Turkey P.H.A.T. (Place Her At Toledo)
November combines two things that are dear to my heart, Thanksgiving and Adoption. This is not only the month we celebrate our own Adoption Day, but it’s National Adoption Awareness Month. I’m so thankful, both for our Thanksgiving heritage, but for God’s precious gift to us, our son. We are so Thankful that God used the vehicle of Adoption, to make us a family. The following is a story celebrating both Adoption and Thanksgiving, as our Thanksgiving gift to you.
Turkey P.H.A.T., no it’s not a group from the nineties. It turns out, I was the turkey, and P.H.A.T. stood for place her at Toledo. The person responsible for my predicament, Mildred Shane.
My name is Brenda, Senior Vice President Of Operations, and really also the unofficial personal assistant to Ms Shane, or Mildred as she insists everyone call her. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a wonderful lady, I owe her a lot. At the same time, I wasn’t too happy about her latest project when I came in that morning.
I had barely got in the building with my coffee when Victor the security guard called after me. “Miss Taylor, you’re wanted on the top floor ASAP.” I bypassed my office to see Mildred.
She was an array of activity for a woman approaching 90. A powerhouse in a small frame, but don’t let her five feet two inches throw you off. Captains of Industry made that mistake going into a meeting with her. By the time they learned better, it was too late.
Mildred Shane dressed in a combination of materials which included pastel and florals. She never overdid it, but most outfits were some combination of those two things. Today it was purple and gardenias. Her white hair covered by a small beret. Mildred did go over the top with hats.
“There you are dear. Wait til you hear my latest idea. I won’t lie, it’s going to take a lot of work, but think of the children. Of course, I’ll need someone I can trust to run it all. I want to make sure the kids get the best hospital possible.”
I stopped short. “Hospital? Mildred, you make everything from children’s toys to security software, when did you start buying hospitals?” I hid my building anxiety behind a curious smile.
“Not buying Brenda, building. We are building a new Children’s Hospital in Toledo. I want my best person to run it all, and that’s you. I told George, I want custom not turnkey, Brenda knows me. Place her at Toledo.”
Mildred’s reference to turnkey, a phrase she hated, meant anything that was prebuilt, or not designed to her specifications. Her son George, our C.O.O. longed for a turnkey project, as did his Dad before him. A project for Mildred was always grand, but exhausting.
At 62, George was thinking of retirement. Both he and Mildred told me they were grooming me to take over. I was shocked at first, but Gwen, George’s daughter was not interested in the business. She’s a Congress woman, doing some very good work for children herself.
Which brings me back to Mildred’s project. “I want to build several hospitals. Gwen was telling me some statistics recently, and it’s appalling. I’ve got the means, and if I can help, we are going too. Now, you’ll need to leave in five days.”
“Leave? Leave for where? Aren’t you building it here?” I was praying her reference to Toledo was a project code word, it wasn’t.
“No dear, there’s a new one here already. It’s what brought up the conversation with Gwen. Your building the first of several. You’re starting in Toledo.”
I resisted the urge to whimper. I knew no one in Toledo, I had no idea who to speak to concerning a hospital, and I couldn’t find the right words. Instead, I drank my now cold coffee, I hate cold coffee.
Mildred looked behind me to say, “George, I just have been giving Brenda the good news. I have an appointment to get ready for. Can you join her in her office to fill in the details?”
For a lady in her age group, she could move quickly. Before the shock had time to wear off I was sitting in my office facing George. “What just happened?” I asked, hoping he knew more than I did.
“In my family we call it Floral Bombing. Mom is sweet, strategic, and smiling, as well as shocking, strong willed, and seemingly unstoppable. Brenda, are you okay?”
I nodded, but the look on my face told him I wasn’t sure. “Why me George? Couldn’t someone else set this up? I don’t know anything about medicine, I’m scared of needles.”
He hid a laugh at this point. “Brenda, while it’s true any of the SVP’s could do this, she doesn’t want them. She wants you, and believe it or not, it’s for your sake she wants you. Hold on to your seat, Mom is retiring the end of the year. I’ll stay on for another year until you find a competent COO, but the business will be yours to run.”
“I’ll retire to a nice quiet fishing boat. Mom’s planning a world tour, beginning by climbing a mountain in Tibet probably. The hospital project, on top of being a huge benefit for children across the country, will be a major success for the person behind it, you. Mom could have taken the credit, but she wants to set you up nicely. This is her way of saying thank you.”
