Penny in the Park

I’m glad to report that our guest columnist Paul Curran is back in good spirits and feeling well enough this week to present his Sunday Cuppa. And I’m also happy to say that he’s decided to listen to your comments and write about his interesting friend Penny again. And so he recalls …

Your Barrista -- Paul Curran

Your Barrista — Paul Curran

Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B have prepared a nice, air-conditioned, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. There are thundershowers this morning with a high just over 70 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer. We have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa in the air-conditioning while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie-free! How has your week been? Are you enjoying the weekend? Any special activities?

Tea Time for the Birds

Web Site:

A number of readers have commented that they would like to hear more about Penny, so here we go. Enjoy.

She danced across the parking lot with a huge smile on her face and her blonde hair streaming behind. I sat in the getaway car watching with amusement as each dance leap carried her 2 feet in the air. Penny had just come out of the liquor store and had the neck of a bottle of port clasped tightly in one fist. When she got to the car, she flung the door open, jumped into the passenger’s seat and shouted: “They carded me! They carded me!” I had to laugh at her enthusiasm as I pulled the car into drive and headed out. For a 30-year-old woman with four children to be asked for identification at the liquor store was apparently quite a positive thing.

“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the water, to the water… please?”
“No problem, how about Strathcona Park?”
“Yes, please and thank you.”

Part of Concrete Outdoors Shakespeare Stage at Strathcona

Web Site:

Strathcona Park was bordered on one side by the Rideau River and contained an outside theater. The sets for Shakespeare were set up in concrete and were a permanent installation. Penny had spent many years in the theater and had done Shakespeare there in her university years. Children played among the sets when they were not in use as well as on the swings and slides provided. Penny adored the park and went as often as circumstances allowed. I was currently having cancer treatments, and she was doing on-call teaching, as all new teachers did before finding a permanent assignment. She had an assignment that day but it had been canceled after she had arranged for child care. That left us free until school got out and her older kids came home.

Large Pita Bread with Tape Closure
If We Were Having Coffee

We were almost to the park when Penny exclaimed: “I forgot to bring bread for the ducks, stop at that Lebanese store there.” (She could be quite imperious when she wanted something.) I did and she ran in, emerging a few minutes later with a large package of flatbread. We arrived at Strathcona – a relatively small inner-city park that was a green oasis in the concrete and asphalt.

Wall at Strathcona Park

Debarking, we strolled in the dappled sunlight under the trees, over to the river. There was a concrete and stone wall about 2 ½ feet high that edged the park and marked the river shore. The top of the wall was about the same width and smoothed with concrete. It made an excellent surface to walk or sit on while observing the river which was down about an 6 foot dirt bank on the far side.

Mary Janes

Penny was wearing a sturdy black pair of Mary Janes with rubber soles for traction – all the better to chase kids, her own and others – with a pair of rainbow-colored socks and black pants. She hopped nimbly up on top of the wall while I watched. Ripping open the flatbread package tied with one of those annoying tape seals that cannot be opened and are not reusable, she removed one piece and set the open package between her feet. Tearing a piece off she made cooing sounds as she threw it toward a mother duck and her eight babies. The ducks must have been used to being fed as they gathered fast and lunged for the bread. Telling them not to fight, there was plenty more, she tore off more pieces and threw them down until each baby and the mother had a piece. While she was doing this other things were happening without her noticing. Much more wildlife including gophers, sparrows, crows, a huge blue heron and, strangely, a jet-black swan – which I had never seen before – began to move toward the landing bread.

Penny reached down and picked out another piece of flatbread and started to divvy it up, tossing in different directions to different creatures. While she watched the gathering wildlife, a black squirrel came carefully along the top of the wall toward her.

Fat and Sassy

Moving very slowly and deliberately, the squirrel walked right up to the bread bag, all the while glancing up at Penny to see if she had noticed – which she hadn’t. He reached out and grasped the plastic bag in his jaws and began to drag the almost full bag backwards away from Penny. Grinning, I quietly said “Penny” and as she turned she saw the squirrel and he knew he had been made. Penny made eye contact and said sternly and loudly:
And the squirrel stopped. Penny said:

“Drop It!”
And the squirrel dropped the bag from its jaws. She said:
“Back away.”
And the squirrel backed up about five steps and stopped, watching her.

“You’ll get your share,” she said as she reached for the bag and took out another piece. She placed the bag back between her feet and breaking off a few small pieces, she tossed the pieces to the squirrel, which was waiting patiently for Penny to keep her word.

While she was dealing with the squirrel, the various other creatures had gathered at the base of the wall and the ground hogs were actually climbing the bank toward her. Penny turned to the waiting mouths and began to feed each and every one, making sure that no one got more than the others. The blue heron was standing on one leg separate from the others and Penny made sure bread got to her as well. The black swan also remained on the outskirts of the gathering – and he got some too. It wasn’t long before the squirrel reappeared on the wall, walked up to Penny and sat while watching her in expectation. Once dispensed with a few more pieces, it ran down the wall with full cheeks.

