Tulane sits on a gorgeous campus across St. Charles Avenue from Audubon Park near the uptown riverbend in New Orleans. St. Charles is the most beautiful street I’ve seen, tied only with certain Paris boulevards, and Audubon, with its old oaks dripping in Spanish moss and grand fountain sanded down by sun and time, is unequalled — but I digress.
At Christmastime, when I was a freshman, the pillared entrance to the park was decorated with the outline of a life-size elephant family, lit by fairy lights at night. It sounds bizarre, but it was understated and magical.
In the back seat of some boy’s car, carousing from house party to bar, I spotted this display and remarked to Andrea that the elephant is my favorite animal. I’m not sure what insprired this announcement; I had never considered the elephant with any seriousness before, nor had I elevated an animal to “favorite” since my girlhood pony phase.
But the thought, albeit unfully formed, was out, and from then the Indian elephant has indeed been my favorite — my spirit animal, even — for few other reasons than that they are glorious, they are gentle, and they never forget. As a young woman who had to be reminded often of the details of my mother’s death (my dad said it was like “having a new roommate every couple years”), the fact that elephants remember their dead by returning to the place where their bones are buried, is very powerful.
That Christmas, Andrea gave me an iron elephant, scavenged from a thrift store. It is weighty in the palm; the curve of the trunk and folds of the ears are poetic and refined. Her gift was followed by an African ivory-and-wood elephant that Liz found in her home and a wee leather elephant that she bought on a family trip to Italy. I have a sparkly beanbag elephant, an elephant on a decorative ball, a triptych from Langkawi, a Malaysian island, and a sweet handmade picture book from an ex-boyfriend about my adventures as an elephant. I have a tattoo of an elephant, inked on a mid-college trip to Amsterdam.
But the iron one remains my favorite; its iron-will is inspiration.