People love to collect things: buttons, Elvis memorabilia, cars, toys, dolls, quilts, shells, plates, rocks. You name it, no doubt someone collects it. My granddaughter collects pigs. I have a friend who collects frogs. My neighbor collects campaign buttons. People collect things for as many reasons as there are collections. I collect elephants because I fell in love with an elephant when I was four years old. Her name was “Nosey”.
Nosey was an Asian elephant born in 1946. She was purchased for the Roeding Park Zoo in 1949. A “name-the-elephant contest” was held and thousands of school children contributed money for Nosey. The plaque on her pen read ‘Nosey, Given in 1949 to the city of Fresno by the children of the San Joaquin Valley”.
I was born in 1950, so Nosey had been around for a while by the time I first encountered her in 1954. The zoo was small then, with small pens and big bars. Visitors could pet and feed Nosey and many of the other animals. I visited her countless times during my childhood. I rubbed her nose and dreamed of buying a big farm so she could roam free. She was “my” elephant in my heart.
As I grew older I remained fond of her even though we moved away and returned to Fresno several times. I still dreamed of a bigger home for Nosey, but I was old enough to realize I wouldn’t be the one to provide it. Finally, in 1982, the zoo built Nosey a huge exhibit area, complete with pool, water fall, and sleeping quarters. Two other female elephants and a male were purchased to form a herd. It was the first time in thirty-three years that Nosey had had company! It took her a while to get used to them, and to her new surroundings.
As an adult I had the privilege of introducing my children to Nosey, but they never felt the “connection” to her that I did. However, the zoo continued to grow and change and add new exhibits and was a favorite destination for my children. The name of the Roeding Park Zoo was changed to the Fresno Zoo in 1985. Then in 1990 it became the Chaffee Zoological Gardens in honor of its longtime, director, Dr. Paul Chaffee. I still visit any time we are in the area.
By the time I took my grandchildren to the zoo Nosey had passed away. She died in 1993. She was 47 years old. My daughter sent me the clipping from the newspaper. It seemed as though a member of my family had died! A bronze sculpture of a baby elephant was placed at the front of the elephant exhibit during her last birthday celebration that year. I have a picture of all of the grandchildren next to it. Nosey's former unused exhibit was converted to a gift shop called "Nosey's Treasure Trunk." I bought a little elephant there to add to my collection.
I didn’t intend to collect elephants. It started with a huge ceramic one that reminded me of Nosey. Friends asked about it, I explained. One day there was a small clay elephant on my doorstep. Then a friend bought me a book about elephants. Then it just sort of got out of hand. Today I have over one hundred elephants in my home. There are stuffed elephants, ceramic elephants, wooden elephants, stone elephants. I have books about elephants. I have elephant stationery, cards, notebooks, key chains, rings, toys, book markers, and hats. I even have a peanut butter machine that is shaped like a circus elephant. And of course I have a picture of Santa on an elephant at last year’s Christmas parade, because I teach in a “circus town”- the winter home of three circuses.
I guess as collections go, elephants are a pretty good choice. After all, elephants are intelligent. They’re good mothers. They’re powerful and protective of their families. They care for the sick and dying members of the herd. They love to play in the water. They’re funny looking, but don’t seem to care. Sounds a lot like me!