Tales from Home: The World’s Largest Hippo

Fall makes me nostalgic, that’s my only excuse for what follows.

Tales from Home all come from my past. I reserve the right to exaggerate, alter, or fabricate details. I’m not Lake Wobegon and this ain’t my News. These are just… tales from home.  My goal is to share, to entertain, maybe to inspire, but never to harm, so please email me if a detail grows so wildly inaccurate that it hurts.

Other than that, here is a tale from home… as retold by my rainbow-washed, apotheosizing memory.


The World’s Largest Hippo

My Grandpa Wiggins, “Deano Bubba,” enjoys taking Mimi (my grandmother) on vacations. Deano’s retired, but Mimi still works as a realtor back home. Often Deano will save up from Mimi’s sales and buy ridiculously extravagant gifts for her.

One year, this was a sizable diamond ring that was greeted with an “Oh Dean!”

One year, this was a set of reading glasses made of crystal. If we ever invent lightsabers, I’ve always intended to hijack one of those lenses to use as my lightsaber core. Lightsaber with extra granny power. Oh yes.

One year, this was a vacation to Florida.

Now “Florida” draws up different tastes for different people. For one like me, I don’t remember going to Disneyland or anything – even though supposedly my parents took me when I was two. There are pictures of this alleged event, but photoshop didn’t exist, so pics like that were harder to fake. This means Mom and Dad spent just under what it actually costs to go to Disneyland in order to hire a forger that was good enough to crop me into those Micky Mouse ears, and just in front of the castle. Mom and Dad are the best.

In My Real Florida, I remember going to Grandma and Grandpa Schaubert’s cabin/mobile home/screened-in-porch to play Sequence (which I thought was pronounced Sequins until embarrassingly recent history) as well as Triominos. Also to hear bedtime stories, I reckon. There’s something mythic about Grandma reading a story. Even a crappily written story by some no-name author would sound like coconut bombs and dire wolves on my Grandma’s tongue. And yet, so sweet is her tone. She’d make a great DM. There was also dad’s timeshare, which was the place where I wrote the first third of a novel that will never see the light of day as well as a memoir that received a separate, but equal fate, as is fitting for all memoirs. Florida, for me, means nostalgia. Kind of like the Fall.

When everyone else went and experienced the touristy spring breaks and returned home to brag about it, I wasn’t jealous so much as sorry. You can’t play triominos at MTV-sized concerts or listen to bedtime stories on beaches. Florida for me is grace for it means indoor time with family. Creativity — this is Florida. My friend Tony talks about Florida this way, and he and his brothers are some of the deepest fonts of raw creativity I’ve yet to meet.

But the way everybody else would talk about Florida sounded like some alien planet, like my prison, my hell – hot, dry, no games, no stories, no creativity, no sober thinking, absolutely no one you know and love, and giant green monsters that can snap their jaws harder than a car wreck but can’t open them any quicker than smoke floats, monsters with skin so thick you can only kill them by shooting point-blank at a target the size of a quarter near the base of their skull, monsters that descended from dragons. That Florida. You know, tourism.


Mimi’s trip started out in My Florida and ended up in Everyone Else’s. We may blame this on The Hippo.

As Mrs. Eller used to say, Back up the bus, Betty. We need to get a few details straight.

  1. They were traveling with two friends, Robert and Janice. Robert’s a large man, at least when standing next to the short, Irish, Freemason prizefighter that is my Papa Deano. My memory thinks Janice is the size of my Mimi, who has been bowed double by rheumatoid arthritis as long as I remember. Family pictures say otherwise — telling a story of a beauty that has aged like good cheese — but my poor grandmother has worked like a Clydesdale though the working twists and tortures her joints. So Mimi’s shorter than me and in my mind, Janice is just as short. But perhaps this is wrong. Perhaps Janice is nine feet tall. Perhaps she is a modern Samson.
  2. Also as I remember – I say this as if I rode in the backseat, which in my mind, I’m in the backseat of every family trip regardless of whether I was truly present – they drove Deano’s truck. This is absurd, I know, because he drives one of those tooth-fairy-white, two-door S-10 pickups with Williams Realty painted in crimson-tide-red on the side of a red-outlined house which is also painted on the side. For the record, I’ve never met Williams, only his Realty. I’ve met several Williamses back home and, growing up, thought they were all related. When I learned they weren’t related, I thought none of them were related. I’ve since matured to the understanding that most of them are related but some of them are not, kind of like the Black family dynasty from which Sirius was excommunicated. But as for Williams and his Realty, the only trace of him that remains is a name painted in red on the side of a white house that is also outlined in red on the side of my Deano Bubba’s Chevy S-10 pickup. Which has two doors. Which, to carry four people, needs to first fold down the front seats and then fold down the side-hatch seats that only have lap seatbelts much like some vehicle from Adam West’s Batman, the side-hatch seats which held our tiny Robin. I may have borrowed those seats from my Grandpa Schaubert’s Chevy S-10 or they may exist on Deano’s car, I neither know nor care. Also, thinking through it, they probably took the Cadillac. As for which Cadillac, I couldn’t tell you, though it was probably white. Deano has owned around sixteen since I’ve been alive, but moved to red once only in recent years with me away.

