"Take Time To Smell The Roses"
Penelope - A Remembrance
Buena Vista Hill


Penelope and her bunnies

Everybody to bed


     The year was 1979. Jimmy Carter was President. I just turned 40 years old, and I was beginning my tenth year of being in San Francisco. I was healthy, happy and like a kid in a candy store. After all, I was living in San Francisco in the 1970's. What more could a guy ask for then having a home high upon a hill in one of the best cities in the world? Who would have thought the the 14th of November would be more than just another day to me? Well, it was on this day that my friend, Ruth Hastings, was bringing me her kitten, Penelope, to take care of while Ruth went home for Thanksgiving. My lease said, "no pets", but who would know if I took care of a kitten for only two weeks? Ruth was a well known cabaret singer by night and hausfrau to George Lucas of "STAR WARS" fame by day. Yes, it was on Lucas' famous Skywalker Ranch in Marin County that Penelope was born in September, 1979.

     By the time that Ruth returned to San Francisco from her trip home at Thanksgiving, Penelope had not only taken over my apartment, but had also become part of my life. Both of us were very independent, but somehow we decided that it was not a bad thing if we shared our world with each other. Ruth had decided while she was away that her studio apartment was not the proper place to bring up Penelope, so she asked me if I would adopt this fur ball that I had been taking care of. My landlord agreed that I could have a pet as long as it was of the feline persuasion. Penelope was happy with this arrangement since my apartment had access to a backyard and the outside world, which she could explore. This was the beginning of a relationship that was to last the better part of two decades.

     As 1979 came to a close, Penelope and I had adjusted to sharing our home on Buena Vista Avenue. By the time that 1980 arrived, Penelope had not only taken over my home, but had also taken over my bed and was slowly taking over my heart; even tho I did not realize it at the time. It wasn't until the summer of 1980 that I found out how special Penelope really was. It was at this time that I became the most sick that I had ever been in my life. I could not work and spent most of my time in bed sleeping. It was even a chore to get up and go to the bathroom. Penelope sensed that something was wrong, so to cheer me up she would go outside and catch a bird and bring it in to me and lay it on my chest. She did this twice and each time I yelled at her about catching birds. She was saddened that I did not welcome her feathered gifts, so she decided to try something new in the line of gifts: leaves. My reaction to this present was different than my reaction when she had brought me the birds. I thanked her and did not yell. Before I knew it, I was covered in leaves. My sickbed had become the forest in the fall. I had no choice except to smile and feel a little bit better. As I recovered from my illness, Penelope's concern about me waned. She went back to her regular routine of exploring, playing, eating and sleeping. It is strange how one finds out who their real friends are when they are sick or when things aren't going well for them. This happened to me during that summer of 1980. Penelope always seemed to know when I was sick, depressed, not feeling good, or just down in the dumps. Penelope was the one living creature that I could always depend on to cheer me up when something was wrong. I don't know how she knew, but she always had the knack of knowing how to be there for me when I really needed someone. I just hope that I was always there for her when she needed someone. I would hate to think that I ever let her down since she never let me down.

     Penelope and I continued to live in our home high upon the hill across from Buena Vista Park for the next decade. It was during the 1980's that contemporaries of mine - friends, co-workers and neighbors - started to die of what was to become the AIDS epidemic. I decided to volunteer for an organization called PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). This organization took care of the pets of people who had AIDS or related symptoms. My first client, Martin, had two pets named Smokey and Panda. I was relieved to find out that they were not bears, but rabbits instead. They were supposed to be brothers, but lo and behold just before Martin died, one of these "brothers" gave birth to five, tiny, baby bunnies. Penelope was not amused when I brought home two of these long eared, short tailed hoppers to terrorize her after Martin died; and she was extremely happy when we found a loving home for them.

     My second client, Bob, had recently been diagnosed with AIDS when I began helping with his cats, Puddy and Boo-Boo. I took care of Bob's cats for over a year, and Bob and I became buddies. He got to know Penelope, and when he died, Puddy came to live with us until we could find her a permanent home. Penelope got used to these intrusions on her daily routing, but preferred the days when I did not bring home the pets that I was caring for. Over they years, we continued to open our home to the pets of friends who died, but we were always glad when they got a new, loving home of their own.

     In December, 1989, Penelope and I had to vacate the home that we had been living in all these years. My landlord had died and the house was sold. Penelope and I moved to a studio apartment in downtown San Francisco. We lived there until I retired in September, 1994 when we moved to the house that I had bought 120 miles north of the city. Penelope rapidly adjusted to country living and having a whole house to herself , but was somewhat terrified the first time that I built a fire in the fireplace. I guess that she thought I was trying to burn down the place that I had just moved her to. Anyway, it did not take her long to figure out that lying by the fire was as good a way to pass the evenings as lying in the sun was to pass the time of day. From the fall of 1994 through the spring of 1998, we shared my precious moments relaxing by the fire.

     Penelope's health started to decline during the winter of 1997. She never complained, but slowly she stopped doing the things that she once loved doing. The one thing that Penelope never stopped was giving me the love and affection that she had done since that first day in November, 1979.

     On May 15, 1998, Penelope and I spent our last night together. Frank Sinatra had just died and they were playing all of his music on the radio; I built a big fire in the fireplace that she had come to love; and I brushed and stroked her as she lay purring peacefully in my lap. It was a long night as I sobbed and remembered how much she had become part of my life. The next day there was a big downpour of rain as I drove her the 30 miles to the vet's office. As I drove home with Penelope's empty carrier sitting by my side, the sun came shining through the storm clouds. It was then that I realized that everything was all right. Penelope was in her new home.

1. Be non-judgmental.
2. Give unconditional love.
3. Cherish those who are always there for you.

-- Bob K.

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