The dogs were taking me for a walk the other day when I stopped at the mailbox. Our mailbox, which sits across the road from our home, is rather oversized and resembles a dog house perched precariously atop a pole. I think my wife actually mistook it for one because she once suggested I sleep in it. I forget what I did to warrant that, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.
I generally bypass the mailbox when walking the dogs. My beagles have no sense of direction, so carrying an armload of mail and dragging them along usually results in a paper trail of letters and catalogs strewn up the driveway. It’s also a little dangerous: One dog likes to attack horse trailers, and what exactly she’d do if she ever caught one God only knows. The other needs only the whiff of a shadow of a possum that lumbered through our neighborhood three weeks ago to dart off on its trail. Also, on days when I stop, the mail will include a box so large that Carol Merrill should be standing in front of it. (OK, why can I remember the model’s name from “Let’s Make a Deal” circa 1972, but not where I put my damn car keys?)
As a gust of wind whooshed me up the driveway, a large snow-white envelope caught my attention. My first surprise was that it’s addressed to Penelope; the second was who it’s from.
I corralled the dogs into the house and dropped the mail on the kitchen island. My wife is currently on a detox diet, which means that, by default, I am too. Not that she’s forcing me onto her diet, but I’d feel bad slurping up a giant plate of penne vodka while she’s nibbling on brown rice and broccoli. On this day, she’s stirring a big pot of hot and sour tofu cabbage soup.
Once a friend learned “we” were on this diet and asked if I’d lost anything. “Only my will to live,” I told her.
I called Penelope over. She was standing in her play kitchen pulling from her toy oven a wooden pizza that looked more appetizing than Bern’s soup. I held up the envelope, and Penelope scampered over.
“You have mail,” I said. She cocked her head and blinked uncomprehendingly. “Really, it’s yours. Take it.”
I extended the large envelope, and she tentatively reached for it. “Me? Mail?” I reassured her. She slowly ripped small pieces of the envelope as if she were peeling an artichoke.
Finally finished, she gasped as she pulled out the contents. Her eyes widened in delight. After all, it’s not every day a three-year-old gets a glossy magazine promoting tourism from the Nebraska Office of Economic Development. I’m not sure why the good folks at the Nebraska tourism board think my daughter is the right demographic to pitch, but I confess my marketing experience is pretty much limited to the “3 Ps.” Yet I still can’t picture toddlers booking flights to Omaha to visit the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps or even the Kool-Aid Museum (with the rather eyebrow-raising slogan “Discover the Dream”).
Penelope loves her shiny new magazine. The first night before she went to bed she left it on the family-room coffee table, pointed at it, then me, and said, “No Papa.” I got the message: Keep your stinking paws off my magazine. She scampered off to the kitchen to repeat the admonishment to Bern.
The next evening, Penelope carried her magazine upstairs and wanted it read to her before bedtime. I conjured up a tale about a mythical, magical place called “Nebraska,” where Elmo and Mr. Noodle frolic when they’re vacationing from Sesame Street. Now, the guide has become a staple in our night-time reading selection. It’s not out of the ordinary for Penelope to want me to read “Polar Express,” “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket,” and “The Nebraska Tourism Guide” before shutting out the lights.
Our daughter may not yet be able to say her full name, opting for the shortened Pelli over the mouthful of consonants and vowels we bestowed upon her. But she can say Nebraska and Omaha.
Addendum: Recently Penelope received a second packet in the mail, this from the Texas Tourism Council, and a third from Rhode Island. If this continues, she may have all 50 states memorized by kindergarten.