The dedication: To my favorite story tell and the hippest Po I know . . . my dad, on his 57th birthday:
Deep in the heart of the Kruger National Park, south of the Sahara Desert in East Africa, is a large swampy area known to locals (which there aren't very many you can find, you know) as the Big Mashed Potato. Now, Africans aren't very familiar with potatoes, so having something named after one makes the place seem very exotic, and VERY expensive. So with sub-Saharan Africa and all of its poverty and nakedness, too many people and creatures think it waaaaaay out of their price range (they usually vacation at the Hairy Leaf, or the all-inclusive Ebony Tusk, the Purple Nurple even gets a good Spring Break crowd.) But anyways, The Bigh Mashed Potato just sits around being marshy and empty - just the way it ONE resident likes it.
A rather large, stocky Hippo, Popopotomous likes to sit alone at the deep end of the marsh, flicking mosquitoes off his hide and watching the jungle around him like it was a prime time television series. He got his name from the sound he makes when he walks on dry land - his knees pop, his ears pop, his teeth pop and sometimes he makes the sound of microwave popcorn as the air comes out of his tush. Popopotomous is a legend in the jungle. So few people have seen him, but he is known all over the land. He has a keen sixth sense and a loud booming voice, and he uses them both to talk to the birds flying above.
One day, while watching them fly through the sky between the clearing in the trees, he had a great idea.
"Hey birds," he boomed in a language I don't know, "why do you fly just this way and that? IT doesn't seem safe and doesn't make much sense and, truthfully, it's kinda boring to watch."
The birds just looked at each other and kept flying on . . . you see, birds flock together and don't really have a leader so they weren't really sure who would decide where to go or how they would choose what to do.
Seeing their confusion, and sensing their dilemma (remember, I told you he had a keen sixth sense), he offered his guidance.
"If I told you what to do and showed you where to go, would you do it?" They agreed unanimously (as any group without a leader would have to do) and started working together to create one of the most beautiful things you can see in the sky.
As he sat in that swampy marsh, swatting flies with his stubby tail and watching the birds fly overhead in formations he created, carving the sky like brushstrokes on a canvas and making the birds into more than they started out to be, he knew he was doing what he was meant to do.
Word spread all around the jungle and soon all birds flew together to create art in the sky. Popopotomous had job security, fulfillment of his place in life, but still felt he was missing something.
Because he was a famous flocking plotter, birds far and wide knew of him and could find his swamp if they looked hard enough. A couple flighty flamingoes would sneak over every once in a while and sure, they were fun and all (and boy, were they pretty!) but none had the Stick Around Stuff that he looked for - you know, like the cougars have.
Yeah, he sure did like the cougars . . . their fur was always taken care of, sometimes out of whack - but perfectly out of whack, nice legs and a great but . . . and there was always this ONE cougar who always "accidentally" mistook his swamp for her designated watering hole. A little, "Oops, my bad, hope I'm not disturbing you," every once in a while, made him wish it happened more often in a while.
But, she did always bring friends with here - yippy, yappy friends - and those damned giraffes she always hung out with . . . sticking their necks in everyone's business!
Eventually, he found himself primping and waiting for her more often than he was comfortable with. He would scope out shaded limbs that overlooked the water that would be the perfect spot for her to lounge on as they talked about the future and what dreams would come.
One day, she stopped by to bring him his favorite Pinwheel flowers to eat. She perched on that limb and never left. They talked and talked and talked until day turned into night and night turned into forever . . .
I signed it, Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you more and more each year - stick around as long as you can, you old coot!!!
It was the day he would have received it, his birthday, that they found the mass in his colon that turned out to be cancer. I wake up every morning and get to say "Hi, Pops," and hear, "Goodnight, baby" as I pop my head in before going to sleep. As sad as I have been the last month (it's been exactly that long since my mom called to tell me the cancer returned and they were sending him home) . . . I at least have that.
Life is so uncertain - make every word count.