Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One-D and the Hippopotamus

The Thursday before Easter Week, Camp Nana commenced. My daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Matt, were flying to Mexico to celebrate their dual 40th birthdays, and their dual daughters, Wynnie (7) and Maeve (5), were going to be staying with us for 10 days. We prayed for warm days and clear weather. It rained more than it didn't, and it was often blustery and cold. The grandgirls didn't care. They were at Camp Nana.

There are unique qualities at Camp Nana that you won't find at most run of the mill camps. The first is Nana. My wife, Trish, feeds, baths, reads, plays, and hugs the girls well beyond the daily recommended allowance. The second is art-related activities. Crayon, clay, origami, pencil, pen, water colors, fabric, stencils, ink pads, and food items all become grist for creative adventures for Nana and the girls. The third is movies. Most nights (OK, every night) a new film is watched and then discussed at some length the next day. These films often become the basis for clay figures, paper cutouts and elaborate settings involving cat toys and discarded cardboard. And the fourth is our yard.

Let me explain the hypnotic attraction the ladies have to our yard. They live in the Capitol Hill section of Washington, D.C. Their world is made up of row houses. Metro buses rumble down their street, and SWAT helicopters swarm overhead every time POTUS (President of the United States) goes out for a burger. A common rear driveway snakes the length of their block. They travel through congested streets with state and letter names to their charter school; they ride the Metrorail system with the sophistication of world travelers, and they often visit free museums and zoos and gardens that adorn our capital. What they can't do is run completely around the outside of their house.

Only gale force winds and nasty rains could keep the girls from running around and around our house. The novelty of sprinting, skipping and chasing each other safely around the whole length of our yard is a marvel to them. The only single house that they have visited and played on its lawn in DC is the White House. Last Fourth of July, Mr. Obama had a picnic for his staff, and the Secret Service and sharpshooters on the roof  frowned upon anyone running around the entire grounds.

So, it was no surprise to me that the girls explored and wondered aloud about everything that they saw around our house. This included the large white droppings on the hood and roof of our stationwagon. It was parked in our driveway, close to the house.

"Yuck, One-D," said Wynnie. "What is that on your car?"

The grandgirls call me One-D. I suppose it's my own fault. When Wynnie was born, Jennifer asked me what I wanted to be called. I called both my grandfathers "Pop," so that was taken. Grandfather sounds too formal. I thought of Granddad, but I figured nobody ever really says the first D, so I said, "Why don't you have Wynnie call me Gran'dad. But not with the two Ds together. Just use one D at the beginning of the name." I guess that I mentioned the explicit one D spelling once too often. The next thing I know, I've been tagged One-D by my wife, daughter and grandgirls. Go figure.

"Yeah, One-D," said Maeve, always eager to join with her sister. "It looks like yucky poop."

"It's hippopotamus poop,"I said matter-of-factly. "Or Pterodactyl poop. I'm not sure which." I pointed to a branch above us in the Magnolia tree and even higher in our massive Maple tree. "At night, a Pterodactyl or a hippopotamus sits up there in the branches during the spring and summer and poops on my car."

"Pterodactyls are extinct, One-D," scoffed Wynnie.

"Extinct," echoed Meave, nobody's fool.

I stared at both of them. At 7 and 5, I had no clue what the word extinct meant. But these are no ordinary little people. Jennifer is the product of Cornell and Johns Hopkins, Matt Boston College and Northwestern. Google, IPhones, Skype, and travel to far and distant places since birth had made these urban kids very savvy. I was going to have to tread carefully.

"You're right," I admitted. "It can't be a Pterodactyl because they are extinct. It must be a hippo."

Wynnie was now examining the branches above us.

"It can't be a hippo," she said. "The branches are too tall."

"Too tall," said Maeve, smiling at her sister, certain that they had me. "Hippos can't fly."

"I never said that hippos can fly," I said. "They use their powerful jaws to hold onto the branches, and then carefully pull themselves up."

Both girls were now searching the trees for signs of hippo bite marks.

"What do they eat?" asked Maeve. She was in kindergarten and, based on her speed in sizing up challenging spatial and logistical problems, she was going to be an engineer or architect, after skipping most of high school.

"Chalk," I said, without missing a beat. "That's why their poop is so white."

"Oh," they both said.

They knew that I was pulling their leg. But they also were awaiting Easter when an extraordinary rabbit was going to bring candy to Nana and One-D's house for them and all the other good little girls and boys who believed in the Easter Bunny. Wynnie has now read most of the Harry Potter books and Maeve is enchanted by the Disney Faerie series. Magic and mystery is mixed in their shared play and movies and reading. Logic and empirical evidence will slowly squeeze out their belief in the fantastical. Santa and the Great Pumpkin will be set aside for their own children as deadlines and bills demand their attention.

But, for now, One-D continues to tell them tales. Last Friday, strong winds caused a very large branch from the top of the Magnolia tree to crash onto our driveway. It miraculously missed crushing the hood of my Camry. I emailed a picture of the downed branch to Jennifer, asking her to show the girls how the weight of the hippo caused the branch to topple.

Albert Einstein wrote," The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Who am I to argue with Einstein?

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey


  1. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson started telling similiar "stories" to youngsters Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell about 150 years ago. But his hippopotamus was a white rabbit with a waist coat. Can't wait for chapter two.

  2. This post made Matt laugh out loud and put a big smile on my face that lasted all day!