Barbara's Birthday Elephant
By James E. McEldowney
The Mercy Ship Gripsholm Table of Contents Little Frogs and Baby Chicks

How big is an elephant? What kind of food does he eat? Well, when Barbara was three years old she had a real elephant come to her birthday party and rode on it. It was fun.

"Who are you going to invite to your birthday party?" Betty Ann kept asking Barbara and Barbara would pretend she was thinking real hard and at last she said, " I thinki it would be fun to have Mabel and Lily Immanuel." "Who else?" Betty Ann asked. "I want Selma Yusufji and I expect we should einvite Iniat, though he is a boy, and Zora, she's your age." "That's only five," Betty Ann told her, "You have lots of friends among the children of the students. Why not invite some of them?" That is what she did.

Then the morning of her birthday Ruth whispered to Betty Ann, "Take Barbara over to the playground for a little while. I want to bake her a birthday cake." Philip overheard what Ruth was saying and like a god big brother he called Barbara and off the three of them wen to play on the swings.

Barbara didn't want to take a nap after lunch because she said it was her birthday and she wanted to have fun, but finally she laid down and didn't wake up until it was time to put on her birthday dress and start the party.

It seemed as if all the children arrived at the same time. Some of them even brought little presents and Barbara liked that. Then ruth started them playing some of the party games children in India enjoy and what a noise they made as they played. Then it was time for the birthday cake. Ruth had three lovely candles on it as she came carrying it into the room. "Happy birthday," they all sang and then Barbara blew out the candles. "You have to make a wish," Philip said. but before she could reply all of them stopped [++Page 50] their noise for they heard some strange bells ringing just outside the door. They rushed out of the room onto the veranda and there right in front of the house was one of the largest elephants Barbara had ever seen. "Surprise, surprise," both Ruth and I said. The elephant has come to take all of you children for rides around the campus. When the children went outside they didn't go very near the elephant right away because it was swinging its trunk and stamping its feet, like elephants do. On the back of the elephant was the man who drove the elephant. He is called a mahout. He sort of straddled the elephant's neck with hsi feet hanging down behind the elephant's ears. He was a jolly fellow and he said, "Come out on the campus where there is room and all of you can go for a ride."

The children followed him a little ways, then the mahout gave a command to the elephant and he knelt down on his front legs and then settled down with a grunt. Then we saw that right on the back of the elephant there was what looked like a little platform of brown bags on which an Indian bed called a charpai was turned upside down. It would be a platform on which a number of the chiledren could sit. The mahout got down off the elephant. There was a little ladder hanging from one of the legs of the bed. He put that right against the elephant's stomach and said, " Who will be first?" Then two or three of the children spoke up at the same time. "Barbara should be the first to ride because this is her birthday." Barbara wasn't so sure. She was almost afraid of the big elephant, but Philip said, "Come on, Barbara, it will be fun," and with that he climbed up first and when Barbara saw he was safe she climbed up and then four or five other children joined them.

The mahout got back on the neck of the elephant and said, "Hang on tight while the elephant stands up." Then the elephant put out its legs in front of it and started up. All the children started to slide toward the back but they held on and then the elephant raised up on its hind legs and off they went. They sort of swung from side to side as the elephant took large steps. Then off across the campus they rode and as they came past the student's houses everyone came out and waved at them.

They rode all around the campus and then came back and took a second group of children. By that time Barbara and those on the first load were dancing around, clapping their hands, and saying how much fun it was. After the rest of teh children had their rides some of the professors decided they wanted a ride, too, and they asked Barbara if they could ride on her birthday and of course she said yes. Then Ruth and I had to have a ride. We had as much fun doing it as the children did.

After the ride the children went home because we said we had to fee the elephant before it went away. We had been told what food to get for it. Betty Ann came bringing a pail of rice. Phil had a pan in which he put four large cupts of brown sugar. [++Page 51] Barbara had a small cup in her hand. She said, "I didn't think an elephant would want a cup of salt.." The mahout took the food, mixed it altogether in a large pan and put it in front of the elephant. The elephant swung its trunk over the food, smelling it, and then as elephants do, he curled the end of his trunk and picked up some of the food and put it in its mouth, and that was the way the elephant ate.

We gave Barbara some money and she handed it to the mahout. Then the elephant laid its trunk on the ground, the mahout stepped on it and the elephant lifted its head and swung thim around on his back. Then they went out our front gate and up the road toward their home.

"What a wonderful birthday party!" Barbara kept saying, and the rest of us agreed. Now she was really glad she had come to India so she could ride on an elephant.

A post script: The other day (in 1997) Betty Ann who is now a grandmother was telling this story to Eric Shulz and Blair Conard, two of her little grandchildren. I heard them laughing and laughing and I listened in. When she told about the elephant eating his food she added something I must have forgotten. She siad the Mahout asked them, "Bring me a bucket of water." Philip and Betty Ann got a big bucket of water and gave it to the Mahout. Then the elephant put its trunk in the bucket and sucked up water in its trunk. Then instead of putting the water in his mouth it curled up the end of his trunk till it pointed straight up in the air and blew out the water so it was like a shower that went all over them. At that the children laughed and laughed and she had to tell it over and over again. They liked ot hear about Barbara' s elephant. [by James E. McEldowney, August 1997]

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