Koko’s Birthday Getaway by Adrienne Mrsny

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Birthdays come only once a year. It is always a great excuse for celebration, a chance to relax and often times a reason to get away. For Koko’s birthday we weren’t exactly able to get her a first class ticket to a tropical isle. So, instead we did the next best thing, we brought paradise to her.

On the morning of Koko’s Birthday Luau, when the gorillas exited their rooms into the small yard, they stepped into a tropical beach scene. Fifty feet of 4 -foot high panels graced with palm trees, parrots and sand lined the yard walls. Flowered leis adorned the stuffed animals that greeted them, and brightly painted tropical fish dangled from the ceiling. As they stepped through the west gate to the large yard a larger expanse of tropical paradise opened before them. Grass skirts hung on a nearby cement cylinder, leis were placed around the yard, plastic kiddy pools floated fun toys and large cloth streamers hung across most of the yard. Three large sheets read “Happy Birthday Koko” and were surrounded by paintings of exotic tropical flowers. Just beyond this were the treats for the morning.

More brightly colored fish hung all over the yard. These were made of cardboard and once they were pulled down and opened, they were revealed to hold the day’s morning browse of fresh vegetables. There were also berry baskets, hanging from strings around the yard. Brightly colored paper was inside each basket holding a surprise treat. Lastly there were three “trees” in the yard, two made from a 10cm thick cardboard tube with leafy limbs of bamboo sticking out of the top. These had slats of cardboard stuck out of their sides, and when pulled a special treat dropped from the chamber above the slat and fell out the bottom. The third was a 9-foot tall glamorous shimmering palm, suspended from the top of the yard. While both gorillas were exploring this fun tropical holiday, their rooms were being cleaned and transformed.

When lunch was ready, the Luau was about to start. Caregivers carried four trays into each of the gorilla’s rooms. Banana leaves were wrapped around a medley of steamed vegetables and poi. Edible fruit baskets were made from hollowed out personal-sized watermelons and filled with flowers fashioned from fruits and vegetables sitting atop of bamboo stems with leaves, with real flowers strewn in between. Next to this were two of Koko’s requests for the menu: rice noodles with pesto sauce and sparkling apple cider. In addition to the traditional phenomenal gelatin creations with fruits and vegetables inside, was Koko’s third request: sardines in aspic. Then last but not least was the cake, positioned on a shallow tray of gelatin made with chocolate almond milk and cherries. It was a miniature pineapple upside down layer cake—wheat free, dairy free and delicious. This was the Hawaiian-inspired feast that awaited both gorillas.

Ndume entered his rooms to find stuffed animals adorned with leis and traditional Hawaiian shirts surrounding three large boxes full of wrapped toys, bubble wrap (which he loves to pop), and popcorn (which he loves to eat by the handful). Following the motto of Ernestine Ulmer that “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first,” Ndume went straight for the cake, licking the plate of gelatin beneath clean before devouring the rest of his food.

Koko entered her rooms moments later to find them transformed into a tropical hut. Leis were everywhere, on the mesh, around the necks of her stuffed animals, and on windows. Beautiful flower print fabrics were draped across all of her furniture, along with a gorilla-sized flowered mu`umu`u hanging from the mesh. In the center of it all was a very large box, a box that was almost too big to fit into her room. “Happy Birthday Koko!” was scrolled across the side and flowers were painted on the cloth on top. Inside were piled 2 feet of exciting new toys for Koko, each individually wrapped, with flowered cloth in between. In her kitchen area Penny and Ron awaited with her feast, and everyone was excited to celebrate another wonderful birthday together.

Happy 36th Birthday Koko!