My tribute to ‘Ernie’

Norma D. Pattison

Dear editor:
I first met “Ernie” about 12 years ago. In the entrance of Emo hospital, I saw the door push open and a big black-and-white cat, quite tall and lanky. Mouth open, he was roaring at the top of his lungs.
He came on bouncy front feet the size of snowshoes. I learned Ernie had seven toes on each front foot, and each toe was protected by brushes of white hair while the rest of the foot was in soft black, downy fur.
He was a Friday employee volunteer who was on a mission. He was making his early-morning rounds to waken everyone, young and old alike.
Sleepy voices could be heard—rather profane by being awakened by a loud cat voice. But he continued his rounds right by the hall, then turned to retrace his steps.
He was greeted warming, “Hey, Ernie, I knew it was you.”
He snuggled against each hand and some beds gave him a morning greeting. He hopped into bed and expressed a greeting of extra rubs and a nose rub. He found paper fans thrown out to greet him, pounced on it showing his concern, and then hurried on to the next bed, where he found a mechanical mouse dancing around to meet him.
One day in the Emo hobby shop, someone was suspicious when Ernie did not arrive early, so he opened the cupboard door, where he found a small round basket full of six or eight tiny brown baby rabbits. They were all snuggled together and didn’t open their eyes.
“These little fellows are your new friends,” said the craft leader. “Ernie has a new place to work today, Friday. He travelled to Fort Frances today to visit Grandma and Grandpa at Rainycrest.”
A few weeks passed and I remembered I had not seen Ernie. I was at the Whistle Stop Train Station in the middle of the early-morning rush. “Where is Ernie?” I asked.
“Who is Ernie?” He comes to work here every Friday. He has been promoted from his job in Emo and has quite a territory to travel in Fort Frances.
I asked again, “Where is Ernie?”
Everybody shook their heads. But I listened and I heard Ernie!
“Where are you, Ernie?” His voice rolled in from behind the apartment buildings on the corner.
“Where are you, Ernie?” His voice was loud and clear. “He’s coming” was a chorus from bystanders nearby.
I called, “Where are you, Ernie? Over here, Ernie! Come on, Ernie, over here.” I was sitting in my wheelchair and dropped my hand to near ground level, inviting Ernie to come.
He did. He placed his wet nose in my hand and pushed forward, running his wet nose to the end of my fingers. His forehead and ears rubbed down into the palm of my hand, then he pushed my hand over his back and down his tail.
He flipped completely around and stared at me. Someone was calling him. He turned to the voice immediately and then flipped around to stare at me again. Ernie was growling. His brow was furrowed with fur pinched into wrinkles across his forehead.
Ernie’s eyes were crescents of shiny green—he looked at me and opened his mouth wide in a comment of disapproval. Someone was calling him to breakfast and he did not want to be disturbed.
He looked back towards the voice. I waved my hand at him. “Go, Ernie, go,” I said. “Don’t let ‘Vanilla’ the rabbit eat your porridge.”
He turned to look at me, then ducked into the open door and hurried down the hallway.
Note: Ernie is a family pet working as a therapy animal volunteering his time at Rainycrest, and he also volunteered his Friday at the Emo hospital.
Norma D. Pattison
Fort Frances, Ont.
P.S. I’d like to hear stories about Ernie from his many friends about his days at work.