Saturday, October 27, 2012


This is Mr. Camel; he lives in my living room here in Maine.

He seems to have one and one-half humps, which puts me in a difficult position: Most camels have either one or two humps, by which they’re classified as either Dromedary or Bactrian camels.

A Dromedary has a single hump. Dromedaries are more at home in the hot deserts of Arabia.

The Bactrian is the two-humped model, which makes him better suited for the cold deserts in Mongolia. In reality, though, his humps are identical – big, tall humps with a definite valley inbetween – not like Mr. Camel’s.

So: One for a Dromedary, two for a Bactrian.

Now you know.

My maternal grandfather, William W. Howell, was first and foremost a pediatrician (which gives him an excuse, I think, for not being clear on this hump business). He was a Harvard Medical School graduate (Class of 1900), and was associated with at least two hospitals – Infants in Boston, Faulkner in Jamaica Plain). He also had a private practice; his office was at 330 Dartmouth Street in Boston.

One of his off-hour hobbies was woodworking. He made lovely trays (all his grandchildren have at least one each) of varying sizes, made with wonderful woods and small brass screws. He cut, assembled and finished them in his basement; I remember the lovely smell of linseed oil and varnish that drifted up the cellar stairs into the laundry room in my grandparents’ house in Jamaica Plain.

He also made wooden toys to entertain his young patients – mostly pull-toys, cut from plain pine board. His waiting room had several of them, and kids apparently dragged these things all over his oriental carpet and through the doorway into his examining room.

There are two surviving toys: Mr. Camel is one, and my brother John has the other, Mr. Crow, a black bird with moveable wings and a beak that opens and shuts as you pull him across the floor.

Here’s a remarkable Small World Incident: When my parents moved into a house in Maine in the late 1950s, a neighbor came by to introduce herself – an informal Welcome Wagon, you might say. She saw Mr. Camel and Mr. Crow sitting together on a bookshelf in the den and flashed back forty years; she proceeded to tell my mother about her old family pediatrician in Boston who had toys just like that in his waiting room...turned out to be my grandfather, of course!

So, what do you think?

Is my one and one-half humped Mr. Camel a Dromedary or a Bactrian?


  1. What a great story and a prize camel (bactrian.) I know I would have liked your grandfather. I'd love to see a photo of the crow too.
    I used to have a camel, actually a dromedary. It took up most of the garage. I did a post on it ages ago, if you're interested:

    1. Your camel is rather magnificent, isn't he? A little sphinxy around the eyes, but quite grand! The cover-stealiing architect must be glad he's off entertaining it, Christine! And I'll see if I can get John to share the crow...

  2. Wow, what a story Deb. How cool is it that lady came to visit with all of her memories of your Grandpa as her doctor. Your camel is wonderful, just like your Grandpa!

    I have a kerosene lamp holder and picture frame that my Grandpa made for me, and I think of him whenever I see them in our home.

    Thinking of you during the bad storm heading your way. Please stock up and stay safe!


    Kathy M.

  3. I was reading your Sepia post for this week and scrolled down to read about this camel and your grandfather. Interesting both, particularly the camel, we have an antique Amphora camel statue inherited on our mantel, I will now have to see which type it is. Woodworking is such a wonderful art, I love to see the different pieces over the years and how today with all the power type tools, some woodworkers make exquisite creations. But these old ones are endearing.

    1. Just found your comment, Pat...thanks for stopping by! Yes, I agree -- those old woodworking projects are more interesting to me...I remember my grandfather cutting things with (I think) a coping hand!