My Old Aardvark
Today I walked out to the garage and saw my old aardvark sitting on a shelf. The years have not been kind to him. His tail was lost long ago, so long ago that I cannot recall any of the details. His tongue is also not what it used to be. I used to be able to see it, long, straight and pink, with a huge ant stuck on the end of it. Now there is just a hole at the end of his nose. His ears are not as perky as they used to be and they are flaking away. Three of his legs are broken and he stands in a peculiar way, like a dog sitting, offering one of his paws. His eyes are the only things that appear close to what they looked like all those years ago. They are still blue, but now they have a dusty, duller look.
My aardvark came to be over 40 years ago when I was in eighth grade. Our class was assigned a project to create ‘something’ out of paper mache. I chose an aardvark. Two reasons: I really liked the word, and I liked the aardvark in the B.C. comic strip by Johnny Hart
For the aardvark’s body I used an old bleach bottle cut off at the neck. Inside the neck hole I stuck a long balloon, inserted at an angle, for his nose. His legs were toilet paper rolls filled with newspaper and his tail was a piece of rope. A straightened wire coat hanger served as his tongue. Layer after layer of paper and paste connected and molded these mismatched pieces until my aardvark took shape. His ears were pasted newspaper, cut and glued so that they stood up with little folds at the tip. I painted him a dark reddish brown. I have to credit my friend Joe Miller who painted his eyes; big white ovals pointing down his nose with blue irises and black pupils, slightly crossed and bloodshot.
My dad liked my aardvark enough to adopt him and keep him in his room. Not his bedroom, this was my dad’s game room, office, junk room and personal bar. I think my dad must have had my aardvark in his room for over thirty years. Thinking about it, I realize how much of my dad my aardvark saw that I never did.
Of all my siblings, I was the closest one to my dad. Dad loved military history and so did I. He had a bookcase of World War One fighter models that he had built and other bookcases filled with military history books. He had stacks of war games and periodicals related to those games. These were board games with maps on which you moved the little cardboard pieces that represented your armies. Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Midway, and Waterloo were some of the first games I played. YOU had the power to change history.
I lived at home until I was twenty-one and went away to college. When I graduated from college I came back to Los Angeles, but lived with my brother. His house was close to my dad’s and I visited a lot. The aardvark was still in my dad’s room, keeping watch over him. While there, I would talk to my dad about the new games and magazines he had collected since my last visit. We talked about other things, but the history/game connection was our strongest bond. I would return the games and magazines I had borrowed the last time and take the newest ones.
Over the years I bought a house, got married, moved away, got divorced, remarried, bought another house, and moved further away. My dad’s hearing went away and other health problems contributed to his diminishing mental acuity. All of this led me to visit less and less as the years went by. When I did visit, I would still trade magazines, but we talked less and less. But I always got a chuckle out of my aardvark, still in dad’s room but moving around, switching observation stations.
When my dad passed away, his room was left pretty much alone. Mom didn’t need it and everyone knew that Dad’s stuff meant the most to me. I still visited, but when I went to his room, I mostly browsed through the games, magazines and memories. My aardvark watched me now.
My mom passed a few years later and we had to sell the house. Each of the siblings had a few favorite items they wanted. I was the only one interested in Dad’s room. I had favorite games, favorite books and magazines, and items that triggered favorite stories in my head. Then there was my aardvark. I looked at him, laughed, and brought him back home with me.
Today, I walked out to the garage and saw my old aardvark sitting on a shelf. My first memories were of junior high and a paper mache project. I brought him in and set him on my desk and looked at him. Everything is broken except for his eyes. I looked at his eyes and wished I’d seen everything he had seen.