I've been promising these lads their own post for quite some time now. And as the WSO called me today and was all over my substantial derriere for not having posted lately. She was telephonically "up in my grill". So here we go.
First of all, from left to right, there's: Skipper (he's a movie star), Schultzie, Jay and Red. The story of the penguins is tied very closely to my exile from my "home" place of work and to the death of my Dad. So the story is funny and sad all at the same time. (Well, not exactly at the same time but the two emotions are flying a tight formation throughout this tale.)
In November of 2009, my company was feeling the worsening effects of the economic down-turn. Work was drying up in our Ocean State location. However, business in one of our Bay State locations was good. Not great, but good. Good enough that they had a pressing need for worker bees. But not good enough to hire more people full time.
So I and a number of my colleagues were designated to "go mobile". We would still belong to our home location, but we would be on loan "for a year" to a company location somewhat north of there. We were given the option of commuting (100 miles, one way) every day, or staying in a hotel (on the company dime) for 4 nights a week. The idea is we would work four 10-hour days and be home for 3 days during the length of our exile from the home location.
With two exceptions, we all chose the hotel option. The two exceptions were a guy with a young son at home (can't fault him there) and the other? Well, there is speculation that he's crazy. My own theory is that he, being from Montana, is used to driving vast distances for every day things. Like, "Honey, could you run down to the store and pick up a gallon of milk?" My buddy (from Montana), "Sure honey, it's only 75 miles, I should be back in time for supper." I'm sure I exaggerate, if I have any readers in Montana (or who have visited that impressive state) feel free to berate me in the comments. But I digress.
So now it's January of 2010. I am far from home (not really that far) and living in a hotel. Some of my new colleagues were saying how bad that must be. As they're, for the most part, civilians, I did get some funny looks when I told them, "Hey, this is nothing. I get to go home on weekends and no one is shooting at me!" In response to their puzzled looks I said, "You know, Iraq, Afghanistan. Those folks are truly a long way from home. And they can't come home on weekends. And people shoot at them." "Ah", one of them said, "you must have been in the military." Civilians, I love them but sometimes they vex me, truly.
Again I see I have digressed. But before continuing with the saga of the penguins.
WARNING SHAMELESS PLUG!
Did I mention the hotel? Yes, I believe I did. The logo above is the place I have been staying for over two years. They treat me like family and the place is cozy. Not too fancy, but for the old Sarge it's just right. (I promised the staff there that they would be mentioned in one of my posts, someday. Today is that day. And no, I received no compensation. I'm plugging them for free. Because I like them. No, really, I do. They are like family, the kind of family you enjoy visiting. So this one's for you Diana, Sheila, Nancy, Laura, Simona and Joanie. With any luck I'll get more readers out of this. Yes, I'm shameless.)
Again I have broken lock and have drifted way off of the target. Let's get back to the penguin saga.
So it's the winter of 2010. In February I get a call from my Mom that my Dad is in the hospital, and it's serious. My youngest, the WSO, decided to fly up from Virginia to visit Grandpa. The two of us loaded up the vehicle and made the trek north to see my Dad. Things were not good, he was being kept sedated in order to relax him in the hopes that his body would heal.
So my daughter was able to see him, alive, sort of, one last time. The trip back to little Rhody was somewhat somber as you may well imagine. We stopped at a McDonald's for sustenance on the way home. For some reason, my then 25 year-old daughter, officer in the US Navy and a Weapons Systems Officer in the F/A-18F Super Hornet, decided to get a Happy Meal. She's like that, reverting to her inner child at times. (Me, I don't have to revert back to my inner child. I never really grew up.) WRITE THIS DOWN - the Happy Meal comes with a toy. Key element of the story here. Some very primitive foreshadowing if you will.
So I commenced to give her grief over her choice of meals, she gave it right back, and before long we were both giggling like a couple of yahoos. (Which we most certainly are. Drives the mother of my children completely crazy when the WSO and I get like that. Which is often.) We certainly felt better, considering the circumstances. The two of us are really irrepressible.
After the WSO flew back to Virginia, I got in the car to head north on a cold Monday morning. When I arrived at work, about the time the sun was coming up, what did I see sitting in the passenger side armrest? A toy from a Happy Meal. Mickey D's was plugging one of the Madagascar movies at the time, so of course, it was a penguin. Skipper, from the movie.
I thought that was cute. To make a long story short(er), my Dad passed away the following week. All of the kids except the Nuke came home for the funeral (she was at sea for a six month deployment). And there was that penguin, still sitting in the armrest of my car. My wife couldn't figure that out and wanted to know why I had a toy penguin in the car. The WSO explained. The Missus didn't get it, but the WSO did. It was one of our "little things", one of those bonds (however inane) you have with your kids, if you're lucky.
Now the other three penguins came on board a while later. Turns out that the hotel manager, a very lovely and intelligent young lady, saw the penguin in my hotel room and was thrilled. Seems she's a big penguin fan (the bird, not the hockey team). She loved my penguin story.
Jay was the next to arrive. The hotel manager gave that one to me, the hotel was doing some kind of promo for kids. Jay, the penguin, is a bath tub toy. She let me have this one to, as she said "Keep Skipper company."
Schultzie and Red were both abandoned at the hotel. They were found in a couple of different rooms. You see kids will drop their toys just about anywhere. And in the rush to pack, load the car and check out, sometimes toys get left behind. That's how Schultzie and Red joined our merry, goofy band.
And speaking of toys being left behind. When the kids were really young, we were travelling (as military families are wont to do) and we spent the night in a motel, I think it was in Arkansas, could've been Missouri. When we left the next morning, we had gone fifty miles when the Nuke and the WSO realized that they had left their teddy bears behind. At the motel.
At the next exit I got off the interstate, and headed back to the motel. CINCHOUSE assumed I was having some sort of "episode" and wanted me to explain what I was doing, immediately. Of course I told her we were heading back to the motel, to pick up the teddy bears. The girls were ecstatic, the wife was apoplectic, nevertheless, we were heading back.
So the penguins represent a sad time in my life but also a happy moment with my youngest. And if you're smart, you'll hang onto those moments, forever.
So you see, in my family, we leave no one behind. Ever. Not teddy bears and not penguins.
It's just the way we are.