally, I thought it was more poignant than humorous, but a sale is a sale, and I made $75.00. The photo wasn’t part of the story, but I thought you might want to see the back yard for yourself, and how it really is pretty spacious.
I fell for it every year. While I was getting dressed before breakfast, my dad would yell,“Oh look! Come quick! There’s an elephant in the back yard.” I would run to the back door, astonished at the idea that I might actually see a real, live elephant out there. And, of course, there was no elephant.
“April Fool!” my dad would laugh. Ohhhh. I’d get the joke and roll my eyes and laugh with him.
A year is a long time for a little kid, and every year, I’d rush to look, not remembering the joke until I peered out the back door. As I grew older, though, I was part of the ruse, going outside with my little sister, looking around for the missing elephants, threatening not to come in for breakfast until we’d located the elusive beast.
When my sons came along, they would get the early morning phone calls. “It’s for you,” I’d shout. “Granddad needs to talk to you.” The first time, they listened to him for a few seconds, looked at me in great surprise, then headed for the back door. In moments they returned, confused.
“There’s no elephant out there,” they said to me.
“Granddad wants to clear that up for you,” I said, handing back the phone. And I watched their smiles as they listened and understood the joke.
As soon as my sister’s kids were old enough to answer the phone, she would also roust them out of bed on April Fool’s morning, to answer the insistently ringing telephone.
After my sons went off to college, my dad would phone me on March 31, to be sure he had their campus phone numbers and schedules correct. He didn’t want to call too early, but he didn’t want to take a chance on missing them before they went to class, either.
“Be sure you walk around carefully today,” he would say. “I think there have been elephants on campus.”
By then, naturally, everyone knew the gag. It became a way my dad kept in touch with his grandkids. One of the many ways he said, “You are important to me.”
In the fall, a few years ago, my dad got really sick, really fast. He passed away early that November. One Sunday morning, the following spring, I was getting ready for church when the phone rang. The caller ID showed that it was my younger son, who lives with his wife in Brooklyn. I thought it odd that they would phone me on a Sunday morning, when, due to the time difference, they should already be at church.
“Hello” I answered, with a bit of a question in my voice.
“Mom,” he said. “We were just a little worried about you and Dad.”
“Why?” I asked.
“We heard about a big accident there. It’s on the news.” (I hadn’t thought to look at the calendar and was not at all suspicious.)
“There was a train collision and it seems to be near you,” he explained. (We don’t live anywhere near a train track, but still I was oblivious.)
“It was a circus train,” he went on, and the confusing pieces fell into place.
“A circus train?”
“Yes,” he went on. “And there are animals everywhere. It looks like your neighborhood, and we think there might be an elephant in your back yard. Go check.”
“I will,” I said. And I went to the back windows and looked out.
“No,” I said quietly, through sudden tears. “I’m safe here. No elephants in the back yard. But thanks for letting me know.”
“Well,” he said. “Somebody had to do it.”
A simple meal with love
is better than a feast
where there is hatred.
Proverbs 15:17 (Contemporary English Version)
I have a friend who says I grew up in a fairy tale. She’s rather right. It might have been a little more like a 50’s family sitcom. We had enough, and I always felt loved. Even when I kept on going to look out the back door on April 1.