So four retirees — Deano Bubba, Robert, Janice, Marilyn or “Mimi” or “Mert,” as Deano calls her – all road trip down to Florida in a Chevy S-10, Mimi in the back with her arthritis, probably with a checkers board spread between their laps, smooth ride and all.

They get down to this place in Florida and do Florida-y things, probably shuffleboard and mall shopping and surfing, and then see the sights. One of these sites is this park.

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That didn’t used to be a park.

But a zoo.

With the world’s largest hippo.

When this zoo was shutting down and the park was moving in and the hippo was moving out, the locals raised up a communal complaint, a loud outcry about how they loved the world’s largest hippo, how they needed the world’s largest hippo, how they couldn’t live without the world’s largest hippo and would probably commit acts of terror if she left.

Sequoia. That was the hippo’s name. Sequoia. Fat as a tree.

You have this park – this typical city/state (not to be confused with citystate) park, and right in the middle of it sits (how could she walk?) a hippo with a mouth like the trunks of Deano’s Cadillacs. Deano Bubba, Robert, Janice, and Mimi – Mert – go see the hippo exhibit as they’re passing through. This tour guide’s talking about how many metric tons of cabbage this hippo eats, how many bathtubs full of water it drinks, how many years a decade it slumbers.

Deano’s bored – he’s where I get the antsy nature – so he and Robert go grab a smoke break – Marlboro Reds, I believe.

Meanwhile, Mimi and Janice are working their way through this crowd. Now Mimi’s a logical thinker, like an accountant, like a businesswoman extraordinaire. She’d never been the most aesthetic-oriented person in the world and never took a photography class. All this against her, she still takes phenomenal photos now and again. She just sent me some photos from my brother’s wedding, and there’s this totally candid one of me, my brother, and Deano Bubba. But I also know this is because she takes so many photographs and whittles down to the good ones. For every good one, there are several blurry, several with fingers over the lens, several with a weird flash and red eye (which I didn’t know still existed).

That to say, she needs a lot of photos. She wants a closer picture of Sequoia and is taking pictures of this thing as fast as her poor bent finger can press the silver button — fast, but not too fast. Now if you ever did the mosh pit thing, if you’ve ever followed the current of a crowd in Times Square or at a Simon and Garfunkle concert or even while getting autographs at a Cardinals baseball game, you know that you can generally get to a place, but it’s like trying to park a canoe on on of Current River’s rock banks – you’re aiming at a moving target, or rather you’re aiming at a stationary target while moving.  Janice and Mimi are trying to work through the crowd and finally arrive at the railing that protects the hippo and this guy who’s talking

They just happen to end up at the part of the rail near the back end of the hippo.

Again the stats about metric tons of cabbage. There’s a rumble heard, like the rumble of some sailor caught in the belly of Moby Dick, like the groan of some antediluvian monster waiting for enough rain to flood its heartburn with water.

At this point, my saintly grandmother dressed in her best white Florida blouse assumes a power pose — which, at her height, makes her eye-level with the… exit portal — and snaps as many close pictures of this hippo – back in the foreground, front in the background – as her little point-and-shoot allows. Janice riding as wingman… or woman. Sequoia rears up her back end into something resembling Yoga’s downward dog position and machine-gun sprays diarrhea.

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And over.

This goes on for fifty-seven seconds, a wall, a fire hose, a breached dam releasing the foretold apocalyptic hippo poop flood. Her blouse was no longer white. In fact, the crowd had all ran away, had cleared the area – both to avoid getting sprayed (they really should have posted one of those front row warning signs like with Shamu’s show) and to run from the smell of grandma-turned-swap-thing.

Of course the tour guide’s too busy laughing to help. That was probably the only break he ever caught on that lame job.

Mimi screeched at volumes that tested the tensile strength of vocal chords, “WHAAA!” and she and Janice ran off towards Deano Bubba and Robert, who suddenly lost all taste for tobacco.

“Get away get away get away Mert!” Deano shouted. And then he and Robert jumped into the truck and locked the door.

The thing that baffles me about the whole story is this: I know my grandma’s no longer covered in the world’s largest hippo poop. But I also know Deano wouldn’t ever unlock that door. I further know Mimi can’t climb into a truck bed without the help of a man bigger than Janice, and once in, probably couldn’t give Janice a hand up into the truck.

Finally, I know there were no hoses nearby.

So how’d they get clean?

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