The Legend of Dick Brookhover’s Elephants
In July, I wrote a story about the great elephant race on Main Street. After I published the story, I was reminded by Bill Witschey of an elephant story that has existed for a long time in our community. After listening, I wondered if it was the kind of a story that becomes a legend. And like any good legend, it only gets better with the passing of time and being retold. And if that retelling is around a campfire, or over a cold beer, it even gets better. All that is needed is a willingness to listen and a little imagination. The real trick to understanding a legend is to know it may be tall-tale or the truth retold many times.
Well, this story is a retelling of a story from the early sixties… a camp fire or cold beer is optional. I will tell the story, and you get to figure out if it is a legend, half-truth, or all true.
At one time in our country, legends and tall tales were part of the fabric that makes up our heritage. Story tellers used to tell of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, who timbered the Northwest; John Henry, a steel driving man took on a machine; Revolutionary heroine Molly Pitcher, who fought in the battle of Monmouth. Growing up, I enjoyed the tale of Pecos Bill, who helped tame the southwest. The thing with legends… there is a heap of truth when the story began. Time and tellin’ improves the story.
My story this week is of a well-liked Storyteller, named Dick Brookover. Recently, I sat down with him on a hot summer’s afternoon and asked about the legend told to me by Bill Witschey. When I came upon Dick, he was cutting grass. He welcomed my intrusion, halting his laborious job. His brow dripped large beads of sweat in the late August heat. As he wiped them away, and adjusted his suspenders, he gave me a bit of an ornery smile.
“So… you want to know about my four legged friend and a bag of peanuts?” He pointed toward a building next to his family’s home. “I kept him right over there.”
According to Dick’s tellin,’ he was very young when this adventure took place. A circus had come to town and set its tents up in the middle of what is now the track field. From his home he could hear the sounds of a calliope playing in the distance. He followed the aroma of fresh popcorn and sawdust toward the circus. Before long, he stood overlooking the wonderland of excitement. It was a grand place for a young boy.
Dick explained he was drawn to the circus to see the wonders of the traveling show.
After all, New Martinsville – seldom if ever – had such a wondrous show. From where he stood, he could see the area where the animals were being kept. There were cages with lions and tigers. As people passed by, the beasts roared warnings to stay away.
Then Dick saw something that intrigued him: elephants. Slowly and cautiously, he made his way down to where they were standing. The larger elephant was secured with a chain around its foot, connected to a large metal stake driven deep into the ground. Standing next to the large elephant was a much smaller elephant. It was not confined in anyway. Slowly, Dick made his way closer to the smaller elephant. Soon they both knew they had nothing to fear from each other. Almost immediately, the young elephant took to Dick’s attention.
About then the elephant’s handler appeared. “Aren’t you afraid of the elephants, kid?” Dick replied bravely, “NO!” With that, the man smiled and asked if Dick would like to help care for the elephants? Dick responded “YES!”
The man told Dick he could fill the elephants’ watering trough if he wanted to help with their care. He handed him a small bucket and pointed to where the water supply was. It was on the far side of the circus, and the tub of water that needed filling was very large. Still, Dick took on the challenge of filling the water container. Trip after trip, young Dick went back and forth, filling the watering tub. After an hour, it was filled and the elephants could drink. Having carried so much water, Dick was tired and thirsty. He decided he wanted a cold drink and a bag of peanuts.
Before he headed home, he wanted to see the baby elephant one more time. As soon as he came upon the young elephant, it discovered what Dick had purchased. Dick gave the baby elephant a handful of the warm peanuts. Then Dick headed toward McEldowney Avenue and home. As he topped the small incline that led up to the road, he noticed that he was not alone. The small elephant, for whatever reason – peanuts or just wanting for something to do – was following him. Dick looked around to see if anyone had taken notice. He realized that no one had. Dick figured if the elephant followed him on its own, that was not his problem. Besides, he always wanted a baby elephant.
The two new friends strolled up Maple Avenue, across the tracks and passed Viking Glass – remarkably without drawing any attention. Occasionally, Dick would give the elephant a peanut. Before long, the duo made it home. Still, no one had seen the two travelers. At that point, Dick realized his parents were not likely to be happy with him, even if it was not his fault. He couldn’t just shoo the baby elephant away and hope it would return to its mother and the circus. So, he hatched a plan to hide the small elephant in the building beside the garage until he figured what to do with his guest. The elephant seemed happy and content as it followed him into the building.
Later that evening, the young elephant decided it had enough adventure and peanuts and wanted its mother. It began calling out its displeasure and wanted to return to the circus. Before long, two men came and collected the small elephant. Dick watched from the window as they took him away.
All these years later, Dick still remembers the elephant that followed him home. He tells those, who remember the event, he did nothing wrong. “The elephant came on its own to see where I lived.” He believes, to this day, he is the only kid in New Martinsville to ever have his own elephant, if only for an afternoon and a handful of peanuts.
Well, is this story the truth, or just a legend that has grown from it’s retellin’ over the years? Maybe for a cold one and a handful of peanuts, Dick will tell you his story. I just retold it to you the way I heard it on a hot August afternoon from the Storyteller himself. Lord knows I’d not be stretchen’ the truth, as I heard it told Through the Lens.