Leonard Allen wanted to be a surgeon. Shot with a beebee gun at 11, he was left with a blind eye. Instead, he became a pharmacist—which fortuitously led to my friend Wendy’s appearance on earth.
After several years of dementia, Leonard died in August, 2017. His death involved a series of avian Godsigns. But first, the back story…
Len served in the Korean War. He helped create the army’s first mobile dental unit to aid soldiers in the field. Returning home, he opened his first pharmacy, a Rexall, in Taylor, MI.
Len met wife Karen when she was shopping for cold medicine for one of her kids. Karen, a single mom, worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office to support a son and 2 daughters. Len adopted Karen’s 3 kids, and the couple had 3 more. My pal Wendy was #5.
Len named Wendy for the character in Peter Pan. Wendy appropriately grew up a tomboy. The family led “fun and active” lives, Wendy says. They went to the beach at Boblo Island, to Tigers baseball and U of M football games. (Len was a Wolverine. Go Blue.) Wendy turkey hunted with her dad. He taught her to identify birds. She helped him in the vegetable garden. Wendy decided to build her own tree house, 20 ft. up, and soon fell out. In a body cast for months, she “never got chastised.”
Len opened a second Rexall store in Taylor. At about 12, Wendy began working part time behind the pharmacy counter. She recalls a male customer asking if they carried prophylactics. Not knowing the word, she yelled at her father, “Dad, do we carry prophylactics?” The quick disappearance of her customer and tittering of others clued her in to her indiscretion.
Len and Karen put all 6 kids through college. Sadly, Karen died at 61. Wendy grew up, became a business exec, and married Burton’s and my friend Ron. They live in Grosse Isle, MI, and raised twin boys. After Wendy’s mom died, the Palmers invited Len to travel with their family. Wendy and her dad became even closer on boat trips to the Exumas and Abacos islands in the Bahamas and one from New York to Maine. Len spent winters at Ocean Reef in Key Largo, FL, to be near Wendy and her family.
On one trip, Ron insisted on having a sketch made of Wendy. Reluctant to display it in her house, she gave it to her dad. He hung it in a place of honor. Whenever Wendy visited, her dad pointed to the portrait and said, “That’s my girl.”
In later years, Len developed dementia. “He knew he was declining, but never complained,” Wendy says. “He was happy. Until the last month when he no longer recognized us, he always told us he loved us and appreciated everything we did for him.”
Wendy visited Len twice on what would be the last day of his life. His breathing was labored; he had stopped eating. After dinner that evening, Wendy felt “agitated.” She decided to visit her father for a third time.
“I wanted to have one last drink with my dad,” she says. She and Len had often enjoyed Hummers together. (Rum, Kahlua and ice cream; created in Detroit at the Bayview Yacht Club. Yum.) She mixed a pitcher full and took it to the convalescent home. Len’s eyes were closed; he could no longer speak. Swabbing the drink on her father’s lips, Wendy “downed a large one.” As she was leaving, her father opened his eyes and looked at her. He died later that night.
After, some events convinced Wendy her father’s spirit was around…
Inheriting a love of birds from her dad, Wendy had filled hummingbird feeders for the past 2 years. No takers. Back home, Wendy still felt “unsettled.” She walked outside on the deck. There, having just shared hummers with her dad, she noticed movement between her flower pots. In full moonlight, she saw 1, then 2, then 3 hummingbirds flitting from one blossom to the next.
Soon after, following dinner with friends, 3 crystal glasses sat on the Palmers’ kitchen counter, waiting to be hand-washed. The next day, a cleaning lady broke one of the glasses. The glasses were etched with birds. Wendy was on the phone, planning her father’s funeral. Ron sat at a desk paying bills, using envelopes Wendy had provided long before. For the past 6 years, Wendy had been missing a diamond ring. Seconds after the glass broke, Ron picked up an envelope. The long-sought ring popped out.
Wendy says, “The hummers, the hummingbirds, the glass, the ring—I knew my father was there, and looking out for me, letting me know he still loved me and always would.”
Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your father with us. And R.I.P., Leonard, for a life well lived.