Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Pingo, Parents and Imaginary Friends

As some of our customers already know, I'm obsessed with Pingo, a beautifully illustrated new picture book by Brandon Mull.

It's about a young boy who outgrows his imaginary friend. Pingo resents the rejection, so he becomes Chad's imaginary enemy, acting like an obnoxious little brother who spies on Chad's dates and hides important papers as Chad grows up. (And I used to blame "Gremlins" for that!)

When Chad is an old man, he welcomes Pingo back as his imaginary friend. The pair have wonderful adventures together, and "live happily ever after." You really have to see the last couple of pages for yourself. They choked me up.

Now I can't stop thinking about my own dad. I'm hoping he finds a friend like Pingo.

Last spring, we moved my dad into the Wisconsin Veteran's Home. After several years of dealing with his slowly creeping Alzheimer's and a puzzling, unmanageable dizziness, my family agreed that he needed more nursing care than he could get at home. He was a little reluctant, but yet not strongly opposed. "I guess it's time," is all he said. It's amazing how a few words can sum up an entire lifetime.

It helps that the Veteran's Home in King is a proud place that honors our veterans with stellar health care, cheerfully persistent nurses, and a dream location on the shores one of Wisconsin's most beautiful chain of lakes. They have a bowling alley, a bar, a theater, a library, a pottery studio and more. Local volunteers bring their dogs in for regular visits. There's a local waterski show down at the lake every Saturday in the summer. (And what's so bad about government health care?) My extended step-family visits him daily, with dogs and grand-toddlers in tow. Dad reports the food is fantastic and with the confused innocence of Alzhiemers, he calls it his "home."

But still.

His eyes often convey a clear blue emptiness. He's always been a quiet man, but now it feels like his quiet moments are really just moments of loss and confusion. He knows who we are, but it's hard to keep track of things. We return from pontoon boat rides, and he admits that he has no idea where he is. He looks up at the lake house in which he lived for 8 years without any recognition at all.

I know we're not unique. There are thousands, millions maybe, who suffer through much worse with much less support. We're lucky. But still, when it happens to your own dad, it's hard. You have guilt that you weren't one of those daughters who could be happy without leaving home. You wish you could do more and you're grateful for those who do. But most of all, you hope that some kind of happiness remains in your dad's last months or years.

What you really wish is that your dad could have a friend like Pingo.

If my dad had a Pingo, his quiet, seemingly lost moments would be filled with fantasy and flight. He and his Pingo would go musky fishing at a "hot spot" in Eagle River or duck hunting on the shores of Lake Winnebago. They'd play army, jail, "Boohla-Boohla" and lots of the other crazy little made-up games. They'd have bikes and shiny nickels and eat entire bags of store-bought vanilla sandwich cookies. They'd bomb around in a yellow Army jeep, go on a safari, and eat bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread with a zig-zag of French's mustard. Dogs would tag along wherever they went -- frolicky but obedient labs and spaniels with names like Lonnie, Hodi, Pal and Ginger Sue. They'd laugh at each other's clean, but not-that-funny jokes (I hope this rain keeps up! Then it can't come down!) There'd be no cancer or Alzheimer's or heavy meds, just sprained wrists, growing pains and St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children.

That's what I wish for my dad. And what do I wish for myself? . . . I really wish I could be his Pingo.

To have us hold a copy of Pingo ($17.95) for you, pleae call (630) 469-2891 or e-mail us at For more information, go to and search under the title "Pingo."

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