There Was a Baby Alligator in the Bathtub

Grandma was going to take a shower. We were on vacation in Hawai’i and had been at the pool and on the beach all afternoon. Everyone needed to get refreshed and ready for dinner. We had two connecting rooms – grandma Violet and my aunt Marlene shared one, and mom and I shared the other. I was six or seven years old and I remember clearly lying on the bed with a puzzle book, and Grandma rushing in through the connecting door. 

“There’s a baby alligator in the bathtub! Call housekeeping! I can’t take a shower. It scared me to death so I locked it in the bathroom. Someone has to come and get it out of there!”

For the sake of keeping this G rated, I’ve left out all the expletives I also recall hearing as grandma came barreling through the door. She was pretty upset. Who could blame her? I knew I wouldn’t have wanted to step in for a shower and encounter a baby alligator! 

I also knew I wanted to be part of this excitement so I was quick to jump off the bed and follow my mom through the door. I wanted to see exactly what was happening in the adjoining bathroom. 

All the women were chattering, speculating how on earth a baby alligator could possibly get into the bathtub. Aunt Marlene got on the phone with housekeeping, imploring someone to come quickly. Mom (with me on her heels) was investigating the scene – and making grandma quite nervous that the baby alligator might get loose into the main hotel room.

The bathroom was small – as hotel bathrooms usually are – but I managed to squeeze past mom to get a look at what creature lurk in the white tub/shower combo. Sure enough, there was some small reptile thing lurking in the tub. As I recall, no one wanted to get too close to it. Who knew what it would do?! We clambered out of the room, shut the door, and waited for housekeeping to rescue us from the apparent danger. 

This was shaping up to be something I would remember for the rest of my life. One of those “grandma stories” we all loved to retell in the years to come.

Now, mind you, we were three woman and a girl child, all born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Reptiles of any sort were not something we’d ever encountered in our humble little home in Slavic Village.

Sure, they’d vacationed in Florida before, where alligators in the Everglades were an  everyday occurrence. But no one expected such an encounter in a well-appointed island resort, nearly 5000 miles from the Florida swamps!

This was shaping up to be something I would remember for the rest of my life. One of those “grandma stories” we all loved to retell in the years to come. 

Grandma was no shrinking violet – pardon the pun. She’d married the year after the Great Depression began and raised three girls through the back half of it. Violet was not prone to drama or being a scaredy cat.

Eventually there was a knock on the door, and a little woman walked in and inquired about the baby alligator scene. She let herself into the room, and shortly after came walking out calm as could be. 

“That was no baby alligator,” she said, sounding a bit disparaging, and stifling a laugh at the same time. “That’s just a local lizard. I flushed it down the toilet.”

I recall us all gawping at one another. Not a baby alligator??

“Oh Ježíš Maria!!” My grandmother’s favorite Czech language exclamation. And then she started laughing. And apologizing for creating such a scene. But you could tell she was still a bit rattled. She wasn’t completely over the spook and implored mom and Aunt Marlene to stay there while she showered. 

Grandma Violet had a good sense of humor, thank goodness. She laughed with us about the baby alligator incident for the rest of her life. 

Keeping the Memories Alive

Fast forward to present day. We have two lizards that have been hanging out on our south wall in the mornings, basking in the Arizona sun, and politely sharing the top of the wall with one of our resident quails. The lizards are named Wally and Wallentina. (Yes, I have a quirky habit of naming our resident wildlife.)

Mom is visiting from Ohio and as we told her of our regular morning visitors she reminded me of the baby alligator story. I laughed as hard as I have for nearly fifty years. And the image of grandma Violet freaking out over finding the “baby alligator” in the bathtub in Hawai’i came back to me in clear pictures.

Do you have fond memories like that? Do they make you laugh like the day they happened? 

I’m grateful beyond words to have many of them. Sure I have ones that make me sad or cry, too, but today we’re talking about the happy ones. The ones that bring the warm fuzzies, as it were. 

