Time-Suck & Me-Tu

Apologies, all, for my lack of presence on this site of late. The cracked rib made sitting uncomfortable … the husband was ill … both animals have on-going medical issues that don’t seem to want to resolve … the holiday season is upon us … you get the idea.

I do want to share that a small publisher has expressed some interest in the book, although they want a rewrite, so you know where I’m headed. Going to be very busy with that, but it’s all to a good cause.

But to keep on with things here, I’d like to introduce you to the next elephant in line, the pugnacious ME-TU!

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Me-Tu and Robby Robbins
Newborn Me-Tu with keeper Denslow Robbins

Had she been born six months earlier, Me-Tu would have been the celebrity instead of her half-brother Packy. Weighing in at 182 lbs., she arrived at the zoo on October 3, 1962, the offspring of Rosy and Thonglaw. Newspapers described her as a “dainty brunette with red eyes and a pretty pink proboscis.” She had long legs, small ears, lots of pink mottling, and “the dissipated look of a barfly.”

First dubbed both “Thorny” and “Posy,” her official name–a play on “Me, too!”–was chosen from thousands of entries. Her unofficial name among the barn crew was “Daughter Hog” because she could out-eat any four elephants combined.

Me-Tu birthed six calves: Stretch; an unnamed calf born while she was on loan at the Los Angeles Zoo that died after falling into their moat; Khun Chorn; Chang Dee; and a pair of female twins, only one of which survived. That calf, Rose-Tu, still lives at the zoo with her children Samudra and Lily. According to Roger, Lily is the spitting image of her grandma.

MeTu, Roger
Me-Tu and Roger

 

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“Shut up and do it”

Sorry for the delay in our continuing glimpse to some of the story behind The Man Who Loved Elephants. We had a bit of dirty weather here, as they say in Ireland. Many inches of rain culminating in yours truly taking a tumble in the woods behind our house, resulting in a cracked rib. My time at the computer has been a bit curtailed.

But it’s time to mosey on. When last we left Rog, he was standing starkers in the middle of his bedroom having just received a call from Bill Scott, Foreman at the zoo …

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Much to Roger’s astonishment, Scott had called to offer him a chance to interview for a keeper job, and wanted to know how soon he could be there.

“Would an hour be too long?” Roger asked.

Scott chuckled. “Make it easy on yourself,” he replied. “Let’s make it noon.”

“Noon it is.” The men hung up. Roger sprinted into the shower and drove like hell across town, arriving with plenty of time to spare.  As he crossed the parking lot toward the admin offices, his stomach rolled with anxiety. He was going to blow this, he just knew it.

Bill Scott welcomed him with a warm handshake. After some preliminary chit-chat, they got down to business. “I don’t’ have five minutes of zoological training,” Roger admitted right away. “But I’ve got twenty years of farm experience with livestock. The last time I checked, all animals need pretty much the same things: clean water, good food, adequate shelter, and protection from people who might do them harm.”

Scott explained that many of the young folk applying for work at the zoo seemed to think that being a keeper was a Monday-Friday, 40 hours a week gig with holidays off.  What was Roger’s take on it?

“If I learned anything as a farm boy, it’s that caring for livestock is a seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year proposition,” Roger responded. “Animals don’t know it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving or your birthday, and they wouldn’t give a damn if they did. They’re standing in their own crap and they’re hungry and they need a drink and some need medical attention, and if you’re worth half-a-shit you’re going to do those things. And if you’re not prepared to do all that, you need to get a desk job somewhere shuffling papers.”

The reply may have been a bit earthier than Scott had anticipated, but he appreciated Roger’s candor.

At the end of their conversation, Scott made an offer and Roger accepted it. He drove home in a state of euphoria that lasted only until the shock of success wore off. Then his brain began to crowd with misgivings. Changing jobs would mean throwing away his seniority at Freightliner, plus a substantial 33% pay cut. How could such a move make sense?

RoseMerrie threatened to strangle him. If all they’d been through, he was not going to back away from his dream!

In the end, her belief in him won. He submitted his two-week notice, but every day he called home at lunch and worried asked Snookie if she still thought the zoo was a good idea. Her response was always the same.

“Shut up and do it!”

Roger's rookie year - Les Barker, RH, Denny Robbins, Wes Peterson, Gordon Noyes, Harold Meeker, Paul Pentz, Dale Brooks
Roger’s Rookie Year at the Zoo: left to right – Les Barker, Roger, Denny Robbins, Wes Peterson, Gordon Noyes, Harold Meeker, Paul Pentz, and Dale Brooks.

Packy

Belle & Packy (1)
Packy & Belle, picture courtesy of Roger Henneous

As the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years, Packy’s arrival on April 14, 1962 was the culmination of an anxiety-ridden 22 months for owner Morgan Berry, veterinarian Matt Maberry, and the staff of the Portland Zoological Gardens (as it was then called). Proud mother Belle consumed a bouquet of flowers in celebration, and sire Thonglaw ate a congratulatory cigar (unlighted). Overcome with emotion and fatigue, zoo director Jack Marks fainted.

Visitors from all over the world–including dignitaries like author Aldous Huxley–brought zoo attendance above the one million mark.

