Daytona Beach, Florida
My bag holding the Quilt, puppet and other goodies sat in the waiting room this afternoon. I had passed my background check and it was 3:30. I was set up to do a program with the children staying at the Family Shelter.
A Facility Offering Help to the Homeless
I've taken the quilt with me to volunteer in schools, camps, nursing homes and shelters in past travels, but this was going to be different.
There were dozens of eyes watching me as I carried my bag up the steps to the office, where so many of the homeless in Daytona are offered assistance. It was my second visit to the office and I was ready to be escorted back to the Family Shelter and bring some fun to the kids after they returned from school.
After quite a wait, I met up with my escort and followed her through a number of locked doors to the shelter. That's when we were told the shelter was on lock-down and I couldn't work with the kids.
My imagination went wild for a split second, before I learned it was a contagious illness that was forcing all the families to stay out of the common areas. I lugged my bag back to the office where I texted Don, (husband on errands) and told him to come get me.
"The Magic Quilt"
I waited for Don. I felt disappointed my plans had fallen through and I couldn't even see the kids. Then I felt ashamed to be holding this bag with my colorful quilt, just spilling over the top. Kids call it Magic Quilt because of the stories about it flying. I so wish it had been magic. I would have asked it to multiply itself so I could give one to every person who came in the door, or stood out on the street.
Some came inside to see if they had mail. (The facility office can be an address for those living on the street) But most were coming to ask for blankets. I chatted with a few while they waited for help. "I sleep in a bush." One man almost chuckled. He was in decent spirits because he was picking up his VA check. Another woman said it was her first time "sleeping on the cement". They offered her sleeping bags but she wasn't sure her disabled husband could get into a sleeping bag. They only had space in the shelter for those with kids. And temperatures were expected to be in the low '40's.
What Did I Learn? I always learn something when I volunteer. I didn't get a chance to pull the quilt out of the bag, but I did learn. I learned that there are a lot more homeless out there than I ever realized. Especially in places that are expected to be warm in the winter. I had nothing with me to offer these people... unless I wanted to have them all share one quilt. But I have two more days in town to think about what I could do to help. If I win the Powerball, everybody is getting a brand new blanket for starts!
The Book That Inspired the Theme
This funny zoo book caught my eye in an antique store. As I unfolded the thick pages, pop-up images brought the turn-of-the-century-zoo to life!
I'd been wanting to do a Zoo Theme with the Quilt Groups and this purchase gave me the push I needed.
I brainstormed ideas to make a zoo theme appropriate for adults, but all I had were kiddie books.
St. Louis Zoo... in 1926
Then I remembered this great book! The 1926 book captures zoo life nearly 100 years ago. That's a period of time when life in the zoo was pretty grim.
But the photo images were surprising. The bear "exhibit areas" were ahead of their time, with realistic landscapes. Sadly I had no one in my 5 groups who could remember being at a zoo in the 1920's.
Zoos in the 1950's
Many remembered zoos looking like this Golden Book illustration from 1950.
"Deloris reminded me repeatedly, "When I was young, the Houston Zoo was just a lot of cages with bars. When I took my kids years later, I was so surprised!"
Enjoying the Books
The fold out book was an obvious hit. It was fun to imagine all zoo guests, wearing layers of formal clothing as they strolled through the zoo.
When Martha reminded us about how dirty and smelly zoos once were, we felt sorry for those ladies with their lace and parasols and the gentlemen in their heavy jackets and vests.
I didn't expect the Seuss book to be such a hit. In one group, I had to leave the room briefly.
When I returned, Frances had engaged the entire group with her reading of "If I Ran the Zoo". That was a delightful sight and a good reminder that Seuss's words and illustrations were never just for kids!
No Correct Answer
The groups enjoy trivia and quizzes, but they also like being given a question to ponder.
Everyone had an option to answer a question... or to question the group.
If you could be an animal...?
I had to remind a few to take a moment with this question. We've all been asked the question, "Which animal would you want to be?" But the question was, "Which animal would you like to be IF you lived in a zoo?" Ramona loves elephants and that was her choice no matter what!
