What I Learned Over Summer Vacation
By Lee Giles


School started back this week, and my teacher said we each had to take a turn telling the class what we did over the summer. Sarah and Michael, the twins, told all about their trip to space camp. They’re practically astronauts already. Randy told about skiing in Chile in July! I’ve never even been skiing in January. Julie flew in a hot air balloon, and Steve built a car, though I’m pretty sure his dad did most of the work. Their summers were all so exciting, so interesting, so unique, that I knew my summer vacation story had to be absolutely amazing. I wanted them to fall out of their seats for the sheer thrill of it! Do you want to hear my story? You might want to strap on a seat belt.

Summer started out in the usual way with a bus ride home. I’m the first one on and the last one off, so it was just me and bus driver Fran left on the bus when a hail storm ripped through the sky like my big brother opening a box of marshmallow cereal. The hail stones were so big that they tore right through the bus hood and crushed the engine. Well, the bus wouldn’t go anywhere without an engine, but I got an idea. The hail was covering the road like marbles. I took off a bus tire and told bus driver Fran I could get myself home. I laid the tire down flat and sat in it like a sled. I shoved off and used my backpack as a paddle both to steer and to push my way along the rolling, marbley hailstones, and I started slipping and sledding down the road.

That worked for awhile until I started slipping and sledding down a big hill and lost grip of my paddle-backpack. I was careening down the steep hill, screaming at the top of my lungs and instead of trying to steer, I wrapped my arms around my face. I didn’t stop screaming when I realized the ground wasn’t underneath me anymore. I didn’t even stop screaming when I felt myself splash down. I stopped screaming when my tire hit a big rock and spilled me into the water. That’s when I realized I was drifting down a river.

Sputtering and spitting the water spurting into my mouth, I grabbed hold of something floating along with me and just focused on staying afloat. I was looking around me and just saw trees on both sides, and I was wishing I knew my geography because then maybe I would know where I was being carried. But then instead of worrying, I reminded myself I was on summer vacation and getting wet is a big part of summer vacation, so I figured I was getting off to a great start!

The water current slowed down and the river turned into a creek, and I found myself lying on the back of a baby elephant. I know you are thinking, what! Where did that elephant come from? I know that’s what you are thinking because that’s what I was thinking. I realized that the thing I grabbed hold of that was floating down the river was a baby elephant’s trunk, not a branch or something. As the river thinned out, she rose up out of the water and took me with her.

This, of course, was an unexpected turn of events and required some quick thinking on my part. Unfortunately, in the last 180 days of school no one taught us anything about communicating with or controlling elephants, so I did my thinking while letting her carry me wherever she wanted to go. I had, however, read books and seen movies about animals who eventually found their way home, so I decided to trust that she was headed for her home, which I figured was probably the zoo since, how many people do you know have a baby elephant for a pet? Exactly.

The zoo wasn’t our first stop though. The creek was surrounded by trees and I found myself on an elephant ride through the woods. I heard a cackling sound, you know, a really loud laugh that’s not exactly contagious like a friendly, funny laugh is supposed to be. Then I heard yelling. Then I heard a squeal. It actually made me feel better that I was with Bucko, that’s what I named the elephant. It just came out, “Hey, Bucko, where you taking me?” Like that. Bucko didn’t seem fazed by the noises that I pretended not to be fazed by.

It wasn’t long before the other noises stopped, probably because the crunching of the elephant’s stomping was noise enough for everyone. Finally, we came into a small clearing in the woods and found the source of the cackle, yell and squeal. There was a horse, but the horse hadn’t made any of those sounds. He was decorated with bright red and blue ropes and blinders and didn’t pay any attention at all to me and Bucko. The dog had been the source of the squeal, and he repeated his squealy show when the cackler grabbed hold of him and wouldn’t let him sniff or chase or whatever dog instinct had come over him in the moment.

The yeller was a boy, small compared to me, not that I told you how tall I am, but he wasn’t taller than me and he wasn’t a baby or toddler or anything either. I don’t know what he had yelled about, but now his face was stone still, a looked-like-he-wasn’t-breathing kind of still.

The cackler did it again, a sort of laugh-cough baring a mouth with four teeth left in it. Her hair was black or dyed but most of it was covered with a scarf that rivaled the horse’s decorations for brightness of color. She asked me how I came to be riding Apara (say a like the word a, the word par, then the word a again). I asked if Bucko’s name was really Apara and she said it was. She said the elephant was named that because she comes and goes as she pleases. She said she’s like an apparition, she’s there one minute and gone the next. Turns out my boy, Bucko, was a girl.

I mostly sat silent, which is not how I usually sit, but she knew Bucko, Apara, and she was talking like she’s known her her whole life, which was impossible because I was the one riding her down the river. I had to quickly explain the whole river thing, and she explained that Apara wasn’t from the zoo but from the circus. In fact her son and daughter-inlaw, yeller’s parents, were part of the circus. They were acrobats and the mom could do a head stand on the head of the father all while riding on the back of Apara’s mother.

