It was the ladybugs’ fault.
Scarlet and I found a swarm of them at recess. Now, I don’t know if ladybugs actually swarm, but when you are in second grade, it really doesn’t matter. After all, we were searching for a four-leaf clover at the time anyway.
But since four-leaf clovers were hard to find and ladybugs were not, we decided to catch a few and take them back to the classroom. Who knew? Maybe Mrs. Crouch would let us learn about them during science.
The next day, Scarlet and I caught more ladybugs, and by the end of the week, we’d built an entire amusement park for them — all made from Big Chief Tablets, Scotch tape and those little gold brad things. We constructed slides that the ladybugs didn’t want to go down, a race track which they didn’t want to stay on, and a merry-go-round from which they kept flying off.
This whole venture lasted about two weeks, or until the ladybugs died, whichever came first. We found out later that ladybugs don’t actually eat grass, but the aphids on the grass. This was probably a significant contributor to their untimely demise.
So Scarlet and I widened our search for more ladybugs. This led us to the fallow farmland just outside the border of our school playground. There weren’t any ladybugs there, but we did discover two large holes.
“Hippo holes,” Scarlet verified. And then went on to explain that by the size of the openings, it had definitely been one mama and one papa hippopotamus.
When I reasoned how I’d never seen hippos on the plains of Texas before, she explained how they were merely awaiting a momentous rain for their hole to fill up. That made a lot of sense, especially since Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom had just aired a recent episode about this very mammal.
“If we want them to have a baby when they return, we’ll have to dig a hole for him, too,” Scarlet divulged. And since Scarlet made better grades than me in science, she had to be right.
The next day found me smuggling a large silver serving spoon to school to begin our quarry. I chose this particular spoon since 1) it was old – it had been my great-grandmother’s; 2) it was rarely used – my mother only pulled it out at Christmas and Thanksgiving; and 3) it was dirty – it had tarnish stuff all over it that didn’t come off with just soap and water anyway.
Armed and ready, Scarlet and I headed to the hippo holes and chose a location between the two holes for the baby. Burrowing in the sun-baked clay was pretty slow going, so we were lucky that Scarlet remembered that baby hippos actually liked sleeping in their mother’s hole anyway. We decided just to enlarge hers instead.
Scarlet said that if we hid our diggers in the weeds each day, no one would find them and thus we wouldn’t have to haul them back to our lockers all the time. This was an efficient plan as we soon had a menagerie of scooping utensils from our moms’ kitchens and our dads’ barns.
One particular day, when all the teachers were discussing an afternoon weather alert, we knew that the day had arrived. This would be the downpour that would entice our hippos home. So when the recess bell rang, Scarlet and I bee-lined it down to the hippo holes and dug furiously to put the final touches on the project.
As we excavated, we noticed the sky darkening and black/greenish clouds swirling around us in most amazing formations. “A signal for the hippos,” Scarlet assured.
At some point, we looked up to notice an empty playground, but since the bell had never rung, we continued our quarry. As the winds picked up, our anticipation heightened. Despite the swirling debris spinning around us, Scarlet and I worked tirelessly. Indeed, we were on the verge of a fantastic homecoming.
You can imagine our surprise when Mrs. Crouch came puffing toward us, waving her hands wildly and feverishly. Her mouth was moving, but we couldn’t distinguish her voice for the sound of the freight train-like roar which seemed to be directly behind.
Looking over our shoulders for the hippos, Scarlet and I were mesmerized by the funneled tip of a very, black cloud twisting, then dipping in and out of itself. “It’s a tornado,” Scarlet said matter-of-factly. “We should probably go in.”
With that, we joined our breathless (and quite a hysterical teacher) as she hurried us into the building and underneath our upturned desks in the hall.
The hippos never came to our holes. Scarlet and I had to abandon the project as the school made some kind of dumb rule about staying on school property during educational hours. Yes, the tornado blew through, but it only flattened an old barn that nobody cared about anyway.
We never found our diggers either. My mother seemed especially obsessed about the absence of that spoon once Thanksgiving rolled around. All of a sudden, it was super important to her. But in my explanation, I just stuck with the short tenable statement that Scarlet had come up with. “Just tell her,” Scarlet instructed, ‘it was the ladybugs’ fault.’”
My digging friend, Scarlet – just a few years before the hippo holes.
The photos above: me and Scarlet’s school pictures that year. Probably taken before recess.