The Refreshing Taste of Lion Spit

Memories are unfaithful, undependable.  After years and years of thinking something was one way, you can realize that at one point your idea of the actual incident had morphed and you'd been telling a story based on that truth, but at some point, the concrete memory became about the story itself, cemented in your mind by constant re-telling.  This is one of the major problems with the reliability of memoirs, and biographies. People and their memories, though often well-intentioned, are not trustworthy.

And yet, I have a very concrete memory of being a child, maybe three, in the upper level apartment with my single mom, as dusk falls, the window open, and I can hear a lion's roar. And that lion, was able to help me get to sleep by imagining him, and feeling a kind of kinship with him. Mind you, my three year old self, I am perfectly aware, would not have thought about it quite that way, or said it that way.  But it's a memory that has continued to bring me comfort, that yes- things may get daunting, and lives may not be what we want them to be, but there are other creatures out there, outside of ourselves and very different from ourselves, sharing life with us. The thing is, it's a very cinematic memory, and one I easily could have concocted.  Don't lions live in zoos?  How far would a lion's roar carry? Are there residences close enough to zoos in order for people to hear the animals at night as they stir? I've puzzled over this occasionally, and it's one of those things that I think, "Oh I should ask Mom about that at some point," but then it is quickly forgotten.

But then a couple of weeks ago I was walking to the subway from a rehearsal for a then upcoming gig, when I saw this large truck, the bed of which had a large display of antiques including, a lion drinking fountain.  One very similar to the one I had drunk from at the zoo.  It brought back all of these- feelings, feelings of being small enough that the whole world seemed giant around me, and that there were some really cool things made just for people like me in order to experience what it would be like to put my head in the mouth of a lion. I'd never expected to see anything like it again, but there it was. The friend I was with indulged me when I asked to stop and take a few pictures.  They don't do it justice, can't capture the spontenaiety of the moment, or the sheer joy I felt at being brought face to face with this piece of my childhood.

In a world where I am a wealthy man, I will own one of these fountains and have it, along with other items of whimsy and wonder. Think of Carrie Fisher's home as seen in the recent documentary "Bright Lights" (what, you haven't seen it? How can we be friends?) And you will have a proximity of my fantasy. But regardless, at this moment I couldn't afford or house, or transport this amazing piece, so I let it go at photos. 

Later I called my mom to ask her about the fountain, and also about the memory of the lion roaring (which is tied to this fountain) and she didn't remember the fountain, why would she? But she could confirm that we had lived near Bever Park at one point, and there may have been lions there. Couple that with the synchronicitous event that my Uncle who was visiting, had that day seen a lion water fountain just like the one I was describing. 

Thanks to a Write to the Point, a personal blog of an Iowa resident, I was able to confirm that yes! There had been a lion at Bever park years ago, and a number of other animals, though from what I can tell of it, it seems like the park not so much a zoo, as a park that happened to have a number of animal exhibits. (If anyone reading this has more information about the history of Bever Park, I'd love to hear it). And it seems she shared the memory of listening through her open window to the sound of the lion's roar. Confirmation! That memory can now go into my long awaited, totally truthful memoir...

As for the lion drinking fountain? I was able to find that these were hardly unique to one zoo, but are still around (though updated for health standards) and can be found at a lot of parks sponsored by Lions Clubs across the US. The design has changed a bit, and doesn't really suit my taste...

(photo from the Dysart Reporter)

But it is a comfort to see this design is still bringing joy mixed with terror to children everywhere. As for whether or not this design once existed at Bever Park? It's hard to say. I distinctly remember this fountain being at a zoo, one that we visited occasionally and that felt like a special trip. I also remember wolves, (my grandmother commented on the smell) and lots of concrete. There don't seem to be any other zoos in Cedar Rapids, and the only other one it might be that is still open would be in Des Moines, a healthy trek for us to take. So that aspect of the story remains a mystery and I'm ok with that for the moment, as that seems in keeping with the hazy nature of memory itself.

Joe Hartman