The discussion did allow us to really imagine life in a zoo. Would all these animals really be better off living in the wild?
Since there have been so many improvements over the years, many said they would rather be in a zoo, safe from predators and worries of drought or floods. But many felt sad to think about the lack of freedom in the zoo, with no migration options, with limited space to roam or even breed. I was surprised that a couple groups were interested in shifting away from the mostly positive theme.
Kids at the Zoo
Very few could recall memories of actually being a child at the zoo.
Pat remembered when she was a young mother and every Sunday, her family visited the Houston Zoo after church. It was free, so they could stop for just a while or stay all day. We wondered how many free zoos are left. The black and white photos I found on the internet reminded me of a couple of my own zoo memories. The children playing on the railing reminded me of a story... I'll tell later. The giraffe photo reminded me of when my family visited the zoo in Rome in 1969. I can still picture my dad lifting my brother (not on his palm) to reach the long black tongue of the giraffe.
These photos are from the early 1990's, when my kids were being invited to hold snakes, kiss monkeys and rides tall beasts. We all guessed that zoos have gotten stricter in the past 25 years.
Gena remembered reaching into a monkey cage, 60 years ago and getting a bite. I remembered the story of my older sister getting knocked over by a baby zoo lion. I also remembered chimps dressed in clothes and riding bikes to amuse the crowds. I'm quite sure that doesn't happen anymore.
Jobs at the Zoo
One of our zoo questions was, "What is the best and worst job at the zoo?" I wasn't surprised that "Cleaning up the cages..." was the job most considered the least attractive.
A few thought working in the children's zoo would be the most fun. Joyce said, "It would be fun being around the children and helping them interact with the animals!" Dot, who was a nurse for many years, liked the idea of working with the newborn animals. "I would love to feed the babies."
Some in the groups, always love the discussion best. Others could study books and photos for hours. But I have some who have difficulty seeing photos or even understanding the discussion.
Even though the only props I could find were toys, it still helped to have some hands-on stuff for the table. Some enjoyed the nostalgia of the wooden toys and the stuffed, Steiff lion. But for some it was just a fun game involving the sense of touch to determine the animal in hand.
There were fewer specific zoo memories recalled than I expected. But there seemed to be an overall peaceful atmosphere in all the groups, as we shared thoughts on animals and the zoo world in general.
I usually try to focus on the stories of others, which means there's little time for my own memory sharing. But I did have a chance to share a piece or art I made at age 6. I told my story of fooling around at the Staten Island Zoo, riding the railing like a cowgirl, until I lost my balance and fell in. The gators had a feeding platform, so I didn't become their food. But I slammed my face pretty good and started first grade with black eyes and swollen face.
Why do we go to the Zoo?
This simple question gave us lots to think about. Most talked about the fun of seeing animals, but some talked about what we learn. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the animals that make us laugh... even if we aren't right inside the cage.
Sharing the Zoo with Family and Friends
Most agreed that it was enjoying the zoo with others that we liked best... even if we weren't even looking at animals... even if we were playing sloppy driver and pushing our dear mom into a palm tree! My mom was a very good sport and she loved zoos so much!
The very idea of standing with a friend or loved one and peacefully observing, is a special thing.
I shared a little about Diane Ackerman's article, that reminds us about two views. Zoos can be "arks and educators or cruel wardens of unhappy animals..." She shares interesting studies about what good things happen physically and mentally to people when they visit zoos. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/why-we-love-zoos/
In my very last group we sat in "The Louis Armstrong Room" where the nearby wall aquarium gurgled as we chatted.
As we discussed the animals we love, Dot pointed to the yellow fish and reminded us how much she loved watching them. I agreed. "Fish are great to watch. How do you feel when you watch those fish?" Dorothy, sitting next to Dot smiled and answered in one word. "Peaceful!" These folks may be living in a skilled nursing facility but they share something fun, "We have our own zoo right here! A water zoo!"
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.