I hiccuped once, then twice, then repeatedly. It’s what I do when I get nervous. In between them I thanked George and asked if we could meet in the afternoon for more details. He agreed and closed the door behind him.
I didn’t realize the hiccups were gone until a few minutes later when the tears left. I should explain, I’m all for the hospitals, and even was okay with going, but it meant that the house I had just bought would sit empty. The place I was planning on having my first real Thanksgiving Dinner, my first big family celebration, just me and the two cats, wasn’t going to happen.
Uncle Irving and Aunt Matilda, my cats, were all I had left. I had been by myself for a number of years. Most Thanksgivings I ended up spending with Mildred and George. This year they were headed to Rhode Island for dinner with Gwen, it was her turn to host.
I collected myself, told myself how selfish I was being, opened a drawer, and put my feelings in it. Then I went to George’s office, apologized for my initial shock, and asked him to brief me on the details. He smiled and asked me to set down.
“Mom has that effect, even when you like the project. She means well Brenda, but sometimes she tries to lock you in before you have a chance to say no. You can always fly out to join us in Rhode Island for Thanksgiving?”
I thanked him, but told him I’d probably just explore Toledo. By that afternoon I had made arrangements for Uncle Irving and Aunt Matilda to be boarded at The Catalan, a pet spa, and started working on contacting the people on George’s list.
There was a lot of work to do, so I planned to leave November 3rd. Laurie McCoy, my Executive Assistant, went with me. As I said I’m pretty much a loner, not Laurie. Her husband, five kids, and brother Whit brought her to the airport.
The youngest, Michael, gave me a look as if I had punched Blitzen in the face, by taking his Momma away for the holidays. I wanted to tell him to blame Mildred, but I couldn’t. I don’t know who cried more on the flight, Laurie or me.
“I’m sorry about this Laurie, I’ll try to wrap things up as quickly as possible. At least get you home the week before Thanksgiving if I can.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry about Michael, my little chipmunk is well passionate about what he does and doesn’t like. Oliver understands, and so do the other kids. Whit is mad at you, but Whit is very protective of his big sister.”
“He seems nice. I never met him until today. He’s older than what I imagined. You always talk about him like he’s still a kid.”
Laurie laughed. “He’ll always be eighteen in my mind. He’s actually your age. We can both pretend I don’t know you’re 32, but I’m your emergency contact after George, I mean Mr. Shane.”
I laughed. “George would be more upset if you called him Mr. Shane, he wants to be known as George. Laurie you know all my secrets, though I don’t have many beyond I hide chocolate caramels in my filing cabinet. “
“An you have a gallon of creamsicle ice cream in that little refrigerator you had put in where the old safe used to go. Also you keep house shoes in your computer bag, oh and, you were looking so forward to Thanksgiving at home this year. How are Uncle Irving and Aunt Matilda?”
“I’ll be okay, and it’s a pint not a gallon, usually. They’re okay, the spa is spoiling them. They’ll be obnoxious all the way to New Years probably, I love them. As for the house, Toledo will be nice to experience.”
She decided to pretend she believed me, and I decided to let her. We didn’t talk much the rest of the flight. I pretty much tried to suppress thoughts over my predicament, until we landed in Toledo.
We stayed at Pasadena Gardens, a luxury hotel owned by Mildred’s company. The hotel manager Joseph Skelton met us at the front. “Welcome to Toledo ladies. It’s our pleasure for you to stay with us. Mildred has booked the Farrah Suite for you Ms Taylor, and for you Mrs. McCoy, the Westmoreland Suite.”
Both were beautiful, and on the top floor, Mildred had went out of her way to make it nice for us. She even had big gift baskets in each of our rooms. On mine there was a note. ‘I do realize the sacrifice I’m asking you to make Brenda, but I promise, it will be well worth it by the big day.”
I thought that was an odd way of putting it, though I did appreciate the acknowledgement. Mildred was wonderful, she just was hard to keep up with. That afternoon I didn’t worry, I was too tired. I sat down and ate three chocolate caramels from the gift basket, and ordered room service. Toledo has some really good creamsicle ice cream.
The next day we were working before dawn over breakfast. “Pass the toast please. Last night I literally did a search for how do you build a children’s hospital. The first name on Mildred’s list, Arthur Sparks came up. I sent an email to his assistant this morning.”
Laurie passed the toast. “The second contact on her list, Dr. Emmett Patterson came up. He’s the retiring Chief Of Surgery for Toledo’s top hospital. I think he’s a good one to talk to also. I’ve reached out to his office this morning too.”
