Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Catching Alligators

Where I grew up in Florida, there were real, live alligators.

          You didn’t see them all that often, but we knew they were there.  Sometimes, while out fishing, you could catch a glimpse of those two little bumps gators have over their eyes, and maybe the swish of a large tail if you rowed too close.  You could hear them at night in the rural areas, making croaking songs of love for each other.

          One summer I was in a YMCA camp about forty miles from home.  I was eleven: too young to be brave about snakes and alligators and too old to admit it. There were gators in an area of swamp that we were technically forbidden to visit. But of course we did.  One boy had a near brush with one of the mainly somnolent big reptiles.  So that evening, Mr Parker came to our cabin.

          Mr Parker was the camp director. He was incredibly old—maybe fifty. We all liked him because he had a pet monkey that he would let us play with sometimes.  He sat on someone’s footlocker and talked to us about alligators. He started by asking if we were scared of them. A few hands crept upward. He stared silently at us until every boy had his hand in the air.

          “OK, boys,” he said. “I’m going to teach you how to catch an alligator. All you need is three items of equipment: a telescope, a matchbox and a pair of eyebrow tweezers.”

          The idea was that when you saw a gator, you were to turn the telescope around, making the beast look small.  Then you’d pick him up with the tweezers and put him in the matchbox before you could say, “Yippi-ky-ay-yippie!”

          We laughed politely, not wanting to forfeit monkey privileges.  We were wise enough to know that this was another one of those stories that grownups thought were good moral lessons for children.  This one about everything depending upon your point of view was OK, but not great.  We didn’t know what a metaphor was.  And, of course, we didn’t believe a word of it.

          I do now.

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