My mom, Anne, recently moved to an Assisted Living Place. She hated leaving her little beachhouse. In fact, She was a pretty blue. Until she found the penguins...
I met him first. My husband and I were bringing yet another load of mom's stuff to her door, when he stepped out of his apartment across the hall. "Hello!" he said. I'm Al! Is she moving in now?" I poked my head over my boxes to see a cheery-faced man, about 5'6", with a walker. He had sounded younger than he looked. "Nooooo, not yet" I answered. "She isn't quite ready."
"Oh, that's too bad." he looked genuinely sorry. "Wanta see my apartment?" I hesitated. He certainly didn't seem like an axe-murderer. Tough to wield an axe with a walker...Perhaps he was just being friendly, and people get lonely in these places. "Sure, I'm Alan and she's Jennifer!" sang out my sanguine husband. And in we went.
It was then I noticed he had a sign on his door that said "Al Sunny " with a sun painted around it. "They spelled my name wrong so I corrected it by painting over it and making a sun!" he said. Not only that, Al had put a small ceramic dog just outside of his door . "That's my watch-dog." he chuckled. "Very low-maintenance."
His apartment was just as sunny as his name. The living room was filled with stuffed animal dogs, ceramic dogs and one real cat . Naturally, I assumed the cat was for the dog's amusement. Or vice-versa. He also showed us his bedroom. There, I came face to beak with 150 stuffed penguins. Yes, he had counted them. Tiny ones, medium ones, huge ones. Penguins, fuzzy and felt and everywhere! It was then I saw the real Al. I have found people who love penguins are people with spunk. Never "victims", they are, like their black and white friends, over-comers of adversity. "Alan and I LOVE penguins" I said.
There was a framed letter he had written to the IRS on his wall. Apparently he had thwarted them when they tried to overcharge him for a year's taxes. My husband praised him for that. "Not too many people do that and come out on top", he remarked. Al was definately an over-comer, a Brave heart, and no sissy. I liked Al. After that he waved merrily to me in the halls near his apartment, as he passed by on his motorized scooter, flag waving.
My mom finally moved in to The Assisted Living Place after weeks of delays. Understandably, she was dismayed at the transition. When she finally met Al, she was wary. Who was this man with the big grin and the funny name? Probably just another person who wanted her to listen to them go on and on about themselves and their "procedures". So Anne was gracious, but slipped quickly back into her apartment after they exchanged names and pleasantries. Thanksgiving came soon thereafter, and she was sick until after Christmas with one of those killer flu bugs. She stayed in her bedroom for 6 weeks. She missed her beach house. The freedom of being able to walk the cliffs and breathe the fresh sea air. But she never complained. Funny thing, I never told her about the penguins...
Finally, the flu went away. And Santa Cruz had sunshine for a few days! With the sunshine came the return from Southern California of her son, my brother James, and his family. Little Gracie, all of two years old, raced down the worn rug in the hall to Mom's apartment. Anne caught her in her arms and they both giggled. "I got you!" she said. Hearing the comotion, Al opened his door. " "Well hello, who's this?"
Anne was too happy to be shy, " This is my grandaughter, Gracie!" "Hi Gracie! he said kindly.
"Do you like penguins?" "Yep!" she said, dancing her little hopping dance. My brother and his wife Gwin came up from behind. After introductions, we all trooped into Al's abode. Gracie stared, mouth open, forgetting to even dance, at those 150 penguins. She couldn't even talk, which was rare for our Grace. Overwhelmed and whelmed-over--she stood in awe. Before they left, Al gave Gracie a very tiny penguin, just her size. Forthwith, Anne decided Al was not so scary after all.
The next day, Mom showed me what she had done. "See" she said, pointing at Al's ceramic dog. Next to the dog she had put a very tiny stuffed bunny. "He still doesn't know who did it" she whispered, with a twinkle.