Birds Gotta Fly



~ Prologue ~

          Over the past nine months or so, Mrs. G. and I have been busy sorting through some changes. Her dad passed away after a brief illness at the age of eighty-five, a good age and a good life, to be sure. Mrs. G’s mom passed away some years ago.

          He left behind his house, which was located one-thousand, three hundred and forty-seven feet across the street from ours, which made it easier for us to tackle what was ahead. I know how many feet because I clocked it on an app that does such things, but I could just as easily counted the steps since I’ve made that walk hundreds of times over the past thirteen years that we’ve lived here. As a challenge to myself, I once made this walk with my eyes closed. That took a little practice.

          Dad was a bit of a pack rat, but we donated what we could and saved what was needed or sentimental. The rest went into four huge roll-off dumpsters, each one large enough to hold not one but two cars, which was the only thing we didn’t throw away. When all was hauled off and the last bit of vacuuming was done before the new family moved in, we had another dumpster (a fifth, if you’re counting) placed in our driveway. Mrs. G. and I filled that one to the rim in two days with the same protocol — donate first, discard second.

          The dust has settled a bit, with much still to be sorted, but during this lull, I started thinking: Why do people have so much stuff? It also got me thinking: Do people still have pet birds?

~ Chapter One ~

          When I was a kid, back in the second half of the clutter-free 20th century, we had parakeets. I really don’t know why. I think it was required by President Taft and the tradition continued.

          The birdcage hung from a hook, which was at the end of a tall stand. It was placed in prominence in the corner of our kitchen, right next to the table where we ate chicken pot pies.

          The cage had a fussy cotton cover, which Mom would dutifully drape closed every night and tie together with a neat bow in the front so an errant gust of kitchen wind didn’t blow it off. In the morning, she would tie the cover back, leaving an inverted V-shaped opening. 

          Ladies and gentlemen … give it up for Skippy!

          Mom would fill the little dishes with water and bird seed and shine Skippy’s mirror each morning. Every couple of days, she’d slide out the bottom tray and change the paper. She taught Skippy to say “pretty bird” and “hello,” both of which fascinated me. Skippy never learned to say any more than that, but it was three words more than the dopey cardinals out in the front yard, so that was huge.

         Skippy would perch on my finger, but only in the cage. Mom never let the bird fly around the house, which made me feel bad. Imagine having the ability to fly, but from the day you hatch until the day you fall off the perch, all you can do is hop from side to side, back and forth, occasionally flapping around manically and going nowhere.

           So many people had parakeets back then that one would occasionally escape the cage and ultimately, escape the very house they lived in. I think it was planned, Shawshank style, for years. I vividly recall looking out the window of our family room and seeing a bright blue parakeet perched in a tree, leaving behind some frantic family who would search the neighborhood in vain for a single, tiny, bird.

          Hey, kid, don’t tell anyone. Which way to Australia?

          When our own birds eventually died, it fell to me to reach in and do what had to be done. Our backyard must have had a dozen shoe boxes and Quaker Oats containers buried in it because there were times we had two birds at once. I feel bad for any future residents who may have put in a garden or dug a hole of any kind and stumbled on our parakeet graveyard.

          Mom repeated this “one in, one out” bird cycle for a while, changing from a blue parakeet to a green one so we could tell the difference until, for some reason, it ended. I think it was when W.T. Grants closed, and with it, her trusted source for cage birds.

          Don’t get me started on the cats that came next.

~ Chapter Two ~

          We had dropped off Milo for his bi-monthly grooming, which he absolutely hates. I swear he knows the day and hour of his appointment, and will purposely hold his poop so he can let fly with a massive steamer right in the reception area.

         Once he’s squared away, Mrs. G. and I will run like heck out of the grooming salon and head back into the pet warehouse, which is larger than the grammar school I went to in the 1960s. While wandering the aisles, I saw birds. They were flitting about in a three-story glass bird condo, which was very cosmopolitan. Apparently, there are still people who keep birds. They are probably not the same people who keep lizards or fish or even hamsters. Birds are for people who don’t want a lot of pet maintenance. Put a pound of seed and a quart of water in the cage, and head off to Europe for the summer.

           Seeing those birds was odd since I thought the pet kingdom had been whittled down to cats or dogs, specifically tiny little purse dogs, but I guess not.

~ Chapter Three ~

          “So, what do you do for fun?”

          My wife and I were asked this question last week, and we both looked at each other, baffled by the query.

          We’re both retired and we’re doing OK, so naturally people, especially working people, want to know how we fill our days or if we have a bucket list of places where we want to go.

        “Not much” was all we could say after a good laugh.

          We have plans, we definitely have plans, but between the aforementioned estate cleaning and my own shoulder replacement and subsequent rehab, fun has been a little lacking.

          Then there’s Milo, who hates traveling and neither Mrs. G. or I like the idea of boarding him, but we received a thick catalog the other day that featured river cruises— which are the best cruises ever and certified fresh for old people — so that’s on the agenda. I also have my lifetime senior pass for national parks, so that has to get used so I can get my ten dollars worth.

          All in all, it’s time to start planning. Caged birds need to fly once in awhile.

~ Epilogue ~

          I do have fun, just not the kind that sounds very exciting when I say it out loud. The days do go by, and now that the freakishly hot late September has turned on a dime to cool and frosty, it feels more like fall. Autumn is right in my wheelhouse of fun. Walking around outside, eating apples, wearing flannel. That sort of thing. Fun for me isn’t beaches and hot. Fun is cool and colorful and crispy. Fun is getting up when it’s still dark and lighting a fire in the fireplace.

          I take pictures (lots of pictures) so fun is doing that and editing those. Fun is also dusting off the keyboard and writing. I started this at 6:00 am and it’s 9:30 am now. I stopped for a few minutes to take a phone call from my daughter, who is up at our cottage wandering around outside in the cold. She found some sort of twig nest near the water and wanted an identification. My guess was a groundhog.

          Fun is a ripping fire in our backyard fire pit, which is surrounded by Norway spruce and hemlock trees. There are comfy Adirondack chairs on the chunky slate pieces set under them, so it makes me feel as if the North Country is sixty feet from our patio door.

        Fun is watching Milo run full steam around the entire yard since we finally figured out how to keep him from blowing through the invisible fence. Fun is not watching him bark at the school buses, but a dog has to protect against the big yellow monsters, you know?

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