After hearing the words for so long,
I had started to believe them.
It was a problem that no one had thought to plan ahead for. But, oh, how I wish they had!
The problem began at the bank. Actually, they wouldn’t want me to tell you that. Being a private financial institution—and, they would point out, one that treats their customers much better than a bank usually does—they were, technically speaking, a credit union. That is what we ought to be calling them.
So, instead of beginning with, “The problem began at the bank,” I ought to be telling you, “The problem began at the credit union.” But, that’s not right, either. The real problem did not begin at the credit union. It was only revealed there.
Once it had been revealed, the bank people—I meant to tell you, the credit union people—did all they could to ameliorate the problem. That, after all, is what credit union people do, which—they would be quick to point out to you—is one of the vital differences between banks and credit unions.
But despite all their efforts and good intentions, the problem could not be fixed. And, without regular internet service and extra cash, I was not going to be able to fix the problem myself, either. I was running out of time, and I knew that much immediately.
No, the problem had begun several years earlier with a song. It was a song we heard only during cold weather, and, although it was kind of cute, at first I paid little attention to it.
Then I heard my daughter singing it, something about the perfect gift. To be specific, the perfect Christmas gift. To a background of lively music, a girl starts trying to wheedle her parents into giving her the “perfect” gift, a gift that starts out being expensive, and ends up being endlessly inconvenient. At least, to the parents. To the girl, in theory, it becomes a source of endless delight.
Well, if life were a cartoon—or if we were still all living in the Garden of Eden—then this idea might have had possibilities. If only! But, after hearing the song sung at all hours of the day and night, first of all on the radio, then directly from the lips of my own daughter, it was beginning to sound plausible.
In the real world, hippopotamuses—or, should I say, “hippopotami”?—are messy and temperamental. Besides this, when I stop to think of their vet bills and the simply enormous cost of Purina Hippo Chow, not to mention, regular hippo haircuts and mani-pedis, I shudder.
However, the bank—oops, credit union—already had a cute solution to my problem. For only five dollars, I could buy the cutest little plush hippo anyone has ever seen. I didn’t even realize I needed one, until I was standing in line, and there it was, smiling at me, hinting that for the right price, it could come home with me. Of course, I had to have it.
Snatching it up, I announced to Arwyn, one of the tellers, that I was going to buy it. Right after I had made my deposit.
My daughter, Lacey, who likes bossing people, immediately piped up with, “Mom, that’s five dollars! You can’t afford that! Why do we need a hippo?”
I already had my comeback: “We need it for Lizzie. For Christmas. You know how many years she’s been singing about a hippopotamus for Christmas. This would be the perfect gift.”
Lacey was not impressed. “Mo—ooo—om!” she groaned. “Lizzie doesn’t want a hippopotamus for Christmas! No one does!”
“That will be five dollars,” Arwyn reminded me. I happily handed it over. The hippo was now legally mine.
Lacey was talking louder now. “Lizzie really doesn’t want a hippo for Christmas!”
“It will be cute. She’s going to love it!”
Before we could leave the bank—er, credit union—I had a few more transactions to make. As we went down my list, Lacey began to pet the hippo. “What are you doing?” I demanded.
She sighed. “That’s an awful nice hippo, Mom!”
Time for a change of plan. Over the years, Lacey and Lizzie, daughters number three and number one, although eight years apart, were so much alike in looks and temperament that my husband and I had started referring to them as “the twins”. Wouldn’t it be fun to buy them the same cute little gift for Christmas?
“Do you have any more of these?” I asked Arwyn. “Looks like I’m going to need two.”
“Let me make a call,” she replied. “We don’t have any more right here. But our other branch might still have some.”
While Arwyn was making her telephone call, Lacey had some business of her own to discuss: “Lizzie doesn’t really want a hippo for Christmas, Mom! And she doesn’t need one, either. She’s getting married. There’s other stuff she needs and wants. You really ought to sell that one back to the bank!” This would have been a great time to remind her that we were at a credit union, and had been going to one for most of her life. But there was no time for that.
Arwyn returned, shaking her head. “The other branch doesn’t have any hippos, either. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.”
I told her not to worry about it. As everyone knows, hippo shortages in America are usually quickly forgotten. Nothing to write home about, as my husband, Sergei, would tell you.
But this one was. As we were walking out to the car, Lacey sighed once more. “That’s an awful nice hippo, Mom!”
Had I made a mistake? Maybe I should be putting the hippo away for Lacey, instead of Lizzie.
At home, I stashed the hippo and tried to forget it during the flurries of last-minute wedding preparations.
The day after the wedding, when family was still in town, some of us went downtown together for some walking and window shopping. I wondered if my hippo might have a companion at one of the stores.
Before I realized what was happening, I found myself in pet store, automatically squeezing a large hippo with a squeaky center. “That’s a dog toy,” my Aunt Kara reminded me. “That hippo might send the wrong message to Lizzie.”
Putting down the hippo, I left the store, thinking she might be right. But where else was I going to find a suitable hippo?
Turns out, nowhere. Like their living counterparts, the plush hippos residing in my city had become secretive and elusive. After searching high and low, I realized that a companion hippo for the one I had already bought was nowhere to be found.
Before I knew where the time had gone, it was time to start wrapping the gifts. One day, Lizzie came over and volunteered to help me. At the last minute, considering how much Lacey had seemed to enjoy and covet the hippo, I decided to give it to her instead of Lizzie. And, since she was there and ready to help, I asked Lizzie to wrap it.
As she was putting the last of the tape on the package, she looked at me and sighed, “That’s an awful nice hippo, Mom!”