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Ode to Packy and Dr. Matt Maberry



Last week, I had the great pleasure of writing a book dedication that was - like my last column on the Vandervert Family - another "labor of love." Pat Maberry, wife and companion of my dear old friend Dr. Matt Maberry from my OMSI/zoo days has with the help of author, Michelle Trappen, developed a wonderful book about his days as the "mid-wife" for Packy, the baby elephant that put the Portland Zoological Gardens (now the Oregon Zoo), on the map.

While most of Doc's book is dedicated to the famous (and first successful) birth of an Asian Elephant in the U.S. in many, many years, my legacy with Matt took place after the Packy hullabaloo had played out. The book is well done, with Matt's role in the birth of the elephant baby, but also carries many other facets of Matt's very busy life. Between the stories of his back-breaking life on a farm in Sequim, Wash., to the final story in the book, in which doc pulls a calf on a friend's farm decades later, Packy & Me is a treasure trove of what happens when you're a veterinarian for life.

My introduction to Mat Maberry was solidified in the mid '60s during the good old ZOOMSI auctions held in Portland, which were one of the big money-raisers for the zoo. In all the years Matt and I shared projects, he never "asked" me to do anything, he always "told" me what to do.

"Come on, we're going to lunch."

"Come on, we're going to take my plane and pick up snow owls."

"Come down here and get this golden eagle and put it back where it belongs!" Well, I'll take that back, once he did ask me a question, "Where's Cuddles?" but it was more like an order than a question, and I'll get to that in a moment.

One bright day in the summer of 1966, Matt called me at my office at OMSI, "Jim," he ordered, "get your photographic equipment and family loaded in your Rambler, we're going to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle to document an elephant autopsy."

And that was that.

My first son, Dean, was a tiny baby in those days, and as this was to be a family trip, his mom placed him into a plywood cradle I'd made (with detachable rockers) and stuffed him into the back of our Rambler station wagon, along with all the photographic equipment. It was a convoy going up the freeway to Seattle - my Rambler, Dr. Ted Grand from the Regional Primate Research Center was behind in his Carman Gia convertible, Dr. Maberry behind him in his big Lincoln, and behind him, two other specialists. Gas was cheap those days, no one even thought of carpooling.

About 12 hours later, we were all tuckered out and ready to go home. As we were packing up the equipment - I took the Bolex 16 mm film camera, 35 mm SLRs and lights - someone spoke up and said, "You know, I'd sure like to have this spleen to do some more work on."

Then Ted Grand piped up, "Yeah, I need to have the trunk back in my lab as well," and someone else said, "and I'd like to have this skull in my lab."

And that did it. By the time we all got loaded, there wasn't much left of the elephant for the zoo to take care of, most of it was packed into the various cars heading back to Portland.

We rolled up to the tollbooth over the Columbia River about four in the morning and the groggy attendant opened the window to take the buck I handed to him. As he did, he spotted the two elephant legs either side of Dean's cradle.

"What is that!?" he mumbled, staring into the station wagon.

"Oh, that's my baby son's cradle," I replied.

"No!" the attendant shouted, opening the door to his booth and stepping out, "those look like legs of some kind back there."

"They are," I replied as innocently as I could, "They're elephant legs. You see, there was a young elephant standing in the middle of the freeway a few miles back and a truck hit it. I thought the legs would make a great stew."

By then the guy was out of the booth, and when he looked at the two legs on either side of Dean's cradle, I knew something was about to happen and figured we'd never get home when it did, so I said, "Hey, the guy behind me in the Gia has the trunk in his trunk, and the guys behind him have some of the guts and one has the hip bones."

When I pulled away, the attendant was giving Ted the evil eye as he ran back into the booth to pick up the phone...

So, back to the whole "Where's Cuddles?" thing.

"Cuddles" was a huge boa constrictor we had in the Children's Zoo. It was the centerpiece for a series of lectures Al St. John, who actually lives here in Bend, gave on weekends in a little beetle-shaped auditorium we called, "The Lady Bug Theatre."

I checked on Cuddles and found it safely tucked away in its diorama cage. But even after listening to my answer, Matt said, "I'm coming up to get you anyway. Be ready."

I was, and as I dropped into the seat of his old Lincoln, he said, "I received a call from a lady who lives just above the zoo who said there was a snake in her driveway as long as the car."

After an hour of searching - during which Matt forced me to crawl under the car and search the frame and the running gear - we decided the snake was long-gone or was figment of the women's imagination. As we were about to knock on the door to pass on the news of our failure I spotted something moving in the bushes along side the car and picked up a northwest garter snake about 18-inches long.

Matt knocked and the woman came to the door, nervously listening to his story of our failure to find a snake as long as her car, then I reached my pocket, withdrew the garter snake and asked, "Did it look like this?"

Big mistake! She screamed, "That's it, that's it!" and running backward into her home and fell over the couch. Mat looked at me and, with a tiny grin said, "Don't ever do that again."

Doctor Maberry's book, "Packy & Me" is a "Limited Edition" but is available on Amazon. com. Hurry and buy one, it's an heirloom.

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