An adorable, playful calf–well, aren’t they all?–Packy delighted visitors and staff alike, became the darling of his herd, and took first place in the heart of senior keeper Al Tucker. As he grew, he exceeded all expectations, topped twelve feet in height and weighing over 14,000 pounds in his prime. Reporter Rod Smith described him as “quite intelligent, incredibly quick; a ponderous dancer, poised and graceful, he looks capable of awesome mayhem.”

As bulls go, Packy was reasonably easy to deal with, having never known any life except the zoo. Even so, he did cause his share of problems, like when he bit eight inches off another bull’s trunk!

muknah, or tuskless bull, he sired seven offspring: two unnamed calves that died shortly after birth, Sumek, Khun Chorn, Thongtrii, Sung Surin, and Rama.

Over time, Packy’s physical majesty diminished and his cycles of musth, once extremely regular, grew erratic. In December 2013, a routine test for tuberculosis came back positive. He underwent treatment with varying degrees of success, but proved resistant to medication. Packy died in February 2017 and is buried on heavily wooded property owned by the zoo.

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Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Matt Maberry & Packy; Director Jack Marks succumbs to exhaustion; Packy as an old man; Packy with Al Tucker; author Aldous Huxley visits the newborn.

“Find a new job, or find a new wife.”

When we last left our hero (and I do apologize for the delay; I’ve been busy with other projects), he’d managed to convince RoseMerrie Peterson to marry him, and they’d settled down to wedded bliss in Portland …

Time passed, and with it came fatherhood and it’s unanticipated mental and emotional challenges. Suddenly, Roger was assaulted by a slew of emotions–tenderness, worry, unimaginable love, protectiveness–and a deepened sense of responsibility that gave him a whole new appreciation for his father, who’d worked any job available to keep the family afloat.

Leonard’s example haunted him in the months to come because Roger would have given anything to quit his job at Freightliner. It paid their bills and enabled them to put a little aside, but he hated the grind and being cooped up away from fresh air and sunshine; hated the industrial stink of the painting booth and the poor lighting that caused debilitating headaches.

Seeing her husband drag home every night eventually became too much for RoseMerrie, and she issued an ultimatum: “Find a new job, or find a new wife.” She meant it in jest–sort of–but the task was easier said than done. A single man might walk away from a perfectly good job because he didn’t enjoy it–an attitude that rankled Roger’s Midwestern word ethic–but he had a family to support and didn’t dare take the risk.

Then one morning, he glanced up from the paper. “The zoo’s looking to hire a keeper. Now, that’s a job I’d like.”

“Apply for it,” RoseMerrie said immediately.

To her annoyance, Roger pooh-pooh’d the idea because he had no experience with exotic animals. “Maybe not,” she countered. “But you’ve worked with plenty of others.” Shaking his head, he left for work. The instant his truck pulled away, however, she called the number listed in the ad and requested an application. When it arrived, she strong-armed Roger into filling it out and mailing it in.

For weeks, nothing happened. Roger was disappointed, but not surprised, and resolved to put away such foolish dreams and get on with his life … until a phone call came one afternoon asking if he was interested in taking the exam for a keeper position.

The invitation wasn’t the momentous achievement it seemed at the time. The zoo had received an overwhelming 400 applications. Of those, 230 candidates had been contacted to take the exam, which consisted of basic civil service questions plus several involving “common sense” animal care. Roger was one of 60 hopefuls called back to undergo a physical activity test that involved hauling four 60-pound gunny sacks from place to place against a time clock. In the prime of life and strong from lugging around five-gallon paint buckets, he breezed through the trial without a hitch.

The field now narrowed to 20 candidates, each of whom was granted an interview. That’s when Roger learned there was only a single keeper position available. He returned home to wait, but when the rejection came–he’d scored firmly in the middle of the list of ten finalists–he was crushed with disappointment.

A full year came and went. Roger focused on family, work, the annual hunting trip with his brother and their friends … and tried to forget about the zoo. He was packing the truck for a vacation in Canada when a postcard arrived in the mail, informing him that he was now at the head of the list of zoo keeper hopefuls, and was he still interested? If so, please fill out the information below and return this card.

Roger stared at it, pummeled by doubt and hope. Did he want to risk trying again? Could he tolerate such crushing disappointment a second time?

RoseMerrie produced a pen and made him fill out the card. Roger added a caveat to the bottom, that he was only interested in a full-time position because he had a family to support, and dropped it in the mail.

#

Ten days later, they returned from vacation. By the time the truck was unloaded and the fussy baby soothed to sleep, it was nearly dawn. Roger and RoseMerrie dropped into bed and were instantly asleep …

… until the phone rang at eight o’clock.

Roger vaulted out of bed and snatched up the receiver before it rang again and woke Michelle. “Henneous residence,” he growled.

“Good morning,” said a cheery voice at the other end. “Is this Roger?”

“Who’s asking?”

“This is Bill Scott. I’m foreman at the zoo.”

Suddenly, Roger was wide awake. Buck naked in the center of the bedroom, he stared at the receiver in his hand.

To be continued….

 

Their Own

IMG_6471To paraphrase Henry Beston (The Outermost House):

“For the [elephant] shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”