Special Penguin

This summer, my Dad passed away after his second battle with mantle cell lymphoma. We were very close, good friends as well as being father and daughter. I miss him every day, and it still takes my breath away sometimes when I am startled to remember that he is gone.

My parents got married when my Mom was nineteen years old, so she had never lived alone before, and had been married to my Dad for over 50 years. I almost immediately had the idea, very soon after my Dad’s funeral, to make her a Build-A-Bear with a recording of my Dad saying something to her. That of course morphed into the idea that I could crochet her a stuffed animal and make a voice recording like in a Build-A-Bear.

To decide which animal to make, I looked to my Dad for inspiration. He used to love going to Mystic Aquarium. My parents were members, and before he got sick the second time, they used to visit Mystic several times a year. He loved to stand and watch the beluga whales as they swam around and played together. I found an ok pattern for a beluga whale, but it wasn’t obvious what it was. It wasn’t particularly huggable. My eyes couldn’t stop tearing up every time I thought of my Mom alone in the house they had lived in together since the early 1980s. She had to be able to hug the stuffty.

Then I remembered how Dad also loved the penguins at Mystic Aquarium. Father penguins are the ones who care for the young, keeping the egg warm. A penguin seemed perfect. I found a cute, soft, baby penguin pattern. Perfectly huggable. I bought a little recordable voice box and Jason helped me record my Dad’s final voicemail message to my Mom, along with a silly recording we had made in the hospital earlier in the summer of him calling her name over and over as he used to do. “Sar, Sar, Sar!” (My Mom’s name is Sarah.) At the time, we had joked that I was recording it so we could sneakily change Mom’s cell phone ringtone to that, so she would still hear him calling her even while she was home and he was in the hospital (which didn’t turn out to be much time at all, as she was always by his side all day, every single day while he was there). At the time I had a twinge of a bad feeling–what if this recording would become our memory of Dad calling her all the time? And then it did.

I added a little pocket to the front of the penguin so that we can easily change the batteries in the recorder when they eventually wear out. Of course it has a heart. I bought special yarn of the softest feel to make him the perfect snuggle companion. I worked steadily to finish the penguin so that I could give him to my Mom as soon as possible. I know that someday, it won’t make me cry to see the penguin sitting next to Mom when we video chat while she’s in bed at her house, or in our guest bed which is her bed whenever she wants to come visit us. Someday it will just make me smile to push the heart and hear his shaky voice tell my Mom how much he loved being her backseat driver.