Notes from a Pachyderm: Gertrude Says Hello
The life of a circus elephant? It’s not all sparkles and sequins. I have cousins who have been terribly mistreated, electrocuted, stabbed and whipped. It’s horrifying to hear the stories, and cause for celebration when one amongst them is rescued and sent to a sanctuary to live out his or her days. Some have gone to the place in Tennessee (rumor has it, it’s the best) but there’s another one in California that’s nice, and Arkansas, if you don’t mind the bugs.
But just like humans have good and bad in their places of work, it’s the same for us. Me? I don’t mind this life. In fact, I feel like it’s my duty to keep an eye on that dear Gemma. Her mother surely didn’t do the job. Crazy Delia. A lot of folks felt sorry for Delia, but I found her annoying. I don’t understand diseases of the human mind, but I understand what it feels like to be a mom. When Jiminy came along, nothing short of death would keep me from protecting him. Delia could learn a little from the elephant mothers…but she’s dead now, so the honor falls to Marlene and me. Gemma is fantastic. I think of her as my own little red-haired, green-eyed baby. Cheeky thing steals muffins and fruit for us from the mess tent, which is good for Jiminy as he hates the herbivore pellets the wranglers feed us with breakfast and dinner. On more than one occasion, I’ve caught him burying his pellets in the hay, only to be pilfered by rats when they think we’re not looking.
Cinzio is a charming circus. They don’t have us do any of those completely humiliating tricks—in the show, I carry a few performers around the arena; but no headstands, no bucking, no stupid feather boas or poodles on my back. Ted and Marlene Cinzio have worked very hard to make theirs a classy show and with the recent influx of money from Dmitri Holdings, it looks as though things will get even better for all of us. If you haven’t seen one of our performances, you should. While we are usually on the road for ten months out of the year, all over the continental United States, seems as though we’re stuck in the Pacific Northwest for a while. If you can handle the drive, come find us.
When we’re not performing, I get to paint. Gemma saw a video on YouTube about some elephants in Thailand who were painting, and she set me up. It is magnificent! Jiminy mostly eats the paper and smears the paint on my sides, but who says that can’t be art? Urinals and beds get displayed nowadays. I say, let him create. Even if he eats his creations before finishing them. Babies do that sort of thing, always putting stuff in their mouths that doesn’t belong. Gemma used to eat the dog’s food when she was a toddler—would steal it right out of his bowl—but don’t tell her I told you so.
I was with a big circus as a young girl (a giant chain who shall remain nameless so as to avoid defamation action against my boss, Ted), and it was rough. Rigorous training, aggressive techniques including withholding of food if we misbehaved. I didn’t care for my trainers and acted out more than they liked, so I went to a smaller circus which resulted in a bigger pen and fewer performance duties. It’s not that I’m lazy, but a girl needs to be given a little time to roam and maintain some dignity.
The Bradley Brothers, they were nice folks. It was here where I first met the Cinzios. Their boy, Jonah, he worked on our crew, learning the ropes of the circus trade while his father was off in Europe studying with Mr. Dmitri. That Jonah, he was something else. His mother’s kind spirit and his father’s work ethic, packaged in a body that made even my 50-lb. heart go pitter-pat. He was a delight, and he and young Delia were so in love. Such a tragedy. I still miss him, all these years later…
After Jonah’s passing, Bradley Bros. folded, and Marlene and Ted adopted me. I think it was Mr. Bradley’s way of saying he was sorry to the Cinzios, though not even the gift of an elephant can take away the pain of losing your only child.
Some folks who come to our shows feel sorry for me and for Jiminy, but if I could reassure them somehow, I would. We like our family. We like this life. Would running around the savanna with my family be better? Probably. But my sole glimpses of true freedom are from infancy; the memories of the Last Great Tragedy have remained with me, overriding the better memories of time with my loved ones. Poachers slaughtered my mother, father, and sister, and smuggled me into Vietnam and China, across Russia, until a scout for the aforementioned Big Chain Circus “rescued” me. (I use the term rescued very loosely.)
This life I have now? Captivity isn’t perfect, but we’re all captives in our own worlds. Humans are captive to their careers and responsibilities. I can’t think of the last time I met a human who wasn’t in some sort of captivity. Poor Ted is living through hell at this very moment juggling the new influence by Dmitri Holdings; dear Gemma has had to start public school (Jiminy misses her terribly during the daytime); Marlene is captive to the love for her family; and Irwin is locked in a chronic darkness, thanks to Othello’s terrible, white-hot temper.
We’re all in some sort of captivity. The only thing that makes it tolerable is love.
We get what we give.
We should give more.
But do you really need an old elephant to tell you that? I thought not.
Be a dear and pass me some of that alfalfa, would you?
Thank you Jenn, for taking the time to write such an entertaining piece. And thanks to Gertrude for allowing Jenn to translate her mental meanderings for our enjoyment. Even if she did demand payment in the form of several large carrot cakes.