There are moments in time that stand out among others. Good ones, bad ones, funny ones, exciting ones, scary ones. They are what we gather together like posies during the course of our life. And they make us uniquely and wonderfully… us!

Think about what makes… memories important to keep and to share. Tell the stories. Laugh and cry… Be a messenger. Teach the lessons. Each and every one of us needs all the inspiration and help we can get.

What’s even more wonderful is that they are usually shared – with family, friends, all our loved ones. They weave the fabric of our lives, and paint the artwork of our relationships. When we have memories in common with others, sharing them reminds us of our bonds, our ties to one another. 

As the novel coronavirus was ramping up in the news this year, we were about to begin writing Quiet Spring Moments, the third in our series of meditation books. It quickly became obvious to us that perhaps a book dealing with life’s inevitable crises might be in better order. We’ve put the QM book on hold for now, and have been writing 48 short stories of lessons we’ve learned along the way – both ones we’ve learned through our own experiences, but even more importantly, ones we’ve learned from our parents and their parents, and their parents before them. 

And so I have been deeply in the mindset of digging up old memories. I’ve also pulled out several old photo albums. They instigate memories, and remind me of times past – both my own, and my family’s. 

Through this process I’ve had the pleasure (and honor) to rekindle an old friendship long lost, and to reinforce a friendship that has surely benefitted from my archeological dig through the mementos of my life. 

It has also sparked meaningful questions for, and conversations with, my mother about the history of our family and who did what when and with whom. She encourages me to ask, ask, ask, while she is still here to answer, answer, answer.

I’ve laughed a lot the last couple months. Who doesn’t need that during these admittedly stressful times? I’ve teared up quite a bit also, for good and for sad. Memories are like that, aren’t they? Two sides to every coin. The very things we use to cling to our past and lost times are the very ones that zing us the most. I’m ok with that. We need a good zing every once in a while… or more. 

My household is multigenerational. Both my business partner and my visiting mother are in their 70s and at high risk for this pandemic. I was certain to stock our stores very well when it was apparent that a stay at home order was becoming imminent. And so we’ve squirreled ourselves away since mid March with very few ventures from home base. And then only for necessities.

We’ve spent the time writing our forthcoming book (mentioned above) and I’ve steeped myself in memories and thinking back on what lessons I’ve learned that would be helpful to others dealing with a crisis, any crisis. These are strange times, and we all deserve to remind ourselves what is truly important, and how valuable our life history is.

What Grandma Taught Me

Grandma Violet taught me that even when you see a baby alligator in the shower, it’s ok to laugh afterwards when you find out it’s only a harmless lizard.

Translation: We all make mistakes. And sometimes they’re funny as hell and worthy of a family legend. Pass on the story with love and respect.

I believe we all walk here with a purpose. The lucky ones have figured out what that purpose is, the rest do well to seek until they do. When we encounter tough times, as we all will do at some point during this journey – and most of us many times – it is good to have a useful toolkit for coping. 

I invite you to take some time this week, and think back on what you’ve learned along your path. Who taught it to you? When did you learn it? And how has it changed you?

Furthermore, I invite you to dig out some old photos, talk with your elders, and swap stories with your friends about good times, and some of the crazy stuff you’ve done over the years. Don’t act like you haven’t… you know you have…

Think about what makes those memories important to keep and to share. 

Tell the stories. Laugh and cry.

Think about how those experiences taught you lessons you’ve brought forward to the present. 

And then pass those on, too.  Be a messenger. Teach the lessons. Each and every one of us needs all the inspiration and help we can get.

Until next time, I wish you many poignant memories and moments with the ones you hold most dear. 



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The Keepers

Jim Great Elk (kiji) and Kelly Talking Heron (Ashá) are Wisdom Keepers,
who believe everyone walks their own path on the Circle of Life.

Through the Powaka Experience, you master four basic Stepping Stones to
your center… where you learn to Walk in Balance and discover Your Destiny.