Last month, my young grade school-aged daughters and I took a girl’s trip to Omaha, Neb. It was their first trip to this city, and essentially my first, since I don’t recollect mine (cough) years ago. Even though I could blame it on poor memory or age, it was just a classic college weekend, brimming with consumption activities and perhaps dancing on fixed furniture.
My girls and I stayed in the Old Market district, which is convenient for vacationing families since it’s near the children’s museum and the zoo. (I’m fairly certain I didn’t visit either of these attractions during my college stay.)
These were our main attractions, other than the hotel pool, which was a requirement for both girls. Yes, I was vetoed on this issue.
It was freezing the first day, and I wasn’t about to walk around Omaha’s zoo bundled up like a Sherpa scaling Mount Everest. So Day One was the museum, complete with controlled air temperature and vats of Purell. As long as we didn’t contract some flesh-eating bacteria in the ball pit, it would be a great day.
Day Two was forecast to be the most temperate day of the year — a perfect day for the zoo. We burst through the opening gates, thrilled to experience a new zoo. My girls are animal lovers, but they prefer them to be behind thick glass.
“Oh, look at that gorilla. It’s so cute! Wait, it’s coming closer. Ack! I wanna see the baby monkeys now.”
“Mama, is that a peacock? It’s not in a cage. RUN!”
An hour into our adventure, they had shaken out their fears and were pressing up to windows studying these amazing creatures.
We wanted to get our fill of big cats and monkeys. The Hatton gals have a strong tie to these animals and had agreed we needed to spend extra time in these areas.
After making one complete tour of the cats, we returned to the white tiger’s lair for a second time. Her markings were beautiful and now there was a full crowd peering in.
This female feline was no longer the “cute kitty” we had watched sleeping just moments before; she was an agitated, powerful machine.
Back and forth she paced from one end of the bay windows to the other. This continued for several minutes. Was she putting on a show for us? Showing her dominance?
Wanting to get the perfect photograph of this beauty’s face, I squatted and drew my young daughters close to my sides to share the view.
“If we come down to her eye level, we’ll get a great picture when she comes back this way,” I whispered from behind the lens.
“Mama, she’s coming again!”
The cat’s enormous head was inches away from ours and separated by just glass.
I held my camera still. Click. Click.
Then out of the blue… THWAP!! The tiger performed a full-body slam into the glass before us with a noise that will haunt my dreams until I die. She was upright on her back two feet when she came crashing into the window to attack the three of us crouched below.
As you can imagine, the entire group of bystanders screamed like the Vienna boy’s choir. One of my daughters ran halfway down the hall and the other froze like a cartoon character with her mouth open. I fell backward, screaming and, luckily, pushing the button on my camera.
The crowd quickly began gossiping of the event as if… a tiger had pounced on the lady next to them.
“That tiger was eight feet tall!”
“She would have eaten that gal.”
“Look, there’s a crack here in the glass!” cried out another woman down from us.
When my heart restarted after that last bit of news, my inner tour guide took over. I scurried with daughters in tow. “The lemurs down the hall are charming and don’t let us forget about those baby monkeys. Wow! How about that tiger?”
Later when we returned to the hotel, my youngest daughter — a budding storyteller — told every stranger the tale of how a white Bengal tiger tried to eat her mother at the zoo.
Each listener would nod, feign a smile and move away. It’s amazing how many people don’t believe a story like that. I guess my family is used to adventure and a crazy life with a mom like me.
I hope my girls don’t write their tell-all book until I’m gone.
Of course, no one will believe any of it!