We worked that way through breakfast, skipped lunch, and had meetings until the afternoon. I finally looked at Laurie, “I’m exhausted but if we stay here I’ll keep working. Let’s go somewhere for dinner, feel like Italian?”
We called and asked Joseph to direct us, and he said he’d make all the arrangements. When he arrived at the door a few minutes later he said he had taken care of everything. “A small call resolved it all. Shall we go?”
I thought he meant that he was going with us to the elevator, but he was going to be our host for dinner. “Ms Shane indicated I should make you feel at home. I believe this will help to do so.”
We arrived at a restaurant named Tacchina, Italian for turkey. I couldn’t help but laugh at this, thinking of the situation. Joseph explained that his wife Lillian and himself owned the restaurant. She was the chef, and what a chef she was.
We had a turkey dish based on a Northern Italian recipe, a turkey breast roulade with mushroom stuffing. A Roman gnocchi with pumpkin and Gorgonzola, garlic bread, sweet potato lasagna, and Minestra Maritata or Italian Wedding soup. Also, oven roasted chestnuts, and a Tuscan tart of pecans and apples.
Joseph and Lillian were wonderful hosts, and we left the restaurant stuffed beyond belief. It was at the moment we were leaving the restaurant when my life forever changed. I was literally knocked over, and so was the other person.
I did not expect to see a little boy, about seven years old, as the one who had ran into me. His name he told me was Jacob. He helped me up, and tried to run off. I don’t know what caused me to do it, but instinctively I would not let him go.
“Hold on a minute. Are you okay, were you hurt? Where are you going in such a hurry?” I didn’t think I said it harshly at all, but as kind as I could, until he burst into tears.
It turned out, the problem wasn’t how I said it, but what I said. He wasn’t going anywhere. The boy didn’t have anywhere to go, he was just running from where he had been.
Jacob was an orphan, who had just slipped out of state custody again. His parents like mine were gone, and he hadn’t liked the last three foster homes he had been placed in. He told us all this on the ride back to the hotel.
“We’ll call the authorities tomorrow. For tonight, let’s get you some dinner, a nice warm bath, and some rest. I think you’re like the Presidential Suite.”
His smile was so warm and big. The little boy had auburn hair, big brown eyes, and a beautiful smile. Joseph called his wife and had her send over a special dinner for him too. Only his included a large piece of chocolate cake.
With Laurie in tow, while Joseph entertained Jacob as he ate, we went to the gift shop. I bought him new pajamas, some clothes, toys, and a big stuffed dinosaur. It was in the elevator, on the way back to the room, Laurie started talking.
“Brenda, what are you doing? I have to tell you, kids steal your heart, and that boy already has a hold on you. Be careful, if he goes back tomorrow, don’t get so close both your hearts are broken.”
I reassured her that I was okay, we had both lost family, and identified with him. It was nothing more than that. “Everything is fine, we’ll get back to business tomorrow, thanks for caring, but don’t worry.”
Her look let me know, not only did she not believe me, but something else. Laurie knew that I didn’t believe it myself either. Yet all this was crazy, I had met him maybe an hour ago now. Plus I was a single woman, what did I know about children.
I don’t know what I would have said to the authorities that night honestly. I didn’t get much sleep that night wrestling with it. What I wanted to say was simply, “Can I keep him?” I didn’t know if that was because I believed it was best for him, or me. For once I was so thankful that Mildred was Mildred.
Joseph knocked on my door at 3:30 am holding a tablet. “Brenda I am so sorry, but she gave me no choice. I must warn you, this is about to happen.” With that, he turned the tablet around to show Mildred’s face on the video feed.
“I told him not to worry, I know what I’m doing, but he’s still concerned. Listen Brenda, you’re incredible as a business person, and you’re a wonderful young lady, but you frown when no one is looking. You’re not happy, pets are wonderful, but for you they’re not enough.”
“Right now you’re asking yourself, do I want to take care of this boy because of me or him. The truth is, it’s a little of both. Laurie called me at midnight, no you can’t be mad at her. You see, she called me because she knew I’d act. Only I’m going to act in a way you weren’t sure about. You want to know if you are supposed to do this, the answer is yes.”
She paused a moment to let me take it all in. I heard stirring in Jacob’s room, so we went out on the terrace and shut the door. “I don’t want him to hear. Mildred, no disrespect, but how do you know what I’m going through right now?”
“Simple girl, I’ve been there. We adopted George. He’s always known, it’s no secret, it’s not only public knowledge, we’re proud adopted parents. We don’t bring it up because he’s our son, no matter the vehicle God used to bring him to us. That’s what his Dad always said God rest his soul.”
