The Cheese Stands Alone!

The Cheese Stands Alone

I always hated those schoolyard recess games where somebody picks someone, and one by one a kid is chosen and the last person picked stands alone. In the beginning, you wait eagerly, expectantly, to be chosen. Chatter, laughing, talking, screaming, while the other kids are picked, while you wait your turn.

Like in the game The Farmer in the Dell. The farmer picks the wife, the wife picks the child, and the child picks the dog…..and then the Cheese Stands Alone. I almost feel like crying remembering the times I was picked last.

The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The farmer in the dell

And the farmer takes a wife
The farmer takes a wife
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The farmer takes a wife

And the wife takes the child
The wife takes the child
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The wife takes the child

And the child takes the nurse
The child takes the nurse
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The child takes the nurse

And the nurse takes the dog
The nurse takes the dog
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The nurse takes the dog

And the dog takes the cat
The dog takes the cat
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The dog takes the cat

And the cat takes the mouse
The cat takes the mouse
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The cat takes the mouse

And the mouse takes the cheese
The mouse takes the cheese
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The mouse takes the cheese

And the cheese stands alone
The cheese stands alone
Hi-ho, the Derry-o
The Cheese Stands Alone

I guess it is the word ALONE that saddens me these days. My Aunt Mary spent many days alone in a nursing home. Sure, we visited her when we could, made a few obligatory phone calls but our lives were busy…and hers was not. She loved the huge stuffed animal that she had on her bedspread. “Don’t sit on my bed. You will mess Freddie up.”

There are so many seniors in nursing homes and VA medical centers that do not have visitors. They watch the other residents who have a steady stream of loving relatives, arms laden with flowers, wrapped gifts and boxes of candy for the loved one who has a sweet tooth. The lucky ones that have little grandnieces singing a wholehearted Happy Birthday tune while helping to blow out a few candles on a homemade cake. I feel sorry for the folks who don’t have any kindergarten art pictures hanging on their walls.

“I feel like an outcast. I sometimes think they should call this place Last Chance Nursing Home. Nobody wants to come over and talk about the old stories. Would you come over some time and play cards with me?”

And like the cheese stands alone, they are not picked.

When Maggie called me and said she wanted to give me a few large trashbags filled with stuffed animals for the Seniors in nursing homes, she shared a little about her life.

She had been a police officer and then worked with the Public Defender’s Office, helping indigent folks fight their cases. Many defendants were racially profiled in the South and did not get a fair trial. She knew that many men were charged as guilty and were as innocent as you and me. However, they were alone, poor and not adept about navigating the legal system. She cared about the 80 men in her caseload. However, there were 80 new cases each week. She could not help many of them. Now she felt compelled to reach out to help, a cause that she cared about.

“I was worried that I did not have any stuffed animals that the men would like. Thank goodness I found these ‘masculine bears. I want to help you help others.”

A few years later, her mother was no longer able to live alone, suffering with dementia. She brought her into her home and decorated her room with “babies” the soft furry stuffed animal kind.
“She loves them. She has somebody to talk to. I had to kind of hide what I was doing when I was packing up the critters. She did not want me to take hers. But we are moving and we have to get rid of lots of stuff. I saved a pile for her.”

Now after a severe financial crisis, her family has lost just about everything and they are being forced to move.

“But, I am rich. I have my family.”
We met for lunch the other day.

“I called my daughter and she is going to send you a couple of boxes of stuffed animals. Be on the lookout for them. She has a medical problem that is scaring the be-jesus out of all of us. We have gotten through some other tough times. We will get through this, too. My daughter has a wonderful husband and just had our first grandbaby.”

Last night, I could not sleep just thinking about the world and all of the problems, you, others and me have. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Hard times can be good times.”

Try telling that to the people I talked to this week: Deep in debt, the miscarriages, not enough money for the old jalopy that needs car repairs, husband out of work, heavy drinking ruining a marriage, still feeling jittery about a tour in Vietnam……these are the things people have shared with me.

Yet, despite their woes, they called me to donate stuffed animals for others. Who would ever think that a stuffed animal donation would make the giver feel better, too!

I just want to be a find my purpose, fill a need and brighten lives. And so does Maggie and her daughter. I pictured all of the stuffed animals sitting on my pool table in my recreation room. The snakes, turtles, kittens and gigantic bears.

They are like twinkling lights brightening a sad day. They are like a love transplant. A what?
A grandmother buys a stuffed animal for a baby. The baby holds it and cuddles it. And then, 20 years later, it is donated to a great-grandma in a nursing home.

