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Thursday, 24 July 2008

It's For the Birds

By Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge

My father loved birds and he is the cause of my trauma about them. My dad had a pet crow and kept it caged. That seems to me to be a strange bird to have as a pet, but perhaps he didn't have the money then to buy an exotic bird like the ones he later acquired.

At any rate, my dad let the crow out of the cage just as I was walking by. Since I was a toddler at the time, I was the perfect height for the escaping bird to fly right into my face. Of course I don't remember the incident, but I absolutely remember the trauma I had about anything that had feathers on it. My phobia lasted well into my childhood and was only partially cured when I was 14 years old.

My step-dad raised chickens and he thought it would cure me of what he considered to be my irrational fear. He made me gather the eggs. Unfortunately, there was a mean rooster that attacked any human that dared to invade his territory. Needless to say, forcing me to go in the coop with this monster was definitely not the way to cure a phobia. It gave me nightmares for years.

I resolved this problem by getting my toddler brother to carry a board and go in with me shooing the Rooster away while I entered the chicken house to gather the eggs. Wasn't I clever at solving my problem? Well, maybe I don't get points for that because it was not very kind to let a tiny boy face my enemy to protect me.

My mother took pity on me and thought of a way to help me overcome my fear. She had a very gentle hen that she had named Singer because, when held, the hen made purring noises like a kitten. Mom convinced me that I was safe if I held Singer and, with great trepidation, I took the gentle hen in my arms. I spent many hours holding and stroking this sweet hen and it helped me become more rational about birds.

My next encounter was with a mean bird that was also one of my father's pets. When I was 18, I decided to meet my father whom I hadn't seen since I was five years old. He lived near Santa Monica and my best friend and I went to California together. I phoned my father and nearly gave him a heart attack because I was the last person on earth he expected to hear from. Surprisingly, he asked me to move in with him and his wife in their lovely home.

Jack, my father, had a pet parrot named - what else? - Polly. Polly was 50 years old and, as such, too old to learn new words (or so we thought). Polly called my father Rack because the J sound was beyond her whistling capacity. (Birds have no vocal chords so they make their sounds by whistling. That's quite a feat, when you stop to think about it.)

One day I came home from work and Jack and the parrot were in the back yard (where Jack had a large aviary across the entire width of the yard). Polly was loose and I discovered that I had not completely overcome my fear of our feathered friends. When she started waddling toward me, I beat a hasty retreat for the house. Polly had a bad habit of biting those that displeased her.

Before I moved in, the house was always quiet when Polly's cover was put over her cage for her bedtime. One night after Polly had been put to bed, my father's wife and I were doing dishes and talking up a storm. This disturbed Polly and, out of the blue, Polly said very plainly, "Talk, talk, talk !"

Jack raised up from the couch where he had been resting and said, "Did that bird say "talk, talk, talk"? Marguerite and I looked at each other with gaping mouths. As far as anyone knew, the bird had never said that word before and never said it again. I know, it's hard to believe, but it is absolutely true. Maybe the Audubon Society can explain it to me.

Jack liked to study the want ads and found a parrot for sale. This parrot named Pogo was only nine years old and, therefore, trainable. He bought the bird and brought her home. This turned out to be a huge mistake, because Polly immediately hated Pogo.

Part of Polly's vocabulary was "shut up." which she screeched incessantly after Pogo's arrival. Since Pogo couldn't say those words, she just screeched at the top of her lungs. You could hear the two birds two blocks away screaming at each other.

Pogo finally had to be relegated to the garage while Jack had to make the excruciating decision on which bird to keep. I don't know which one he finally kept because I left before he made up his mind.

My third, and last, experience was with a tiny turtle dove. One of my sisters was always bringing home a wounded animal or bird to tend to. One day she found a baby turtle dove. The nest had been destroyed when the city cut down a tree and so there was nothing to do but bring the tiny critter home.

The bird didn't even have feathers at this point and Dawn put it in a match box and hand fed it with a medicine dropper. Because it made little squeaking sounds, Dawn named it Squeaky.

That little guy lived with the family for years. I was married by this time so was not exposed to Squeaky except for visits. How that bird survived is a miracle. Near-death for Squeaky occurred numerous times. As Squeaky had the run of the house he got into all sorts of trouble. One day he fell in the dish water and had to be rescued. Another time my mother sat on the bed and instinct told her to get up. She had sat on Squeaky who was laying there panting for all he was worth.

I came for a visit one day and it had started to rain. No one was home so I slammed the window shut because the rain was blowing in. I did it so quickly that I didn't see Squeaky perched on the top and he didn't have time to fly off. Poor Squeaky lost the ends of his toes.

When the family moved someone left a door open during the confusion and the little bird flew away never to be seen again. Squeaky was so much a part of the family that there were many tears shed by my siblings.

I love to hear birds singing outside, but that's where I want them to stay.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You've had more experience with birds in one year than I've had all my life. Poor Squeaky. I wrote on my blog about having 2 parakeets that were handicapped. My daughter-in-law has a parrot that hates me and her mom, too.

My daughter has a phobia about birds, but nothing happened to cause it - that we know of.

The part about making you collect eggs around a mean rooster troubled me. I have chickens and love them. The roosters I have now are all sweet. But Boss Hog was the meanest rooster on earth and since I had him from a chick and he didn't turn mean until he was three, I could not bring myself to part with him....well, until one day that is another story. Roosters can do damage and anyone who would subject a child to such terror needs their head examined. I would never want a bird house pet. I'll never let a mean rooster stay here again. Isn't it amazing how good stories like yours evoke memories and other stories. Who knew a bird story could be so interesting! Great job Darlene.

Hi Darlene,

I always like to see your name at the top of a story because I know then that it will be interesting and funny.

Well, maybe the rooster attacking you was not funny but other parts were. And some parts were poignant,like holding and petting Singer. I loved that part.

I have never touched a chicken in my life but I could almost feel Singer's feathers and wish I could also give her a stroke or two.

Great story,Darlene......

Golly, gee. Who knew that a story I wrote for my granddaughter could bring forth such nice comments. Thank you.

You are a born story teller.
You bless me.
Gave me my smiles for the day.

I loved the bird stories ! It brought back a memory of when I agreed to take care of my sister's Parakeet while she went on vacation. His name was Joey and he talked a lot,but mostly when I was near or feeding him he would say "Oh, you peach" I thought that was so nice until my sister came home and informed me that Joey was actually saying "Oh, you *itch". Thanks for the great stories.

That's a hoot, Annsophie. Thanks for your comment and my laugh for today.

What a great story Darlene. You know, I don't remember ever touching a chicken in my life...well, maybe a little chick. Thanks...oh, poor Squeaky.

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