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Elephant in the Room

A story of making room for the ones who don't seem to fit.

By Tiffany MercerPublished 3 years ago 3 min read

I was a really lucky kid. Every evening, my dad would settle down on the couch between my younger sister and I-- both of us clutching a sippy-cup of warm milk-- and read us a bedtime story. We had an impressive collection, thanks to a bountifully stocked, local, used bookstore. We were also privileged to attend children's night at the public library every week, where a friendly librarian entranced an entire crowd of youngsters with a story followed by a craft project, and returned home with two borrowed books apiece. My parents didn't give us the world; by inspiring a love of reading from a young age, they gave us worlds.

There was one book I always gravitated back to, and occasionally asked to have read again immediately after it was finished-- a testament both to the quality of the book and to my father's patience and magnanimity.

"But No Elephants" by Jerry Smath is a hidden gem. The main character, hardworking Grandma Tildy, begins the story living alone. She quickly accumulates animal companions as a door-to-door pet salesman asks if she would like to buy first a canary, then a beaver, then a turtle, then a woodpecker. Her only stipulation? No elephants!

The canary sings to Grandma Tildy as she cooks dinner, and it tastes better than ever before. The beaver helps cut firewood, and they all stay toasty warm. The turtle carries Grandma Tildy and her groceries home from the store when she is tired from shopping. The woodpecker helps fix the roof of her house during a rainstorm, keeping them all dry.

Winter comes, and the pet salesman asks if she will buy his elephant, because the salesman needs to leave before it snows. Grandma Tildy refuses, and the pet salesman departs. The elephant, however, remains-- gazing longingly into the house as the snow piles up over him. Eventually Grandma Tildy and the other animals take mercy on the cold elephant, and help push him through the door into her small house.

The elephant breaks through the floor and eats all the food. Grandma Tildy worries that they will all starve if they stay, or freeze if they leave. Wanting to help, the elephant stands up-- taking the whole house with him-- and begins walking south. He stops once they are in a warm, sunny place, full of butterflies and tropical birds... and other elephants! The final page states that this is where Grandma Tildy and her friends live to this day, and shows everyone relaxing together in the sunshine.

Reading this story again as an adult, I was struck by the fact that Grandma Tildy didn't seem to adopt any of the animals because she intended for them to help her. Not only did she appear to be getting along just fine on her own, but none of the creatures in the story are traditionally viewed as "working animals". The animals each decided to use their gifts to benefit the household after they were already included, and everyone was happier because of their creative addition.

The author also didn't skate around the fact that the elephant comes with certain logistical challenges. He didn't fit through the door without being helped. He was too heavy for the floorboards. He had such a large appetite that they ran out of food. Yet once Grandma Tildy had replaced her prejudice with empathy and invited the elephant inside, neither she nor the other animals showed anger or resentment towards him-- only sadness at their situation, and joy once they found themselves in a tropical paradise thanks to the elephant's strength. Without the elephant, they may not have run out of food and their floor may have stayed intact, but they also would have remained stuck indoors on top of the snowy hill all winter. The unique gifts of the elephant-- and their kindness towards him-- changed their perspective in the most literal sense possible.

This book teaches the benefit of inviting others into our lives without expectations or demands, and how acceptance of their natural gifts allows them to truly shine and help us in ways we might not have considered. It also shows how the benefit of changing our perspective by overcoming preconceived bias-- and working to accommodate those whose requirements are different from our own-- is worth the risk and far outweighs the burden.

I became an aunt this year to two beautiful babies, and I am exhilarated by the chance to carry on our family tradition of storytelling over the years. There are many wonderful children's books that have been published since I was a child, and many classics that long predate my own childhood, but I can guarantee "But No Elephants" will be lovingly incorporated into my niece's and nephew's libraries.

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About the Creator

Tiffany Mercer

Just your basic, garden-variety fiction dweeb. :-)

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    Tiffany MercerWritten by Tiffany Mercer

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