It was 2 am. I wanted to sleep down there, near them. I took my quilt and walked down two flights of steps. I lay on the couch right near the animals.

I asked God to show me who needs them. Who needs them most! Right at this moment. Is the hidden hand of God going over each one and guiding me to take it to the person who needs a little gift of encouragement?

Are they pre-appointed? Does God know who needs the adorable Cabbage Patch doll, the pink cat, the cuddly lamb, the Bride Bear and the bear holding the Coca-Cola bottle? And who needs the dog that looks a little stubborn?

My tired mind and imagination showed me the image of who needed this spotted dog, the one who looked a little stubborn. A lady that knew how to handle trouble. I met her at our last visit. I could just picture her cradling the Pug, just like a baby.
“C’mon, girl. Here, girl!”

I know just who needs that dog at the senior-care home in Philadelphia. With her walker, she will take a few faltering steps, ask if I brought her any cherry twist licorice and reach out with outstretched arms.

My mission is to help the lonely so nobody has to be THE CHEESE THAT STANDS ALONE. I like the tears of joy and the warm hugs. The walkers and the canes. And the site of the wonderful folks hugging their lions, and tigers and bears, oh my.

And I love to receive each new email that inquires, “Are you still collecting those stuffed animals?”

Thank you so very much.

Patricia Gallagher

About Patricia Gallagher:

And who were the Seniors a few short years ago? What were they doing? And what did they look like? Here are a few interesting photos!

















4 thoughts on “The Cheese Stands Alone!

  1. From a woman who heard about the project on Facebook:

    Hi…are you still taking stuffed animal donations??? I do have a few that are gently used but in excellent condition…I would be very happy to donate them to your organization, I think it is a wonderful thing you are doing and so nice to remember those who have spent so much time in the world and may feel like they have been forgotten. I would also like to see if there is anything I can do to help or contribute my time to your organization during the holiday season. Thanks so much and keep up the great job!

  2. A lady at a retirement facility:

    “Oh, Miss, I couldn’t take that beautiful turtle from you. It must be for someone that you are visiting. No, I don’t even know you. ”

    “I want you to have it.” I said to the lady seated with her husband outside of the dining room at the upscale retirement village. From what I know about the place, the residents have to pay a “pretty penny” to live there.

    You might think the “rich people” don’t appreciate or need a stuffed animal.
    You would be excited to see their reactions. It is the unexpected gift, it is the change of conversation, it is just people stopping to talk…….she loved it.

    A half hour later, I came back to the restaurant area of the retirement hub and she beamed with gratitude.

    “I don’t know why you stopped and picked me to give this stuffed animal to, but I love it. You made my day.”


    You know why I picked the frog….. because my grand-daughter is married to a man with the last name of Fogarty. I always kid the kids and call them the FROGARTY’S. They will really get a kick out of me giving them a frog. Thank you so much. I really love when you come in.

  4. Mrs. Gallagher, can I have the bride bear wearing the HAT AND VEIL? I worked in a millinery shop all my life.

    “You made hats?” I said to her.

    “Oh yes, all kinds. I did that for thirty years.”

    I placed a veiled netted hat on her head and a luau lei on the other lady’s neck. Then the straw hat on Esther. The lady with the brown outfit wore the Girl Scout hat and I draped the wedding dress over Marie. I centered the candles on the laps of the people who could not hold them.

    The Slinky toy was passed from person to person, being pulled this way and that. Harold held the playing cards as I passed out a variety of things…a tea pot, a squash and single serve packs of jelly and peanut butter.

    I saw the staff peering through the glass picture window. They were all smiling and they observed all of the colorful items, seemingly unrelated being pulled from my plaid suitcases.

    And each resident held a cuddly stuffed animal on their lap.

    Mawra said:

    “I used to have a plaid suitcase like that. It belonged to my mother. I wish I still had it. It was light-weight. It didn’t have wheels back in those days. The new fangled suitcases have wheels, you know. It did the job. Held a lot of stuff, too.”

    Patricia, when did you get your first suitcase?

    “I got mine when I graduated from 8th grade. Mine was a pink Samsonite set. Three suitcases and one was a small train case. Big enough for toiletries and I loved that I had my own key to open it.

    And then, we began our program 20 WONDERFUL THINGS. Every unrelated item sparked a story or memory. Oh, it was glorious. I wish you all could have been there.

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