Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Animal Stories: Hoover the Talking Seal

Seals are one of the few creatures that combine a lumbering sort of goofiness with a majesty and an air of deep, soulful mystery. It makes you really wonder, what would a seal say if given a chance to speak his mind? Many years ago, there was a seal that could talk. His name was Hoover.

When Hoover was just a pup, his mother succumbed to the brutality of nature. Hoover was an orphan. A baby seal is just too young and innocent to survive in this great world unassisted. Hoover would have surely perished himself without the intervention of his human foster father, George. George was a true man of Maine! A lobster man, living by the seashore, he had probably grown quite an affinity for the beautiful creatures of the sea. Out at sea, your only friends are the gulls and your sweaty and salty fellow crewmen and the seals that peek up their friendly heads from the sea. Maybe once, when he was young and extra lonely in the isolation of a sea bound ship, a seal swam beside the ship and made him smile. Suddenly the sea wasn't a place of gloom and potential disaster, the sea was a place where sweet creatures made you laugh on a sunny afternoon.

George took Hoover home, where the orphaned pup lived in Georges bathtub. George and his wife Alice fed the pup ground up fish and he ate it like a Hoover vacuum, hence garnering his name. Alice and George probably felt very close in that moment, leaning over the rim of the bathtub and feeding the mournful seal. Soon his grief at the loss of his mother turned to joy at being cared for by his new family.

Hoovers ravenous delight at fish consumption helped him develop the trademark seal rolls of chunk. Soon, he was just too large for a bathtub. So he was moved to the backyard. George set up a tent for Hoover and Hoover spent his days swimming around a pond in the back of George's home. Sometimes, Hoover would get lonely. He would leap from the pond and waddle toward George's home. Hoover would use his strong fin to knock on the door, demanding company. George would open the door and smile down at his seal friend. "Hello there." George would say. The smiling seal was tenacious and charismatic and George couldn't help chuckle at his friend.

Hoover soon established himself in the roll of 'family dog.' Just like a pooch, he would ride in the car with George when he went into town. His shiny, whiskered face, hanging out of the window as the sea breeze blew all around him.

George and Hoover had a very playful friendship. Sometimes Hoover would hide. George would say "Get out of there and come over here." George would sheepishly reveal where he was and come bounding toward George who he would greet with seal smooches.

George already thought that Hoover was an amazing seal, but Hoover soon outdid himself when he began to speak like a little human. In Georges thick New England accent, Hoover began to mimic some of George's catchphrases. "Hello there!" Hoover said. and "Get ovah here!"

Both George and Alice loved their friend Hoover, but the little pup kept growing and craving more and more fish. In order to provide for Hoover, they set up a contract with a company in Portland Maine that supplied them fish. But it soon became clear that they could not keep up with Hoover's ravenous appetite. Hoover was too domesticated to be a seal in the wild, so Alice and George made a difficult decision. They decided to relinquish their Hoover to the New England Aquarium.

George bashfully but proudly told the aquarium staff about Hoover's great talent but his words were brushed aside. The aquarium staff were biologist and people of science not whimsy and seals don't talk. But five years later he shocked all by speaking some of George's catchphrases.

What did George think when he heard that Hoover had started talking again? Hoover obviously still carried a little bit of George in his heart since he was still speaking George's catch phrases. Maybe George would have preferred that Hoover was speaking in the voice of a new human. Then he would have known that Hoover had made new friends, instead of longing for his old pal George. Maybe George worried Hoover felt abandoned. Or maybe George's heart twinkled with delight. His old pal still remembered old George. You could take the seal from the man, but the seal would always keep a little bit of the man with him.

What did Hoover think, swimming around in the aquarium, mimicking phrases from his long lost friend? Did he miss George? Did he think that maybe if he said the things he said to George it would bring him back? Or did he find joy in his new life where everyday he saw new people? Hoover spent the rest of his life in the aquarium and he garnered the admiration of many people. Maybe for Hoover, no other human meant as much to him as George. But Hoover meant a lot to the people who visited him. He reminded straight laced business men about the magic and the wonderment of aniamlkind. He taught children that animals were not so dissimilar to the humans in this world. He taught old women that mystery was alive around every corner. And now, even years after his death, his story still inspires the imagination and the heart. He was ordinary in many ways- a blubbery seal sunbathing, swimming and gobbling up fish. But even the most ordinary animal is extraordinary. Hoover just was one of the few who could verbalize it. 

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