I displayed my excitement at the thought of a perilous headstand and was promptly invited to see the circus in action when we returned Apara. This is the part where we get to know each other, and I find out they are Gypsies and had always traveled with the circus, as in my father’s-father’s-father-before-me-was-in-the-circus kind of always. The cackler started telling me the most amazing stories, stories of circuses, of runaway trains, of renegade elephants, of robbers in the woods. They were the most amazing, unique, exciting and interesting stories that had ever been told. Well, I don’t know that for a fact, but by my subjective opinion, they were!

As I sat next to the Gypsy grandmother on a log by the fire with a pot of something cooking over it, I asked her how she came to live and tell such marvelous, stupendous, outrageous stories. She told me she was the best story teller because she had lived a lot of life and had learned the secret ingredient to telling a story.

I’m curious even if curiosity did kill the cat, but I’m not a cat, so I don’t have to worry about that, and I asked her right away what the secret story ingredient was. She looked at me like she was scrutinizing my thoughts that I thought I had hidden. Then she cackled. I liked the cackle a lot more up close, with those four teeth waggling in front of me, than when I didn’t know whose teeth that cackle was behind. Then she told me that she couldn’t tell me the secret ingredient. “Not yet,” she said. Oooo, now isn’t that tantalizing? Not yet. I wasn’t going to run home with a not yet promising that some time a secret would be revealed.

The cackler served me goolash. I don’t know if that’s really what it was, but that’s what it looked like. That’s what my dad calls dinner when he empties everything leftover in the fridge into a pot and adds water. They didn’t have a fridge, but same idea. Then I saddled up on Bucko, or you could say climbed up onto Apara’s back, and we followed the cackler and yeller riding in the cart pulled by the horse of many colors. Did you see us in our mini parade? You probably heard about it if you didn’t. I love a parade and started waving at the gaping gawkers along our route to the circus. One little girl asked for my autograph. I obliged, of course.

While I was signing my Hancock, Apara started sniffing into the wind. As I handed back the paper to the little girl, Apara took off charging in a direction almost opposite of the horse and cart. I didn’t have time to call for help. I just grabbed on and went for a wild ride. Apara galloped through the streets. People dove to the right and to the left to get out of the way. Cars crashed, distracted by the site of a rampaging pachyderm.

Apara ran as the crow flies and didn’t seem to want to bother with dodging obstacles. They dodged her or they got run over. She crashed over the flower pots in front of the Stop and Smell the Roses flower shop. She crashed into the Five and Ten which has been indestructible for the last century. She managed to bulldoze her way through the aisles and out the loading doors in the back. I managed to grab up a lollypop when we passed the front counter. I tossed a dollar from my pocket which I’m sure would cover the lollypop but certainly not the mess Apara made.

I popped the lollypop into my mouth and congratulated myself on snatching up a root beer flavored one. Apara wasn’t slowing down, and I got to thinking about the circus acrobats, yeller’s parents who rode on an elephant’s back, his mother balancing upside-down on top of his father’s head. I thought if they could do that, then I could probably ride standing up and sucking on a lollypop. I slowly got to my feet. I stood tall and threw my arms up in the air to signify my triumph. My left arm hit a traffic light post and knocked me off balance. I swung around the post and grabbed on with my lollypop still protruding from between my lips. I wrapped my legs tight around the pole and held on.

I didn’t slide down right away because of the still-fresh memory of rope burn from gym class, but then I didn’t dare slide down because two police dogs started barking at me and attacking the post as if that would somehow get me down. I went up. I made it all the way to the very top and sat on top of the traffic light. I guess my feet must have dangled down over the lights because cars starting stopping instead of going, but maybe they were just distracted from driving because a kid was sitting on the traffic light.

Traffic came to a standstill, as they say. The police came out of their office to see what the dogs were yapping at and what all the cars were honking at, and what they saw was me! I waved. They called in a helicopter. It circled overhead, and I had to climb up a rope ladder they dangled from the helicopter for me. But before they could take me home, they got a call about an elephant that had barreled into the annual peanut festival.

My synapses were firing and I figured it must be Apara at the peanut festival. I figured that must be how she got away from the circus in the first place and then away from me. She had smelled those peanuts and just couldn’t control herself. She is just a kid after all. You may think there’s no way she could smell that festival a full ten miles away, but elephants can actually smell twelve miles away. If you don’t believe me, Google it. I’m telling the truth.

I felt like a spy, flying over town in a helicopter, looking for the trouble-making elephant. We spotted her easy. It’s not like we were looking for a needle in a haystack. We were looking for an elephant in a peanut pile which had been a peanut pyramid before the peanut-loving pachyderm pounced on it. (Mr. Johnson always builds a peanut pyramid for the peanut festival.)

