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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Reunion Near Hartz Island;
Tusko ! The World's Largest Elephant in Captivity

(Tusko on parade)
      Tusko and his fellow elephants on parade, heading west on State Street in May 1922 as a promotion of the Al G. Barnes circus show that week. Note that there is no Bus Jungquist Furniture Building behind them. That was not erected until 1923 for the Ludwick-Wuest store.

By Jon Jech ©2001
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Children are playing
Tag on the far lawn, children are sitting
in the shaded grass, listening to:
            uncles, cousins, aunts;
standing, sprawled
on lawn chairs,
            scratching, laughing;
in hand;
telling stories of noble wars,
of an uncle sneaking out to see
the circus when "***TUSKO ! THE WORLD'S LARGEST
Elephant in Captivity***"
escaped and ran amok, how Grandma worried
      how Grandpa built this house.
            An uncle
lives here now. He's talking to my brother
who stands like a heroic statue, listening
with gestalt sincerity.

      I remember
hugging Grandma and sitting at her feet,
talking of how Africa and South America
must have fitted together long ago.
Often I hurdled the hedge to find a neighbor's
German Shepherd bounding up to me.
Duke was friendly as a moist tongue,
And gentle as the shade of maple trees
Falling on grass.

(Tusko in Sedro-Woolley)
I'll always remember
the day Grandma came to the foster home
in her oil burning Ford with a case of oil
in the trunk. She brought my brother and me
home with her and I couldn't stop bouncing
on the seat. It was the end
of four years of Father throwing Mother
across the room;
            Father driving away
On snow streets to catch an airplane
For a job overseas; the Norwegian
Cowboy, who tried to cheer me up and made
me cry;
the "big surprise" Mother cajoled
us to enjoy,
new chartreuse
Pajamas, and the new
family she
left us with;
      sexual humiliation
by strange older children; running away
to Mother, who bought me a coloring book
and took me back to that nest of slime, smothering
my protests with kisses and "Don't you love
A dull day in divorce court, everyone
Going in a back room to discuss things
Unsuited for children's ears;
      The foster home
With well meaning farm folks who made me eat beets
And said I was lazy;
      and always the tired refrain,
"This is the way things have to be:"
      but when I weeded
the garden, I destroyed a row and a half of beets.

I was seven when Grandma brought us home
to the shade of maple trees, and a hedged lawn
to apple trees, plum trees, pear trees,
cherry trees, raspberries, and boysenberries
and a pasture of sheep.
Grandma made bread pudding,
and for seven years
no one made me eat beets.

Grandma feared Duke, but he and I would romp
The country road up and down
until I turned toward home, commanding Duke
to his, and he obeyed, slinking,
looking back with woeful eyes,
and I would join him a tangle in the grass,
legs, arms, bellies, ears, noses,
and caresses of the hand and tongue.

My brother and I would ride on Grandpa's tractor
down the raspberry rows to a dairy farm
for fresh milk, to pour, sweet and creamy,
over Grandma's boysenberries for dessert.
Grandpa read to us at night, the three of us
squeezed into his big brown chair, and he told
us Father found the family name in the Bible.
"And about that time, Jech-o-nias and
his brethren were carried away to Babylon."

That fall, the Greyhound bus brought Father back
from a place he called "Sad Arabia."
He gave me a B.B. gun for my birthday
and once we walked through clumpy fields
to shoot at bottles and cans at an old dump
that scarred the slough. Beyond, lay Hartz Island,
a second growth wilderness of brush and trees,
and beaver too, some said.
I talked to Father, but he was quiet,
and we fell into a rhythm,
cock, aim, fire.
Before Father went overseas,
he got false teeth
and I tried to stuff the old ones in my mouth.
At Christmas, he used a company truck to pick up
and deliver crates of apples and oranges
to the sidewalk Santa,
who gave them out to children on Main Street.
He brought the leftovers home for my brother and me.
Cock, aim, fire.

(Tusko on parade)

Grandma generaled the aunts Thanksgiving Day,
To make a feast for the menfolk sitting around
talking about the war, and how "***TUSKO!!!
walked down Ferry Street over-
turning cars, and how folks built picket
fences around his footprints, and put up signs,

One morning, just after Christmas, as I went
behind the living room sofa, I thought
I saw the black head of someone sitting low,
but there was no one there.
Grandma said, "That means someone
in the family is going to die."
We crossed our fingers,
but Grandpa couldn't get his feet
in the right shoes after that blow-torch fell
on his head. We prayed when he went to the hospital
and the surgery was a success, but he had
a coughing fit in the night and died anyway.

My brother and I fed and watered the sheep
until Grandma sold them.
She withdrew upstairs
cooking on a hotplate.
Often I clambered up the stairs
on all fours to talk to Grandma,
but sometimes she said, "Migraine,"
and would lie quietly in a dark room.

Evenings, Father spent in taverns,
and Saturdays.
Sundays, he watched television
while playing solitaire,
drinking beer,
and nibbling American cheese.

Grandma leased the raspberries
for the following season,
but next spring
they were diseased
and plowed under.

My brother was twice my size
and when I gained one pound,
he gained two.
He was cocky and set
himself square when he talked
to people.
He caught my pitches
when I practiced for little league,
and he punched me when he felt I needed it,
and when we played basketball
he admired the arch of my shot,
and he punched me because he needed it,
and he bragged to his friends
his little brother did fifty-five pushups
every night, and I skittered
the long way around the room, and he punched me
because I was avoiding him.

