Blazing Trails and Buttery Footprints

Written for  my sister. Happy birthday 🙂

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A few years ago, I suddenly began receiving jokes from my sister Jennifer via text message. They weren’t just any jokes – no, these were elephant jokes. Every day for a little over a week, I was gifted with a few short messages that had me waiting for the inevitable “knock, knock” openers.

I don’t know why she suddenly decided to bless me with jokes like “What do you find between an elephant’s toes,” but I found myself laughing at these silly and achingly simplistic gags. And the answer to that first gem is apparently slow pygmies, which is better than my answer — mud and poop.

More jokes followed the tragedy of the pygmies. Day Two went something like this:

Jen: How do you know an elephant has been in your fridge?

Me: Trunk nose smudges everywhere?

Jen: Footprints in the butter

Jen: How do you know there have been two elephants in your fridge?

Me: The butter is smashed into bits?

Jen: Two sets of tracks in the butter

Jen: How do you know there have been three elephants in your fridge?

Me: My butter is missing?

Jen: The door won’t close.

My imagination also decided to join in the fun and visions of elephants trampling the contents of my refrigerator played through my mind as I read Jennifer’s texts. These elephants, however, were not the gargantuan, thick-skinned dusty beasts from the Discovery Channel or the local zoo. No, my elephants were much smaller — think Barbie’s dream horse size — and somewhat daintier (as dainty as an elephant can be, regardless of size). They were more like Care Bear cousins than mighty giants of the African plains.

I saw them, small and pretty, going after my butter like a pig to mud and I almost expected to find tiny tracks in my container of Country Crock the next morning. I also imagined the set of petite wooden elephants on my bookshelf, which were a gift to my husband and actually from Africa, taking a midnight excursion to my fridge. Like a family trip to the swimming pool, the two bigger elephants watched as the smaller “babies” flounced and pranced about in my buttery spread without a care in the world.

The three elephants in the last joke are obviously bigger, as they were impeding the door from closing. But they were still cute, all wrestling for the best seat nearest the grape jelly. Or perhaps they were afraid of the dark and propped the door open to keep the light on. Either way, my milk is going to sour if they don’t leave. But truthfully, I did not mind the pachyderm invasion one bit, even with my stomped butter and carton of bad milk. In fact, I looked forward to the digitized wind chime that announced the arrival of a new message.

These jokes (and there are many more) are certainly not the funniest gag material I have ever heard, so why are they so endearing to me? The answer is simple enough — because they are from my sister. Communication from Jennifer is not rare, but certainly infrequent. She is, in my opinion, the epitome of busy. She is a full-time teacher, drama director, school sports coach (just pick a sport), school activities coordinator, church drama coordinator, sound booth director, and also works part-time at Banana Republic. Jennifer is a walking metaphor of three elephants in a fridge — far too much crammed into one life.

We rarely talk on the phone because of her schedule, so our most common avenue of communication is text message. I can always tell when my sister has some downtime – my phone flutters to life, jangling like the Wall Street trading floor on an up day. I try to squeeze in as much conversation as possible because I know this window of opportunity could vanish as quickly as it appeared. The beginning of the elephant joke run also marked the beginning of a several day succession of messages from my sister, an event both unique and delightful.

If I were to have a hero, it would be Jennifer (although clearly not for her choice in jokes). She inspired me to follow my passion when, over a decade before I would return to college, she chose to major in Theater Arts at Baylor University. Many a well-intended person suggested she switch to something more practical and useful. “What can you do with a Theater Arts degree?” they would ask. Jennifer simply smiled and shrugged off the criticism and continued on with her dream.

When I decided to be a Writing major, I thought of Jennifer and how she pursued her gift in spite of what other people thought. I thought of her when well-intended people suggested I be an English major instead, and asked the same question that my sister faced. What can I do with a Writing degree? The same thing I can do with a Theater Arts degree — live my dream, and tell a few elephant jokes along the way.

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