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The Green Passenger

My mom gave me a green hippo this past summer.

I spent the summer of 2014 in the state of my birth, Oklahoma. I’d finished teaching for the semester and had about three months to kill before classes kicked in again, so I thought it’d be nice spending some quality time with Mama.

I moved from the Sooner State to the Empire State in 1999, and I don’t think she’s ever really forgiven me for moving. So anytime I find some bandwidth in my schedule, I get back to the red-dirt roads where I grew up and to the most awesome lady I know.

I’m the youngest of five, and that makes me the Baby Boy. One of the ‘perks’ of that status is that I’m never told when she’s having health issues. She’s a simple woman, and she doesn’t want to worry me.

So it was a bit of a surprise when she informed me that she’d been having some heart “issues” over the last year, and three weeks later she had triple bypass surgery. Don’t worry; the procedure went perfectly, the surgeon was amazing, and she’s made tremendous strides in her recovery.

I’m aware of how fortunate I was to be there during my mother’s ordeal, and I’m grateful that I could be there as she recovered. It was during her convalescence that we started talking about the Green Hippo in the room.

“I don’t know where I got it,” she drawled, referring to the small, vaguely ball-shaped green thing that sits on her fireplace mantle. “I’ve always wanted one, ever since I first heard, ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’ in 1953. I saw it and had to get it.”

Somehow, the hippo secretly found it’s way into my luggage. When I discovered him back in New York, I confronted Mama and she said it was a small ‘thank you’ for being there that summer.

It’s a fairly simple design. Spherical in nature, it’s looks like a hippo skin tightly wrapped around a beach ball. It’s comical expression, mouth opened in a roar or a cheer, makes me smile every time I look at it. It’s clearly a cheap plaster cast, probably mass-produced, and looks like it should float in a shallow garden pool. There is no artist or sculptor’s mark that I can see. A Google search provided no help, either.

It’s nothing like the beautiful Statuette of a Hippopotamus, a blue-green beast that’s the unofficial mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (“William” to his friends). The Egyptian sculpture dates to sometime between 1961–1878 B.C., and its color was associated with the life-giving qualities of the Nile.

Hippopotamus has import. It has gravitas. It has meaning.

My hippo has none of those qualities.

But it’s simple shape looks good in my apartment, and fits in well with my modernist IKEA décor. He reminds me of living simply, like my Mama. And he makes me smile every time I see him.

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