Making friends has been difficult for me all my life with but a few exceptions: my first friend in life and my newest friend. My newest is Buddy the Octopus.
He’s the giant Pacific octopus who currently resides in a huge divided tank at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. My first friend was also a giant. He lived across from us a long, long time ago on an old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.
Our house located at 110 Flamingo Street Dad built with his own two hands, so moving in that first day was something he never forgot. It was also a day I have never forgotten, but for a very different reason.
Taking a break from moving boxes, I took a short ride down the street on my bike. I say short because after only a few moments, I was knocked off my bike by my soon-to-be arch-nemesis Bradley McAllister. As I tumbled down into the culvert, he announced, “Welcome to the neighborhood, kid.”
I’m convinced he would’ve pounded me into the ground if it weren’t for what happened next. Out of nowhere, the biggest kid I’d ever seen, bowled over Bradley with a crushing tackle, sending him also tumbling into the culvert. Limping away he growled, “This ain’t over.”
The giant of a kid bent over picking me up like a rag doll, “Don’t worry about Bully Brad. Ain’t learned yet not to pick on kids.” He laughed, “Slow learner. Needs a few more lessons.” The giant kid set me gently down on the street. “You okay?”
A quick look down the street revealed Bully Brad still limping away. I nodded that I was fine. Retrieving my bike from the culvert, the giant said, “Bubba Hanks. But everyone calls me Hank the Tank.”
That day he became my friend, faster than anyone else in my life. That is until I met Buddy the Octopus last weekend.
For weeks leading up to our vacation, our two granddaughters were beyond excited. A vacation only three days long, it would be the first without Mom. She had to work a long weekend, so The Wife and I suggested a trip to Chattanooga with the girls. Seeing Rock City, riding the Incline Railroad, and a visit to the famous aquarium were all on the agenda.
Describing Rock City, I mentioned to the girls one of the many corridors weaving their way through giant boulders that make up the top of Lookout Mountain. “Hope I fit through Fat Man Squeeze. You may have to push and pull me through.” Thought I was being funny, but the reactions from Little One and Sweet Caroline was anything but.
“Papa, you said a bad word!”
“You can’t say that.”
“That’s not nice!”
Took the remainder of the two weeks to convince the sweet angels it was okay to say “Fat Man” Squeeze because that was its name.
Early Friday morning with the car packed with their special stuffies, blankets, favorite drinks and snacks, we headed towards Rock City and Fat Man Squeeze. A short three hours later, we were standing at the gates of Rock City. A crisp morning with clear blue skies, it was a good choice for the day.
The Wife and I followed slowly. Neither of us wanted to fall off the side of Lookout Mountain as the girls ran and climbed through the many rock formations. Without a care, they explored each new experience of Rock City and danced across Swing-A-Long Bridge some 200 feet long and 1,700 feet above sea level. They bravely hugged the massive stonewalls of Needle’s Eye as they treaded the narrow opening. Both skipped fearlessly into the dark winding caverns of Fairyland before finally reaching our destination: Fat Man Squeeze.
Now I’m not gonna tell you who almost got stuck, but I sure was glad I had one granddaughter in front pulling and the other in back pushing or I might never have made it out and over to the aquarium. Where my new friend Buddy the Octopus lay in waiting.
The Tennessee Aquarium is simply amazing. Two buildings three stories tall, one with tanks of salt water and the other with fresh, house the most amazing creatures this Georgia boy’s ever seen in person. We toured the salt water building first and stood wide-eyed in front of glass rooms filled with colorful fish, giant turtles, assorted jellyfish, and monster sharks. If it lives in the ocean, it’s on display. One of the last tanks we passed housed my new friend, Buddy the Giant Octopus.
One of the coolest sea creatures, Buddy can actually change colors depending on his mood and what he may be climbing on. And boy, can he climb! With eight long arms full of suction cups, there’s no terrain he can’t traverse. He even went upside down with ease. With no bones, Buddy can make it through even the tightest of spaces. He certainly wouldn’t have a problem threading the Needle’s Eye or squishing through Fat Man Squeeze.
So why do I think he likes me? ‘Cause when I got near the glass, Buddy slid over and turned tan. His attendant explained, “That means he likes you.”
The Octopus-oligist also said my new friend was really smart, “Buddy’s got nine brains. One central brain and one for each of his eight arms so they can move independently of each other. He can even solve complicated tasks like opening a jar to get his food out.”
Wow! Not only do I have a new friend, he’s got nine brains!
We left Chattanooga after three days with two worn-out granddaughters, (they walked four miles at the aquarium) a stuffed penguin, a stuffed butterfly, pictures and memories that will last forever, and a promise we would return in the fall.
And I, for one, can’t wait. Seems Buddy the Octopus is soon gonna have some female company. The aquarium is gonna get another octopus, and looks like I’m gonna get another friend.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]