Once upon a time there lived a lovely princess by the beautiful name of Priya who was born in a faraway land called India . As is the custom in her country, Priya’s family arranged a marriage for her.  She and her handsome prince Lokram chose America as their new land and were soon blessed with two children, a son Akash and a daughter Aarti.  They were one of the first families to arrive in Stratford Woods, a little village carved out of trees.

The neighbors in this village rejoiced to have such a lovely new family.  Priya and Lokram sang their words with lilting tones and accents that fell on surprising new places.  They told stories and shared pictures and brought delicious food to every picnic.  Their children played king of the mountain, and, as children of royalty are wont to do, they ruled. (See Akash and Aarti here.)

One day, the women of Stratford Woods (see slideshow for most of them here) were all invited to a White Elephant party by their hostess-in-chief Sandi. Priya looked forward to the party, but she was puzzled by the name and the request, “Bring a white elephant.”

Coming from India, Priya knew a little something about elephants, but she knew she was not supposed to bring a live one.  So she set out on her journey to find a replica of an elephant, a work of art. She thought elephants must be easy to find if people devote whole parties to them–something like Beanie Babies, perhaps?  But several trips to the store turned up elephantless. A few of the neighbors said they found theirs in their basements, which surprised Priya very much. Since her own basement contained no elephants, she set out once again to a store–Target–and hit the bull’s eye–a lovely white elephant.  She wrapped it with care and set out for the party.

Everyone was happily gathering around the island in Sandi’s kitchen for drinks, oohing and aahing over the sensuous, sumptuous display of desserts she had made to share.  Soon it was time to open presents. Every gift produced peals of laughter.  Every package had a story–presents from mothers-in-law, colors that never matched the decor, something too fussy for the professional woman, too domestic for the woman who never cooks, too academic for another.  The big hit of the evening was the sex instructional book, never used, that Lisa Neola gave to Shirley.  “Oh no,” thought Priya, “what kind of story can I tell about my brand new Target elephant?”

But of course, she had the best story of all to tell. By the time her gift was pulled from the pile, Priya understood what a “white elephant” was.  She told the story of her long and tiring journey all over the kingdom and of all the thoughts she had about the strange American custom of giving elephants.  Why must they be white? Why elephants? When Lisa Parker pulled Priya’s white elephant out of the bag, everyone clapped for joy.

Everyone was happy in Stratford Woods until the day that prince Lokram told princess Priya the company was moving the family to Texas.  Then all were sad in the kingdom.

To cheer themselves up, the women of Stratford Woods had one more party. Priya arrived last, wearing an exquisite azure blue raw silk and beaded sari. Again there was laughter, wonderful food prepared by Chin and Sandi, and the sharing of what was happening throughout the kingdom (what used to be called gossip and is now called twittering).

After the meal, a bright pink Victoria’s Secret bag magically appeared.  Priya was not fooled by the bag.  She knew what she would find inside.  Sure enough, there it was, the only white elephant in Kalamazoo.

The women of Stratford Woods fully expect Priya to start a new chapter to her fairy tale life.  Her new town, close to the kingdom of Dallas, Texas, even has a fairy tale name–Flower Mound.

But whenever she looks at the white elephant on the shelf, we hope she will remember us–her loyal subjects in the land of Michigan.

the white elephant returns to the princess

the white elephant returns to the princess

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Shirley Showalter


  1. Stuart Showalter on May 3, 2009 at 5:00 am

    Thanks for a wonderful story about an adventure in cross-cultural (mis)communication. But, I'll wager, most Americans also don't have a clue about the origins of the “white elephant” idea. Here's some background from the Random House dictionary (online version): white elephant –noun1. a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of: Our Victorian bric-a-brac and furniture were white elephants.2. a possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner: When he bought the mansion he didn't know it was going to be such a white elephant.3. an abnormally whitish or pale elephant, usually found in Thailand; an albino elephant.Origin:1850–55; from the perhaps apocryphal tale that the King of Siam would award a disagreeable courtier a white elephant, the upkeep of which would ruin the courtierDictionary.com UnabridgedBased on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

  2. Gutsy Writer on May 5, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I loved this story and have to laugh, because growing up in Paris and other countries in Europe, I didn't know what a white elephant was either. I would have looked for one at Target or Home Goods too.

  3. shirleyhs on May 5, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    I'll bet you have a lot of these stories in your life, Sonia. Maybe a future blog post of your own?

  4. Sanna on May 10, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Oh, my heart is full with this story. The pastor at our church is from Pakistan and his big, glorious family has become a huge part of our lives, too. The flavors they bring to the church potluck table. (We don't call them “carry-ins” up here.) The journey they let us in on as we help marry off their firstborn son on Memorial Day weekend. (He met his betrothed, a lovely medical resident who has never travelled outside of Pakistan) only after the families had determined this would be a good match. And it is a good match — from the chemistry we observe between Gibran and Sana. I'm so sorry for Stratford Woods' loss of princess Priya.

  5. shirleyhs on May 11, 2009 at 4:46 am

    Sanna, you understand the joys of cross-cultural learning. I like to think that all began back in Haiti in 1982. So glad we found each other through FaceBook and now our mutual interest in blogging.Other readers, click on Sanna's name and you will go straight to workinginmypajamas. Isn't that a great blog name?

  6. shirleyhs on May 19, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for commenting, Stuart! I count on you to find helpful factual information. And now my readers know you are real and not a phantom I write about in my blog.

  7. shirleyhs on May 19, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Stuart! I count on you to find helpful factual information. And now my readers know you are real and not a phantom I write about in my blog.

  8. Jyothi on February 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Dear Princess Priya,
    Welcome to another beautiful kingdom – Highland Village! We have lots of fairies, castles, kings, queens and little, dainty princesses and strong brave princes!
    Loved your story about a white elephant!

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