And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Eons and eons and eons ago, it was discovered that I had a brain blip. I was in the third grade and we were studying zoo animals. For one assignment, we had to choose a water fowl to talk about. I drew a pudgy black and white bird with webbed feet and wrote a few lines about him. I called this literary masterpiece: “The Pelican”.
My teacher, Mrs. Campbell, studied it. “Kathie,” she said, “this is a penguin.”
“Yep,” I said. “A pelican.”
She wrote the word penguin on the blackboard. “What does this say?” she asked.
I looked at it, took a breath, and said, “Pelican.”
She frowned. Then she wrote the word pelican on the board. “What does this say?” she asked.
I repeated my process. “Pelican,” I said.
She used a pointer to go back and forth between them and asked me to say what each spelled.
“Pelican. Pelican. Pelican. Pelican.”
Finally, she pointed at one of the words. “Kathie. Take a deep breath. Say peng.”
“Peng,” I said.
“Guin,” she said.
“Guin,” I echoed.
“Penguin,” I agreed.
“So what does this say?” She pointed to the first word.
And thus the pelican penguin bizarre brain-fartiness was born. I didn’t do it with any other word, then or now.
Fast forward years to when I was a young mom, at the zoo with my three kids. I think they were around eight, six, and five years old. One of the first things you see at our zoo after the entrance is the peli – I mean penguin exhibit. “Look!” I said. “There are the pelicans!”
Three pairs of wide eyes looked at me. “Mom,” the oldest, Christopher, said. “Those are penguins.”
“Right,” I said. “Pelicans!”
So if you’re a parent, you know you spend years trying to do right by your children. It’s not always easy, but you strive. You love them beyond anything or anyone else in this great universe. And yet make one mistake…and that’s what they remember.
Ever since that day, I have three children who call penguins pelicans. On purpose. They wrap their Christmas presents in peli—penguin paper. I believe that both of my boys at one point had stuffed peli—penguins on their televisions, because of the classic Monty Python skit, “There’s A Peli—Penguin On The Telly!”, a skit which never failed to put me into helpless giggles. One son, I believe, still has that stuffed bird by his television, though he’s soon to be 35.
At the zoo that day, my now ex-husband said to me, “Kathie. Penguins.”
“Pelicans,” I agreed.
Honestly, I don’t think that’s why we’re divorced.
I also don’t think the kids even remember anymore where this came from. Except that we have this peli—penguin thing going on in our family. And they know I say pelican all the time, with these lovely black and white waddling waterfowl. P-E-N-G-U-I-N spells pelican.
So last summer, deep in the pandemic, I was perusing through Facebook when I saw that a friend, a poet, was moving to Pennsylvania. He was selling some things, and there were six plastic peli—penguins for purchase. They were Christmas decorations. Some held candy canes.
So yes. A poet, moving to Pennsylvania during the pandemic, was selling plastic peli—penguins.
I bought them, strapped them into the back seat of my convertible, and laughed all the way home. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to do something.
And then an idea hit. A trip to Etsy, and I found what I needed. A stencil. Of a pelican. Really. Not a peli—penguin.
The peli—penguins all got a nice soapy bath. I painted some rough spots. And then each peli—penguin got a tattoo of a pelican – a real pelican – on its white tummy. Beneath that, Michael helped me out with his beautiful penmanship and wrote out the names of the family, including in-laws and my much-adored Grandbaby Maya Mae, who knew nothing about Grandma Kaffee’s speech impediment.
Then I thought I had it all planned out, this pandemic paradoxical ploy of mine. I packed one plastic peli—penguin up and shipped him to Louisiana to my daughter and her husband. It was to arrive last Friday. So that day, I planned that I would show up at my boys’ houses when they were at work and leave behind the peli—penguins on their doorstep.
Oh, and one would appear outside Olivia’s door too. And one by my fireplace, for me and Michael.
Friday morning came. It was pouring. My pandemic paradoxical peli—penguin ploy was pulverized. I couldn’t leave them outside. The rain might wash away the tattoos. So one showed up on time in bright and warm Louisiana. One showed up outside Olivia’s room. One at my fireplace. But three more waited piteously in the back seat of my car.
Saturday. It snowed.
I let both boys in on the ploy. One, he of the peli—penguin still on his telly, came by to pick his up. He got it home and promptly sent me a photo with the peli—penguin checking out Virtual Reality.
When it stopped snowing, I snuck over to the other boy’s house and left one peli—penguin for him and his wife, and one, holding a candy cane, for Grandbaby Maya Mae. I hid in my car in the dark and watched as they came home and Maya walked up to the creatures. She stared. Then she picked one up and brought it inside. The one with the candy cane.
When I talked to her via Zoom later, I told her most of the peli—penguin story. I asked her if she liked her peli—penguin. “Grandma Kaffee,” she said, with her arm draped around a pelican’s shoulders. I mean, penguin. I mean, pelican. “I love him. I’m going to keep him in my room.”
When I asked her what she thought it was, she studied him for a moment. Then she said, “It’s a penguin with a pelican on its belly.”
Exactly. A pelican with a pelican on its belly.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.