When I was six, I found a small, gray elephant.
No, not a real one. It’s a wooden elephant, dove gray with white eyes and white lines to outline his ears and legs and tusks. I found him in a hotel room when I was at the beach with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. Though I had been on trips before (to Disney, to Cherrystone, Virginia), this is my first memory of staying in a hotel room and not with family or in my grandparents’ trailer. I thought it was all very glamorous. Glamorous, and a little overwhelming.
See, my mom is a bit of a neat freak. So, before we got to the hotel, she warned me dozens of times to not touch anything without asking her first. Always an obedient child (seriously obedient; I was never even close to grounded.), I readily agreed, nervous that there were germs and other icky things just waiting to jump out at me. At first, I was good and didn’t touch anything. Scratch that, I was afraid to touch anything.
But, then, while she was unpacking and I was exploring, I found that little elephant. He was just sitting there, tucked between the bed and nightstand. It was like he was waiting for me. I picked him up, giggled, and put him in the pants of my favorite doll (clearly, the world’s best hiding spot).
And, I never said a word to my mom.
Since that day, I’ve always known where he is, my little wooden friend. He’s been with me to Mexico and London and everywhere in between, slept with me when my parent’s got divorced, and made me feel safe during my first solo trips. He’s become a talisman of sorts, a traveler that goes where I go, that helps me get where I need to be.
He’s not something that I look at every day, or even every month. Sometimes, I forget he’s there. But, as soon as I plan a trip, or need a bit of direction, he pops into my head and I find him on The Dude’s nightstand or in an inside pocket of my purse and I reassure myself that he’s there, waiting to travel with me again.
Oh, his name? Predictably, unimaginatively: Traveling Elephant.