Seeing the elephant

The phrase “seeing the elephant” is a distinct piece of American verbiage that dates to the 1830’s and describes gaining knowledge from a particular experience. It was like going to town to see an elephant which had long been heard of but never seen to that point in a person’s life.

The phrase really came into vogue as people went West in search of a better life, adventure, and riches. The escape from plain boredom from the familiar surely did give them new insight into a greater world, hence the mythical elephant.

You may recall me telling of my great-grandfather who was an early founder of the great Dodge City, Kansas. Another character who lived in Dodge about that time was named Ham Bell and he served as sheriff among other offices in the western mecca. At one time, he also owned the local horse barn, proudly named it the Elephant Livery Stable, and it had a picture of a large pachyderm proudly displayed over the door.

I was reminded of this recently as I have begun building a house on the ranch in Texas. Now for some people building a house means hiring a contractor and watching it go up stick by stick. For Ol’ Dutch, though, building a house means doing it all himself, which at my advanced age is quite the undertaking.

And I am hoping to avoid the undertaker as I go along but the last few chores have really taken a toll on the old body. To which Miss Trixie says to emphasize “old.”

I related the story in an earlier column about how my son Bub’s showed up with a crew to help pour the foundation. And when they got out of the truck it consisted of himself and the two granddaughters ages 6 and 9, at the time.

We got it done all right and they were better help than a lot of men I have hired in the past. But of late with them busy with school I have had to lay concrete blocks for stem wall all by myself. It's a labor of love to be sure and I finally got that part behind me.

Miss Trixie decided that she would chip in and help with the next phase of mixing up countless bags of cement and filling the cement block holes. And she has been a real sport about it as it’s heavy work and monotonous to boot.

Yesterday we mixed up and placed 17 bags of cement, each weighing 80 pounds, and it went well. But when I complained about how much more there is to do, she replied, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Well, her being from Texas I thought she would say with Ranch Dressing. But no, the answer is “one bite at a time.”

Of course, this means one step at a time you will finally achieve any goal you set yourself too. My dad always was the one shovel or one board at a time kinda guy, so I am somewhat used to the method of their madness.

We finally found a stopping point when we ran out of mixing water and began the chore of cleaning the tools. Miss Trixie was in charge of the water hose, and I was scrubbing buckets and wheelbarrow when I noticed she was hosing down the 220-volt electrical box on the power pole.

Not wanting her to find the mythical elephant of the great beyond, I told her to stop doing that and she spun around like an old comedy show and promptly hosed Ol’ Dutch down. Now I could see how that can happen once but when I screamed, she turned again and gave me another good soaking, clothes, and all.

Today looks like another beautiful day and I am going to see if I can get Miss Trixie on the long end of a shovel to eat a little more of the elephant set in front of me.

The only problem I can see with this theory is I am not sure a person can ever eat enough of an elephant every day to keep up with the ever-growing pachyderm's bulk.


Kevin Kirkpatrick and his Yorkie, Cooper, fish, hunt, ATV, or hike daily. His email is [email protected]. Additional news can be found at