What Is It About Frogs?

By Dorothy Rice

What is it about frogs?

Maybe it’s that stretched out in the water, they appear enough like humans that you expect them to stand up and clamber out of the pond scum on two legs. You can imagine their little hands waving you over, their trap-door mouths snapping open and words sliding out.

“Hey you. Yeah you, over there in the pink flip-flops. Be a pal. Bat the flies my way.”

There’s something wise cracky and streetwise about their wide-set buggy eyes, the inscrutable absence of a smile that still manages to seem friendly, or at least companionable.

Maybe that’s why my dad made so many frogs.

At the house on a quiet dead-end street, where he lived after he retired from teaching. Bought a potter’s wheel and a kiln. Made whimsical, anthropomorphized creatures out of clay. Rhinos, hippos, fat lazy cats. But frogs were his favorite.

He made so many. We all have them now. Buddha frogs. Mama frogs with babies in their scaly arms. Jaunty frogs lounging on beach chairs. Little green men with one lax leg flung over the other. Speckled, striped, shiny with color. Some never glazed, just the dried-out clay, chalky, bumpy in my hand.

What is it about frogs?

Maybe it’s all the fairy tale and cartoon iterations. Princesses who dare to kiss warty old toads. Mr. Toad in his roadster. Speeding along the riverbank beneath the limey willows. Eyes wide with wind. Vest buttons glinting in the sunlight. Everyone’s eccentric uncle. Loose-limbed Kermit. Loping through life with a lipless felt smile. An unassuming sage. Wisdom delivered deadpan, long felt fingers touching at the tips. Finding joy and wonder in the now, in dreams that get better the more you share them.

I visited Mom at the new Alzheimer’s home. We’d had to move her after the last place said she was too aggressive. I led her outside, into a walled courtyard, open only to the sky overhead. Cushioned chairs and round tables. A gurgling fountain, water frothing over the lip of a giant rust-hued pot

“Well, would you look at that,” she said.

A weathered bronze frog perched on a low concrete retaining wall. Legs crossed at the ankle. A thick book open in his hands, head bent over the verdigris pages. Mom fingered the raised letters.

“I bet it’s one of your father’s,” she said. “How strange it should wind up here.”

Mom doesn’t usually remember Dad, or their forty-odd years together. Yet every so often, a memory will surface like a chunk of potato or celery in a roiling pot of stew, bubbling to the top, bobbing there a moment before it disappears, sucked down, submerged in the murky broth.

That afternoon, she remembered that Dad made frogs and cast them in roles that belied nature. Humanizing the alien. Rendering it, if only for a moment, whimsical, touchable, familiar.

What is it about frogs?

Dorothy Rice is the author of two memoirs, GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK (Otis Books, June 2019) and THE RELUCTANT ARTIST (Shanti Arts, 2015). Her essays have been published in Memoir Magazine, Hippocampus, Under the Gum Tree and The Rumpus, among others. Her flash fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She co-directs Stories on Stage Sacramento, a literary reading series featuring professional actors, and also works for 916 Ink, a youth literacy nonprofit. You can find Dorothy at dorothyriceauthor.com, and on twitter at @dorothyrowena.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Digital)

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