The fall and winter of 1954 were not too cold for playing outside, at least from my mother's viewpoint. Today, no responsible parent would send a five-year-old out to play unsupervised, but those were simpler times.
We lived in southern Louisville, Kentucky on Longfield Avenue. The street was close to Churchill Downs, just a bit out of reach for the proverbial stone's throw, but literally just a mile or so down the street. That is my earliest recollection of where I lived, and the following spring we moved further out of the city, into the rapidly growing Louisville suburbs of Valley Station. But this simple story unfolds on Longfield Avenue when I was five, so let us remain there for now.
The neighborhood was full of children, as the baby-boomer population was exploding. The gathering place for us kids was across the street from my house, and behind the homes on that side of the street. Their back yards merged into all the other back yards, forming a large common area. No one fenced their yard back then, and that space became a field of dreams, a place where imaginations yielded endless possibilities. To us, it seemed immense, and that's where we played.
In the 1950's and 1960's, a small amusement park named Kiddieland operated nearby. The Kiddieland property must have bordered a part of our neighborhood because I have a memory of crossing over a few backyards to get to a fenced pasture containing a pony. I remember several of us petting that horse and feeding it an apple, while my mother shouted from the back door we were going to lose our fingers. It convinced me enough to let my companions do the feeding. Actually, I believe it was my sister.
I don't remember much about Kiddieland...I know I was probably there several times. They operated typical rides and carnival games, and pony rides. For many years, I believed they surely offered an elephant ride, and never questioned my belief.
My mother was a shy woman, not one to socialize or have a large circle of friends. She kept to family, and her friends were her sisters who she talked with frequently. She was highly fearful of animals, or swimming, and so forth. She passed her fears on to me and I would not overcome them until my teenage years. I tell you that to tell you this.
One particular morning, I was bundled up and sent to play. I was eager to join friends in our common area, where many of them were already gathered. I don't know where my sister was, maybe outside long before me. I followed the usual route, which was out the back door, down a couple of cement steps, cut through the shadowy side yard between the houses, cross the street, through the neighbor's backyard, and voila! The play area.
However, this time, I didn't quite make it. In fact, it was just after turning the corner to run between the houses where I stopped cold in my tracks. Right there, between our house and next door stood this magnificent, enormous, animal. I was terrified. He stood proud and tall and just stared at me. I stood frozen and small and stared back.
When I finally got the courage to move I ran back inside for my mother. At this point my memory becomes weak. I remember being shooed back outside, that the elephant had not moved, and there was no way I was trying to get past him. So, I have questions. Remember, this lovely woman is terrified of animals, so did she look out the window for confirmation? What did she see? I know she did not come outside with me to check my story. Sadly, that is all I recall of the incident.
I can find no record of Kiddieland giving elephant rides. So this is an unanswered question for me. I always guessed the elephant was an escaped ride animal making a break for freedom. I suppose it was chalked up to an overactive imagination, and to that, I confess. But the elephant? Well, even at five I knew the difference between a large dog, a pony, or an elephant.
There is symbolism in seeing an elephant. It is said elephants show up in dreams as a symbol of power, wisdom, facing obstacles, luck, stability, and social connections. Wow!
My paternal grandmother said it meant good luck.
I'm going with that.
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