Remembering Shirley Mae

How appropriate that January 11 – the day I set out to leave Tanzania and this remarkable journey in honour of my mother – is actually Shirley Mae’s birthday. Although she’s been with me throughout this journey, I’ll spend this last day in Africa with special thoughts of her.


So excited to see an elephant on our safari yesterday!

Last night, I took a last look through the hotel gift shop. Our opportunities to shop for home have been quite limited as we have been keeping quite a pace and, of course, there are no gift shops up the mountain. Jim, who has been incredibly supportive ever since Kili Climb For Life was just a niggling idea, only asked that I photograph an elephant while on safari (check!). However, I thought I might get him an elephant carving or statue as a very small gesture in recognition of the huge effort and sacrifice to make this happen. One that was not too delicate or big so that it could fit easily into our house and not be damaged by two exuberant huskies. As I was looking at the selection – big and small in wood, ceramic, canvas – a thought came to me that an elephant has to have its trunk up for good luck. I stopped and wondered where that thought came from. How did I know that? Then I recalled my mother saying it; such an odd random thing.

Then I remembered that she, in fact, had an elephant. A white ceramic one about 1-1/2 feet high. It just appeared one day at her apartment. She was already ill at that point in the final stages of COPD, so it wasn’t from a recent trip or place she had visited: it was strictly decorative. Although it stood by her entrance door, there was no ability to put keys or last minute items on it as I’ve seen with some. It served no particular purpose other than she must have liked it. When my sister and I were cleaning out her apartment after she passed, we were both puzzled by this piece. Neither of us were sure what to do with it and neither of us particularly liked it, but clearly it had meant something to Shirley Mae.

While shopping for an elephant for Jim, I asked the shopkeeper whether they could ship to Canada: it’s not like I could put an elephant in my full bag. As we considered the size and shape of what I wanted to send, I thought “Wait a minute: We have such an elephant at home.”

Shirley Mae’s elephant is currently neatly tucked in a corner of my bedroom. I’ve looked at it from time to time and thought it had absolutely no significance other than it was my mother’s and clearly meant something to her. However, I had no interesting story to go with it should anyone ask, and yet I could not throw it out. It has stayed somewhat hidden in our loft bedroom.

Today, on the conclusion of this Kili Climb For Life endeavour, which took me to Africa in honour of my mother and to promote good lung health, I was given the opportunity to see elephants in their natural habitat. So now the elephant at home finally has a story and a personal connection linking it to Kili Climb for Life…

…and, yes, its trunk is up for good luck.



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