When friends heard me talking about taking Fannie with me they thought I was nuts. They also thought I intended to take a pink plastic lawn decoration. They didn’t realize Fannie is no plastic thing, she is as real as Santa Claus.
“Jane you can’t take a pink flamingo. It won’t fit into your suitcase.”
“You can’t do this, the customs guys will think it’s full of drugs.”
So, Linda Terpstra, one of the girls on the team bought a flamingo beanie baby and gave it to me. It was the perfect size for my suitcase. I planned to give it to one of the kids recovering from surgery after Fannie had kept me company and had her fun.
What I didn’t know was that the Adventures of Fannie Flamingo would only get more bizzare.
I kept a journal of the mission trip and here are a few excerpts:
Thursday, January 14th:
“…I walked down the Eye Hall (one wing of the hospital dedicated to cataract and other eye surgeries) and saw a toucan in the hall, perched on a man’s arm. That’s right, a real live bird in the hospital. As I got closer, the man moved into the examining room where several medical people were standing around taking pictures of each other holding the bird on their arms or shoulders.
By this time, nothing in the place shocked me. I had watched them cut up a dead cow right in the kitchen for the night’s meal just that morning. So a tropical bird in the hospital was no big deal. Yes, he was pooping-- but it’s not like he was in the operating room, or anything. Yes, he was flapping his wings and feathers were flying everywhere. But it was a nice break from a tense and tedious day. It was something to cheer everybody up-patients and doctors, alike.
I have to admit he was a beautiful bird. He had a sleek black head and body. A brilliant yellow throat. The beak started yellow around the eyes and added a neon green as it became the beak. There were blue and Azure markings, ending in a bright red tip on the beak. The bright red gave him the appearance of lips. He was gorgeous. Everyone wanted their picture taken with him. I wish now I had my picture taken with him.”
Friday, January 15th:
“I had brought Fannie like I said I would. She’s just that kind of bird. She wanted to see the action and help out where she could. Fannie spent the first couple of days with me in my dorm room. She flitted around helping set up and getting settled. When the action got started I knew she would want to be in the Recovery Room. I took her to Patty Bechtol who had the 7 to 3 shift. Patty put her up on the supplies shelf where she could look down on the action. By Thursday, Fannie had a good handle on things. Patty said Fannie would encourage the other toys in the toy box and send them out with a discharged patient full of advice and good humor. “Go give that little girl a hug, she needs it!” or “Take really good care of that little boy there, he gets scared sometimes.” It was just that type of cheerleading that Fannie’s so good at. Patty said that there was a little girl with a double cleft lip repair scheduled for Friday and she thought that Fannie would want to go home with that little girl.
So, Friday, at lunchtime, I went to Recovery to check things out. Fannie was nowhere to be found! She wasn’t perched up on the shelf. She wasn’t in the toy box. She wasn’t behind the boxes of gauze or gloves. We looked everywhere. We asked everyone who might have seen her or anyone taking her. The bird was just gone.
Then, to my horror, I remembered the toucan from the day before. How attractive he was-- with that coat of sleek black feathers and colored beak. And those ruby red beak tips!! He was just the kind of male to drive a female wild. I know the type. I’ve seen them before. Most women I know understand that these kind are NO GOOD. He probably wanders from hospital to hospital, or entertains from one town to the next. No solid home life. No nest. And I know Fannie is a nesting-type. She will see through him soon enough. I can’t believe she ever fell for him to start with.
We kept looking for the remainder of the week and asked everyone we could think of who might have taken her. So many times the hospital staff would take a special interest in a kid and give them a toy out of the toy box. But most on the staff had already met Fannie and knew how special she was.
There is no way a patient would have taken her. They’re not that kind of people. She just vanished.
We may never know the truth. But I expect a phone call from Fannie any day now, asking for birdseed money while she flies the distance home. She will see through his brilliant plumage soon enough and see that he’s all fluff and no future. A sadder but wiser bird.”
Another entry from Tuesday, January 19th:
“…..The whole team stayed overnight at a really neat hotel in Antigua. Beautifully landscaped lawn with parrots on perches. I talked to a couple of the parrots but none had seen Fannie “
and the last entry, from Wednesday, January 20th:
“…There is one interesting footnote: When I got home and unpacked my backpack I found a small stuffed toucan just about Fannie’s size. I don’t know how he got there but I have an idea. I’ve hung him up in the window of my study looking out. Maybe he will spot Fannie or vice versa. I’m still angry with him and don’t trust him a bit. I’ve never trusted males who are too attractive for their own good. You see what happened to Fannie. “
Ok, folks, that’s the end of my entries. Now, for the fun part.
The following e-mail showed up in my in-box one night after I got home. No joke. I have no idea who sent it. You’ll notice that the culprit went to the trouble of setting up a totally unique e-mail address. This could have come from literally anywhere in the world. There were people on the hospital team who knew this the running story of Fannie Flamingo and who live in cities across the USA, even other countries. We had a couple of eye people from Japan and one interpreter from Austria. This e-mail could have come from anywhere on this planet.
And that’s what I love about it. I don’t know who sent it and I don’t care. I’m having far too much fun as it is right now. Read on…….
From: "FLAMINGO FREEDOM FIGHTERS"
Subject: FANNIE FLAMINGO
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 18:13:29 PST
WE HAVE FANNIE AND HER FRIENDS. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CONTACT THE POLICE.YOU WILL SOON RECEIVE PROOF - THIS IS NO JOKE.
THESE ARE THE RULES OF THE GAME. IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THESE RULES - THE FLAMINGOS WILL PAY THE PRICE.
YOU WILL BE ASKED A SERIES OF QUESTIONS THAT MUST BE ANSWERED WITHIN THE
ALOTTED TIME VIA E-MAIL TO THIS ADDRESS.
YOU MUST ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS CORRECTLY.
IF YOU FAIL TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS IN THE ALOTTED TIME CORRECTLY, THE
BIRD GETS IT.
LIST THE INGREDIENTS FOR A BAKED ALASKA
YOU HAVE 48 HRS TO RESPOND.
WE WILL BE IN CONTACT WITH FURTHER QUESTIONS- IF YOU DON'T BLOW IT WITH
THE FIRST QUESTION.
THE FLAMINGOS ARE COUNTING ON YOU - YOU EVER HEARD A FLOCK OF FLAMINGOS
Next week: "The Search for Fannie"