Joburg Expat: The Wild Things

January 19, 2015

The Wild Things

Maurice Sendak, the legendary children's book writer and illustrator, once said that he modeled all the characters of his "Wild Things" after relatives - aunts and uncles who scared him as a child.

I was recently filing through the troves of safari pictures I amassed during our African travels, and I was struck by how many of these wild animal portraits resemble family portraits from the olden days. You know, the sepia ones where no one is smiling but instead staring at the camera as if they were on death row. Before ever going on a safari, I imagined having to stealthily track the wildlife and catching a brief glimpse before it got away. But often, it's nothing like that. Instead, these animals will stop in their tracks and stare at you just like you are staring at them, giving you a great photo op.

Here I've assembled my favorite such "family portraits" of my own Wild Things. If I was Maurice Sendak, I'd use the inspiration to write a children's book and become rich and famous.


"It's shameful what these young folk are wearing nowadays,
don't you think, Edna dear?"

"Have you heard about that new crazy dance... I think they
call it the Charleston?"

"For Chrissakes, Arthur, will you stop farting
and just stand still for a moment?"

"Mother, he keeps pushing me!"
"Just shut up and look at that man with the black box."

Sorry I couldn't resist. My grandmother circa 1913, far right,
with her parents, sister, and 3 brothers

"If they tell us to say cheese one more time, let's scratch them."

Grandma Hattie trying to shove her false teeth in place for the photo.

"You think they can see me?"

"What an awful bore standing still for this commoner who calls
himself an artist. I do hope tea and scones will be served soon!"

"Can you please tell me when it's over?"

"If I wanted to, I could kill you with one swipe."
"If I wanted to, I could kill you with my pointy mustache."
(an unspecified ancestor of Noisette's)

[blank; no thoughts whatsoever in there]


"And as I was saying... uh... wait, where were we?"

"You think we should rather show them our pretty butts like this?"

"One day they'll call this African Gothic. Wait, where's my
pitchfork?"

"Who needs a pitchfork with those horns?"

"...and then turn slightly to the side, like that, so you'll look
thinner. It will work wonders with those stripes!"

"I wonder if that black box sizzles if you spray it with water..."