Black Swan


Watching Penny feed the critters, I realized how typical that was of her daily works. She fed open and waiting mouths and minds and hearts and made sure that everyone got enough and no one was left out – all in an orderly manner. I never saw a black swan before that and never again – as if it had come just to see Penny.

Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea on this weekend. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Oh, and roughseasinthemed, your bottle of chilled Muscadet is on the table on ice. Have a great week, all.

Maireann croí éadrom a bhfad.
(In honor of Beth who is returning from Ireland.)


29 thoughts on “Penny in the Park

  1. So glad you’re back in the saddle, Paul!

    What a lovely story about Penny. I’m a if fan of squirrels; I’m pretty sure they are much smarter than I am! This one sure was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Elyse! It’s great to feel well enough to be back. Thank You. Yeah, I’m a fan of squirrels too, but many are not. When I was married we lived in a semi-detached and the other owner – John – was constantly at war with the squirrels. I found a whole bin of life sized fake squirrels with tree mounts at a local discount store – they were perfect. However my wife would not permit me to buy them. Spoilsport. Squirrels are so smart and elegant and emotional. When they sleep they relax every muscle in their body. Thanks so much for the read and support.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Obviously, this is why you split wit your wife!

        My old Aunt Sal was at war with squirrels for 70 years. She would do all kinds of things to keep them away from her bird feeders — greasing the pole with Crisco was the most effective. But nothing lasted for very long. At age 75 she gave up, and for 10 years had a blast watching them. She would put special treats out for them. Their favorites? Hersheys Kisses with almonds inside. They would sit on their back legs and carefully remove the white tag, open the foil, discard it, and then savor the chocolate and nut. “I wish I’d never fought them all those years,” she told me the last time I saw her.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Make love not war. ha! It is virtually impossible to keep squirrels out of bird feeders – or at least it was. Someone invented a bird feeder that spins when the weight of a squirrel sits on it. Birds are too light to trigger it, The results are effective and hilarious. Here’s an AFV clip showing the spinning squirrel device at work.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t need the film — I got one for my husband. It’s a riot. Mostly they get a panicked look on their face and jump off. But one squirrel would hold on for dear life. We had to push him off with a broom!

        But the squirrels figured it out. The seed goes flying out when the feeder spins, so they spin it and then enjoy the buffet!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha-One day as a fairly young child our family walked the steps down to the Atlantic Ocean for some fun on the beach. Mom had brought some munchies along and one of my favorites were (and still are) Lance’s brand peanut butter crackers. As I sat on the soft sand I had taken a bite from my cracker and whosh that fast a pelican snatched it from my small hand/fingers and was on his way. It happened so quickly all I felt was a slight puff of air as the pelican zeroed in on my piece of cracker. It never happened again as I was careful cupping the cracker in my hand from that afternoon forward. To this day when I take my evening walks on the beach I think of that Pelican?!! Good to see you back. Gatorette.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would have thought pita would work well. I’m sure I read something recently about not feeding bread to ducks though.
    A few years back I was going shopping, (pause, drinks chilled Muscadet, thank you Paul), and had an empty bag with me. One of the local Gib monkeys (Barbary macaques) came up to me and wanted to look in the bag.
    ‘No monkey, there’s nothing in there. Look. Now leave, and off you go.’
    And so s/he did. Skipped across the road.
    Of course people over-reacted.
    ‘Are you all right?’
    ‘Did the monkey hurt you?’
    ‘Oh, it attacked you!’
    What tosh.
    I thanked them politely and walked on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! That’s a fun story roughseas. Glad you’re enjoying your Muscadet. Thanks for coming by for a visit. Yeah, we aren’t supposed to feed ducks especially late in the season as it keeps them from migrating as they are supposed to. Around here if they don’t migrate their chances of surviving the winter is low.

      It’s true that if you talk to animals they often respond. I didn’t realize that you had Macaques running wild in Gib. Good to know. I’ve traveled in Asia some but never in monkeys’ natural habitat, so i have no idea how to deal with them.

      Thanks again for the read roughseas.


      • I think people like to feed animals, because we like to see it, but it’s not always in their best interests.
        People in Gib seem to have an innate fear of our monkeys. As we’re imports we don’t. Although the big alpha males are scary. But the average small monkey? No issue. People freak though. Feeding has caused a problem. When people feed them junk food, it causes health problems for the animals, and, the animals associate bags with food. Vicious cycle. We had monkeys in the town until a few years ago when the government employed monkey harassment officers. Enough. I should prob write a post on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so very much for giving me this opportunity to guest post Mark. I am honored and I hope your readers enjoy the story of Penny.


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