I often sat in an old kitchen chair
painted red and white. I gripped
the edge of the seat and leaned forward,
listening, as Grandma sat in her cane rocker
and talked about mysteries.
She read my palm and said,
"The left hand is what you were born with,
and the right is what you make of it."
She had a diploma from the Radio University of the Air,
signed by Dr. Painless Parker,
but she couldn't remember what it was for.
She cast my horoscope when I was born,
but it was lost, and all she would say was,
"We are all cells in the Body of God,
and the Scorpios are the organs of procreation."
And she would say, "Don't tell anyone what
We talk about, they'll think I'm crazy."
Sometimes when we talked about the family
She would look over my shoulder
As though at a ghost.
"Things would be different
if your Grandfather was alive,"
but once, she lectured Father
in the kitchen for an hour
while my brother and I pretended to watch television.

And always I could run across the lawn
under the maples and hurdle the hedge
to meet Duke and go down the road
to sit in the tall grass under a cherry tree
and read science fiction or Huckleberry Finn
while Duke lay beside me,
his head in my lap.

Some mornings, I woke up
"You were looking at me."

It was good to have a fierce
and protective police dog at my side,
I could imagine him slashing
at my enemies with his deadly teeth,
or leaping for their throats,
but he was old and the barks
of other dogs made him turn home.
A neighbor's Collie thrashed him so badly
I had to jump in and help.
He never went down the road
past the cherry tree.

(Barnes circus poster)
I remember sitting in the barber shop
waiting and listening to the drone
of men's voices and electric clippers.
Laughter was followed by glances
to make sure the joke was over my head,
but I was reading a men's magazine article
about rampaging elephants and how
"***TUSKO!!! SACKER OF CITIES***," climbed Duke's Hill
outside town and broke up a local
moonshiner's still and got drunk on the mash.

Grandma became fond of Duke and having
him bounce up to her as she got out of her car
with groceries. She was aging too,
and didn't cook for Thanksgiving,
but Father made terrific gravy one year.
Sometimes I would lie in bed at night and listen
as Father came home, thumping into walls,
knocking chairs over, crashing to the floor,
grunting back up to his feet,
and finally collapsing into bed.
Once in a while, he was fired, but friends
Got his job back.

On the lawn with Duke,
I pretended to be hurt,
whimpering and whining,
and Duke whined too,
and pushed his nose
against my nose.

My brother liked to throw wet greasy
dishrags at me. One day I threw it back hard
with my Little League arm.
It caught him square in the face
and before he could get it out of his eyes,
I was out the door and headed for the slough.
He followed, but I crossed to Hartz Island
and followed trails and crashed through brush,
went past beaver pond and lodge,
and just kept running until I ran out of fear.
Then came a pounding in the right side of my head,
I leaned against a birch,
I wanted to be home,
lying in bed, shades drawn,
but home was many steps to the left or right
or somewhere, I wasn't sure, and there
was pounding pain, and the birch bark
rasped against my cheek.
I took deep breaths
and pushing against the pain,
I called for Duke,
rested, took more deep breaths,
and whistled until the pounding
beat me down to the damp earth.
An explosion came up my throat
and forced open my mouth,
and I lay down with the pounding and explosions.
I knew Duke was too far away to hear.
I lay there with the pounding
And buried my face in the damp decaying
leaves, the cold welcome
against my skin, the dark
against my eyes.
Birdsong grated with the pounding.
There was the faint sound of movement
In the brush, and I slowly got up.
The rustling grew louder
And out of the brush came Duke,
He wagged his tail shyly and licked my hand.
There was no escape from the pounding in my head,
But with soft steps, I followed Duke home.

I visited Mother who was married
To the Norwegian cowboy and living in town.
We talked and played pinochle while they
drank beer. The cowboy grinned
and told us how "***TUSKO!!! THE WORLD'S LARGEST
was killed,
his body taken to the rendering plant
and used for dog food,
the hide cut into one inch squares
and sold on toothpicks for a dollar apiece.
He swore it was true.

Father was fired
And his friends couldn't help
and one day I ran across the lawn
under the maples, hurdled the hedge,
but Duke wasn't there.
I don't know what happened to him,
I was afraid to ask.
A few months later,
I decided Huck Finn was right.
It was time to "light out for the territory."

Everyone is a little drunk now,
handing out reminiscences to feed the imaginations
of a new crop of children,
who will go to their beds tonight,
and some will say a prayer
for the well-being and deliverance
of all the elephants in captivity.

And I will dream an old dream.
I run across the lawn, under the maples
and hurdle the hedge,
And there is Duke,
and we skip down the road
to sit in the tall grass under the cherry tree.

The poet
      Jon Jech and I graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1962 and we were joined as Three Musketeers with Ben Palmer in that class. Our quest was to slay the Philistines, as we saw them, who seemed to be the majority of residents hereabouts. We wanted to live life large and felt somewhat constrained by what we saw was a much too little pond. Jon was already showing signs of insipient poet within. Ben, Jon and I were a bit precocious when we composed and printed an underground newspaper, The Student Eye, at Sedro-Woolley High School in 1962. Save for the best biology teacher in history, George Miller (still living at Big Lake), I don't think anyone figured it out. Except, possibly for those who recalled that Ben's dad, Lloyd Palmer, had a mimeograph, the same instrument of student outrage.
      Jon went on to become both a poet as well as a bookstore owner, and spent quite a few years at the old shipyards between West Seattle and Harbor Island and near the famous old Blew Eagle tavern, where one heard many poetic visions.


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Story posted Oct. 10, 2001, moved to this domain March 12, 2010, updated 4/19/2010
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This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

Story posted on July 28, 2005, and last updated on July 9, 2010
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This article originally appeared in Issue 29 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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