WHEN I was a boy, there appeared one day in the local newspaper a reprint of an article first published in a newspaper in Australia. It concerned a pet belonging to a family that lived in Queensland. A kangaroo. The article described how, long after all her offspring had grown up and raised families on their own, leaving her quite alone, she moped about and even seemed at times to shed real tears. There was a photograph of her. She did look sad. Despite the clear, cheery sky overhead, and miles and miles of open spaces to hop around in, she just sat in the shade of some trees, her forepaws dangling, her pouch looking abandoned as an old rusty pram stored in an attic. Her eyes were misty and neglected.
In the comic strips I read in those days, creatures that cried, dogs, cats, horses, even turtles, had big teardrops rolling down their faces. And floating over their heads, attached by a line, was a little bubble, or balloon, in which were written the words, ``Boo Hoo,'' so as to leave no doubt that sorrows were flowing.
I gave to the kangaroo this name, ``Boo Hoo,'' and decided to become her aid and comfort. First, from my animal books, I had always loved kangaroos; their hops, their bounces, gave an oomph to the flat old world. And second, since my sister had not yet been born, and I was still an only child, we shared, the kangaroo and I, an onlyness.
I wrote to the editor of the Australian paper, expressing my concern for the kangaroo's morale, and enclosing a little package of lemon drops that I asked to be forwarded to her. I was half kangaroo myself, hopping and frolicking about in my free time, and I thought that since I loved lemon drops, so would Boo Hoo. The editor very politely replied, returning my gift, that kangaroos did not eat lemon drops, and thanked me for my concern.
Next I sent, likewise asking to be forwarded, a tiny toy baby kangaroo I'd found at the bottom of a box of breakfast cereal. Returning this gift also, the editor wrote, ``She's a grandmother, David, you see. A bit old for toys. But thank you for your kindness.''
I wrote back asking if Boo Hoo could possibly be talked into adopting live baby kangaroos. The editor replied that there was a great shortage of live baby kangaroos available for adoption, but he would look into the matter and try.
It was the dratted fact, I realized, that Boo Hoo was in one place, and I in another, that was thwarting all my efforts. If only I could get to Australia! I could go hopping with her. Talking with her. Perhaps even succeed in interesting her in a brilliant new career. For example, becoming the first kangaroo grandmother in history ever to ride a tricycle.
One day, shortly after I'd counted my pennies and found I didn't have enough to buy a soda pop, let alone a ticket for a plane or boat to Australia, I had a sudden inspiration. I would dig for Australia. I knew you could dig for China. So why not for Australia? It was ``down under,'' wasn't it? And if I came out in China, I could always take a sampan south to Australia.
Early the next morning, in the backyard, I started digging in a south-of-China direction. By midmorning, blistered and exhausted, I'd dug only a little ways. Too slow, I decided. At that rate I would not get to Australia for weeks, maybe months. I decided to send an SOS to the editor. Could he possibly, I asked, start digging from his end so that we could cut the time down by half? ``We could meet somewhere in the middle,'' I said.
The kindness of his swift reply I will never forget. I still have, yellowed but not blotted out by time, his letter:
Please call a halt to your digging. I'm afraid that even if all of us here on the paper pitched in, it would still take too long for you to reach Australia. Please know that you have helped Boo Hoo very much. I've shared all your letters with the family who keep her, and they tell me that she is getting much more attention from them. That is surely all she wanted and needed.
And you've helped me, too. Sometimes I get very sad about the world. But as long as I know that, somewhere, there is at least one person who cares enough to want to cheer up a kangaroo, I think we're going to be all right.