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After Work: The Little Boy And The Baby Penguin

…I got a call from Melissa (name changed.) She almost never calls me and she said that her sister-in-law had taken their four-year-old to the aquarium. Somehow he ran around the corner and she lost him. Just couldn’t find him.

“She told the guards and they locked the place down. No one could get in or out. She was panicked.”

Everyone at the table had put down knives and forks. We were all waiting for the outcome, which ,we desperately hoped, was a happy one of boy and mom reuniting with hugs all around…

Donna Gibbs tells a delightful tale. But is it true? Oh is it true…?

‘Oh, I’ve got a cute story,” our hostess bubbled. Her eyes darted around the dinner table where her guests sat, stuffed and contented after a multi-course meal.

“Dona, it’s a good story. Maybe for Open Writing,” her husband chimed in.

That’s one of the perks of being known as a scribbler among your circle of friends. They always want to put you on to a story. Of course, another perk is if you let enough people know you’re writing, you might grow your readership.

There’s a risk though. Friends, even good friends, may not like your stories and duck their heads when your writing habit is mentioned. It’s that same pasted-on smile you see when you drag out a photo album.

The biggest disadvantage of going public with what you’re up to is you can no longer write about them and expose their amusing foibles to the world without their knowledge.

Anyway, here it was. I was going to get a story and I was invited to share it with the world.

“I got a call from Melissa (name changed.) She almost never calls me and she said that her sister-in-law had taken their four-year-old to the aquarium. Somehow he ran around the corner and she lost him. Just couldn’t find him.

“She told the guards and they locked the place down. No one could get in or out. She was panicked.”

Everyone at the table had put down knives and forks. We were all waiting for the outcome, which ,we desperately hoped, was a happy one of boy and mom reuniting with hugs all around.

“Finally the little guy comes squelching down the hall. He’s wet from head to toe. Even his backpack is soaked,” she continued.

“Everybody keeps asking him what happened but he won’t tell them. The mom takes him home and gives him a hot bath. All the while, she keep asking him what happened but he shakes his head.

“He tells his mom he’d like to play for a little while in his room before bed.

“The mom says okay, shuts the door and goes downstairs.

“Things are quiet. Maybe too quiet, she thinks after a while so she walks upstairs and quietly open the door.

“There she sees her son on the floor -- playing with a baby penguin!”

All dinner guest gasp in unison and burst into delighted laughter.

“A real baby penguin?” one asked.

“Yes, a real baby penguin,” she laughs. He’d just seen the penguin movie, Happy Feet. He took it home from the aquarium in his backpack.

“The parents call the aquarium. And yes, they were missing a penguin. They were about to phone and ask if their little guy had taken it.”

It was a wonderful story and a delightful finish to a wonderful evening.

Driving home, I turned the details over in my mind. A little boy at that irrepressible, out-of-bounds age. A trip to the aquarium. A baby penguin hidden in a backpack. All charming. Too cute.

That’s it. It was too cute. Why hadn’t someone else written about it?

Although the hour was late, I sat down at the computer and typed, “Lost boy and penguin.”

In a few seconds, I had my answer. And it was disappointing. Somebody had already written about it. Many somebodies.

What really made my heart sink was that the saga of the lost boy and missing penguin has been told and retold since 1993. It’s an urban legend. And a very persistent one. It’s a kind and gentle one. 180 degrees from the ugly, brutal poodle and the microwave story. If you don’t know that one, look it up. I’m unable to stomach the details.

Now I was in a quandary. How would I break it to my dear friend, the spectacular hostess? She’s fed me a delicious home cooked meal of perfectly grilled steak followed by fudge cake and ice cream. And she’s fed me a delightful story.

She like countless others have been besotted by the vivid Technicolor mental movie starring an innocent toddler and fuzzy baby penguin. My friend is joyful and giving. She treasures the world’s delights. She believes in happy endings.

We’ve never discussed Santa Claus. Or the Tooth Fairy. Or the Easter Bunny. I’d be willing to wager that in her happy heart resides a smiling little girl who’s never given up on them.

So the Little Boy and the Penguin isn’t factual. So what. On another level it is true.

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