“A young lady in the company decided to give up her baby for adoption. She was going to go to the orphanage the next day, but she broke down in my office. We knew immediately we were supposed to adopt George, there was never a question between us.”
“There was a lot of paperwork, and a lot of interviews with officials, making sure everything was proper, but that was fine with us. We would have done anything for our George, still would. It’s your choice dear, but don’t be afraid to say yes either.”
I glanced back to make sure Jacob wasn’t up yet and need me. “Thank you Mildred, but how can I be sure. A single parent, is it fair to Jacob? As much as I want to say yes, is it best for him?”
She laughed. “Of course it is dear, and I’ll tell you how I know. You stepped outside to keep him from hearing and misunderstanding. You keep glancing back to check on him.”
“An you never asked how this was going to change your life, because it will believe me, you only asked what was best for Jacob. The courts may take awhile to make it official, but you’re already his Momma, it happened when you saw him.”
I burst into happy tears. I wasn’t sure it was responsible or not, I didn’t know if I was being selfish, but at that point I was decided. If they’d let me, I was adopting Jacob.
Laurie walked in and I walked back in the room. I expected an argument, but when I told her I was adopting Jacob if he wanted me, she smiled. “Honey I knew it in the elevator. I just had to make sure of two things. First that you knew it. Second that you knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it’s always worth it.”
I don’t think Jacob had heard anything. When he opened the door he was in a full yawn. His hair was sticking straight up everywhere, and he came out asking for pancakes. Joseph said he’d be right back, and Laurie sat down. I half expected her to leave too, but she didn’t.
I sat down with Jacob, but I couldn’t find the right words. That’s why Laurie stayed. “Jacob, Brenda is wanting to ask you something, but she’s afraid to say it. You got to let her know you’re cool with it ok?”
He had this confused look on his handsome face. He looked at her, then at me. “Are you sending me back?”
“What? No of course not? I’m going to see, if they’ll let me, if you’ll let me, how would you like to leave Toledo? I’ve got a big backyard, an empty house, and two cats that are spoiled. What do you say?”
He gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever gotten. We were all sobbing and didn’t care. Now Laurie excused herself. Joseph arrived just long enough to drop off pancakes and left. Jacob and I talked for hours, laughing, crying, and just being family.
I didn’t think about work that day, I didn’t even care what we were supposed to do. What meetings we didn’t cancel, or anything else. I found out later Laurie and Mildred took care of moving everything a couple of days. The next day Jacob, Laurie, and I toured Toledo.
I had to stay about a month and a half to get the adoption process started. All together, it took a year to finalize, but we would get to come home like I said, a month and a half later. This meant we got to have a completely different Thanksgiving than anyone expected.
Joseph and Lilian hosted Jacob and I at their home. Laurie flew home to have Thanksgiving with her family. As for the Children’s Hospital, we were able to successfully get the planning off the ground. There were more trips back and forth, ironically we were back there the next November for the opening.
A lot happened during that year for both of us. Jacob and I got to grow into a family. Uncle Irving and Aunt Matilda took to him right away. Technically I think they’re his cats now. Jacob loves his new school, he’s made a lot of new friends, so have I.
In the nineties, phat meant excellent, for me it meant Place Her At Toledo. Now I agree with both, what I didn’t realize right away was, Mildred had other ideas for putting me in Toledo.
She told me in October her original plan. “Oh dear, you were so lonely. You needed a family, I thought I’d find you a husband. Dr Emmett has a wonderful grandson. Also Joseph’s youngest boy was an option. Who knew you’d find a son there instead.”
I looked at Jacob, and at Laurie’s brother Whit. Mildred laughed. “Who knew you’d find a son in Toledo, and a husband in your own backyard.” I smiled back, did I mention we had an October Wedding. Both my boys have auburn hair, and beautiful brown eyes.
The three of us returned to Toledo in November again. To introduce Whit to what was becoming our city away from home, and to open the George Shane Sr. Children’s Hospital. Mildred, George, Laurie, Joseph, and Lilian were all at the ceremony. We used a lot of tissues that day, but not as many as on Adoption Day.
We all flew back home just in time to host Thanksgiving for everyone at our house. Lilian came in to cook. I’m still learning, but I would have ate a TV dinner if I had had too. Regardless of what was on the table, for who was at the table, I was extremely, and forever Thankful. It was a Phat Thanksgiving, turkey and all!