I pointed to Apara and looked over at the helicopter pilot to see if he could see her too, but the pilot wasn’t looking down. He was looking awful. He was wriggling like he was trying to scratch an itch that covered his whole body and his lips were looking puffy. In fact his whole face was looking splotchy, red and bumpy. Then I remembered seeing something just like that before when my dad accidently ate some shellfish and we had to rush him to the hospital. It’s easy to remember because I have a memento. My brother and I took pictures of ourselves wearing bedpans as hats.

I gestured to the helicopter pilot that his face was red and puffy and that he should let me down with the rope ladder to go get the elephant. I think he understood or at least was too puffy to care because he didn’t object when I kicked the ladder out the helicopter door. He hovered over the peanut festival and I climbed down and jumped off onto a pile of plush peanuts, prizes for the pick-the-winning peanut game where you reach into a barrel and pick up a peanut, and if it has a mark on its shell you get a stuffed peanut, you know, like a stuffed animal but legume instead. I learned about legumes from my elderly neighbor.

Once I was on the ground, I had to formulate a plan. Apara was not going to want to leave her peanut paradise. I remembered that carrot-on-astick trick where you dangle a carrot in front of a horse to get him to go forward to try and get it. But I was smart enough to know it wouldn’t work with Apara since her trunk could reach farther than my stick would. I walked around surveying the scene and taking an inventory of my assets. I learned how to do that from television. I was hoping something would inspire a brilliant plan to free the festival of their four-legged intruder.

Brilliance had yet to strike, so I got some cotton candy and sat for a spell. That’s an expression. I didn’t spell anything. I started listing my options. I could push or pull or pick her up. They all sounded really hard and somewhat painful. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning, figuratively speaking. Wheels would make pushing and pulling easier, right? That thought inspired two words: bumper cars. And air holds up planes, why not an elephant? That thought inspired one word: parachute. Can you figure out what my plan was?

I politely borrowed the canopy that Apara had partially knocked down anyway from the peanut pyramid pavilion. I tied the four corners onto the poles of three bumper cars. I made a trail of peanuts from Apara into the two back cars. She climbed in and stood with her two front feet in the one car and her two back feet in the other. I opened the door to the exit and then climbed into the first car. I stepped on the gas, which is an expression too, especially since it’s an electric car and doesn’t have any gas in it. I hurled my car toward the exit and pulled Apara behind me. I would have loved to have seen the look on her face, but I’m a serious driver and kept my eye on the road, which is another figure of speech. I wasn’t on the street but in the middle of the peanut festival.

Just as I had hoped, we had built up enough momentum (I learned that word in school) that we made it to the hill and started rolling down toward the moon bounce. One bump later and we were airborne. We landed on the air-filled castle and bounced up high. The parachute caught us and I demonstrated to Apara how to blow hot air into our parachute. She started blowing through her trunk, sending hot air into the parachute, and it lifted us up. I knew that hot air rises. I learned that from my dad when I complained about how hot my bedroom was.

So there we were, flying. We had made it over the fence when lightning struck, literally, that wasn’t an expression. The hail storm must have been following me because it found me again. The hail knocked down our parachute and us with it. The metal rods on the back of the bumper cars must have looked pretty attractive to the lightning because it kept striking the one on the back of my car. I figure it must have had the highest pole. It was just what I needed. The electricity in the lightning powered up my car which propelled down the road at lightning speed, pun intended. My car was still tied onto Apara’s cars, and the l lightning was enough power for us all.

At first I forgot that I was supposed to be getting Apara to the circus. It was so cool getting to drive a car so fast and on a real road too, but it didn’t take long before I realized I had to figure out where I was going, or I was going to crash. I started turning right and then left at each chance I got. I figured at least that way I wouldn’t go in a circle. The sun was a bit behind me, so I figured I was heading eastish. I learned that the sun sets in the west from my grandfather. The problem was that it didn’t mean anything to me that I was heading east.

I was going too fast to think too much. Then I saw my school, turns out that I had gone in a circle. I was back where I had begun my summer vacation. The storm blew on ahead of us and the lightning stopped and so did we without our energizer. We rolled into the school parking lot. It was empty. I guess students aren’t the only ones eager to head home on summer vacation. I got out of my car and encouraged Apara out of hers. A new plan flashed into my brain. I discretely picked some flowers and gave them to Apara to hold with her trunk. With her nose thus occupied I climbed onto her back and tried my hand at directing her steps, using her ears as reigns. She got the message.

I knew my way home from school so that’s where we went. I don’t think I need to go into what my mother said when she saw me riding into the driveway on the back of an elephant. She’s very understanding though, and once all of her questions were answered she escorted us to the circus. She drove slowly with her hazard lights flashing, and Apara and I followed.

At the circus we met the yeller and cackler and Apara’s mom. I was invited to ride Apara in the show and my mom bought a ticket to watch. The circus was great, but I suspect the highlight was my riding Apara standing up while sucking on a lollypop.

After the circus ended and I was about to head home, the Gypsy grandmother pulled me aside and told me her secret ingredient that she added to every story to make it amazingly fascinating and wonderfully exciting and that’s what I learned from the cackler – balderdash.


senseless talk or writing; nonsense