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Bullfrog Tales

June 20, 2011

Last week I listened to a program on a local radio station. The talk show featured experts from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Listeners were invited to call in their questions. The telephone lines were humming throughout the hour.

Most callers wanted answers about fishing. Licensing requirements, size and number limits, and information about stocking ponds and streams were among the concerns.

Finally, near the end of the program, a fellow named Ralph was on the line.

“Ralph, where are you calling from?”

“From my pickup truck.”

“Ralph, what’s your question?”

“What about frog gigging?”

The Game Warden answered, “The laws of South Carolina are completely silent when it comes to frog gigging.”

“You mean there ain’t no rules?”

“That’s right.”

“Hot diggity-dog!”

“You must like to eat frog legs.”

“Man, yeah! Fried frog legs are the best thing ever with a good vegetable like macaroni and cheese and a cold beer!”

In our garden a waterfall spills into a pond lined with creek rocks. The water is recycled back to the top of the hill by a pump, creating a continuous flow.

On a recent visit to our garden, a friend sat by the pond watching the goldfish. “You need a couple of bullfrogs,” he said.

I can recall the pleasant sound of bullfrogs from fishing and camping adventures as a boy. I agreed that a couple of bullfrogs would be a fine addition to our small pond. A few days later a man from our church gave us six big croakers from the abundant population in his own pond. “I wanted to be sure you had at least one male and one female,” he chuckled.

I have enjoyed hearing their deep resonant voices singing after dark. One night I listened to the symphony of bullfrogs and tree frogs, crickets, and a persistent whip-poor-will. The cacophony conjured up thoughts of bullfrog tales.

After our gift of frogs arrived, I learned that a bullfrog can live up to fifteen years, and a female bullfrog can lay as many as 20,000 eggs at one time. In a year or so, their sounds may be deafening.

In 1865, the budding journalist Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was living in a cabin near Angels Camp, California.  He frequented the bar at a local hotel, listening to yarns told by prospectors from the nearby hills. It was there that he heard the tall tale, which he later crafted into a short story.  Twain wrote about a bullfrog named Dan’l Webster. In a jumping contest, the frog fails to hop at all. His dismayed owner, who lost a bet of forty dollars, later discovered an opponent had filled the big frog with lead quail shot.  Twain’s legendary amphibian helped make him famous. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” has become one of the best-known bullfrog stories.

Perhaps the most famous tale is from the Brothers Grimm. “The Frog Prince” has been told and retold. Usually the story recounts how a princess finds a conversant frog. The frog asks that she kiss him so an evil spell can be broken. Then he will again be the handsome prince he was prior to the spell. Though in its original form the princess does not actually kiss the frog, it is most frequently told so that a kiss is the act that transforms the frog into a prince.

There are many variations on this theme. One is for liberated women.

Once upon a time, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog explained, “I was once a handsome prince until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you and I will turn back into a prince. Then we can marry and move into the castle with my parents. You can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, and bear my children. We’ll live happily ever after.”

That night, while the princess dined on frog legs, she laughed, “I don’t think so.”

Another variation is for senior adults.

An old man wearing a tattered long-sleeve shirt, khaki pants, and a straw hat sat on a log.  Fishing with a cane pole from the riverbank was slow. As the late summer sun was setting, a bullfrog hopped up on the log next to the elderly gentleman and asked, “Are you married?”

“No, my wife died five years ago,” the man answered, surprised to be speaking with a frog.

After a pause, the frog offered, “I am really a beautiful princess. If you kiss me, I will become a young woman and marry you.”

The old gentleman considered the information. Without a word, he gathered his fishing equipment, put the frog into his straw hat, and walked through the dark woods to his pickup truck.

“Are you hard of hearing?” the frog demanded.

“No, not at all.”

Annoyed at the man, the frog repeated, “I really am a beautiful princess. Kiss me, and I will become a gorgeous woman. I will marry you.”

“I understand,” the man answered.

The frustrated frog shrieked, “I am really a beautiful woman! I am offering to become your wife. Why won’t you kiss me?”

The old man paused a moment and then explained, “At my age, I can have a whole lot more fun with a talking frog than with a second wife.”

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2011
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