My dad had a story he told to us kids, one which I will always remember and have tried to pass on to my own kids and grandkids. And that is the story of Mr. Hubwumpus. I don’t know where MB got it; perhaps from his own father or mother. He first told it to me when I was around five. I can distinctly remember the settings, which was at my grandmother’s house one evening not long after my mother married MB.
Mr. Hubwumpus was a strange animal indeed. He was a dragon of sorts. He was green and had scales for skin, and he breathed fire and smoke like a dragon. His most unusual feature was that he had a light on the end of his tail and eyes on the back of his head. In a weird kind of logic, the light on his tail and eyes on the back of his head were there because, as MB put it, “He needed to see where he has been.”
No, I can’t make any sense of it either, not now and not when I was five. Light on his tail? Eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been…? It’ll give you a headache.
About the time I turned fourteen my mother decided she was going to turn the tale of Mr. Hubwumpus into a children’s book and get rich while confusing kids all over the world with the tail light/eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been brain teaser of an animal. I had some artistic ability, which I eventually turned into a profession designing ads and packages for some large international brands. I got this talent from my mother. Interestingly, she studied art at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1941, later dropping out of school when the war started. I studied advertising design there in 1964 when it was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). The director of the art department was a Dr. Robertson. When I met him, I asked if he remembered my mother and he said he did.
Back to my story.
My mother decided I needed to illustrate the story, which she would write. Since the story of Mr. Hubwumpus had never gotten past a description of this creature in its early tellings, she had to invent a tale for the book, which ended up being along the lines of Mr. Hubwumpus had something of an identity crisis over his frightening appearance but wanted to make friends with a “people”, which turned out to be little Jimmy. But Jimmy’s mother saw them together told her son he must have nothing to do with that horrible looking monster. That was not good for Mr. Hubwumpus’ ego, and he retreated away from “people” back into the swamp. Jimmy ran away in search of his friend and fell into quicksand, and Mr. Hubwumpus came to save him. He huffed and puffed and breathed fire, which made his tail longer and its light brighter so Timmy could be pulled from the quicksand. All this was witnessed by the townspeople—you know the type: those holding the pitchforks and torches. And seeing the evil-looking Mr. Hubwumpus save Jimmy…well. (This is Copyrighted, BTW.) I just reread the manuscript, and the story is actually quite charming.
Meanwhile, my friends wanted to know what was taking up so much of my playtime. Being sworn to secrecy by my mother, I had to reply. “It’s Top Secret. I can’t tell you.”
Well, I ran into one of my old childhood buddies recently. That would be Lebo Centanni. Hadn’t seen him since we were kids in Kenner except very briefly in 1972 in Anchorage, Alaska when I was getting out of the Air Force, and Lee was flying C-130s out of Elmendorf AFB. Evidently, poor Lebo had been consumed by this top secret thing ever since we were kids and now some sixty years later he asks me, “Lane, I have to know. Back when we were kids you were working on this ‘Top Secret’ project with your mother. What in the hell was it?”
Wow! Sixty years and not knowing about Mr. Hubwumpus has been eating Lebo up all that time. For a brief moment, I considered stringing poor, eaten-up Lebo along and saying it was still “classified” but decided to finally spill the beans about Mr. Hubwumpus.
I think he was disappointed, but at least he can sleep at night now.