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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In My Hands

I remember carrying the tiny gray bird home, his frantic heart beating wildly against my careful hands. I’d found him in a field tucked between two tenements when I was playing army with the neighborhood boys. I was designated as the nurse even though I could handle a stick gun as good as the next guy.

I’m not sure what type of bird it was but I knew it was a baby because of its scrawny neck, too thin to support his wobbling head, and his scant feathering. His squawks were watery, as though he were complaining through a gargle, and his beak, outlined in emergency-yellow lip liner, opened in hopeful anticipation each time I tried to pet his head. It may have been a girl bird but in my mind he was a bland gray boy.

I tried to hide my new pet from my mother, but as the evening wore on, and the chick’s protests grew louder, I knew that I needed some advice on what to feed him. I had placed him in a shoebox on a bed of toilet paper. My cat, Fluffy, stayed close by, showing a great deal of interest in the unfolding drama.

Ma instructed me to get some worms. “They eat thrown-up worms.” She said, like it was a well known fact. Ma was a treasure trove of facts, but to my little girl mind thrown-up worms had to be the most disgusting thing in the world to eat. Yuck! Ma equipped me with an empty coffee can and a flash light and sent me, and my little brother Michael, out into the dark yard to catch some night crawlers.

Michael was an ace worm catcher …and squisher. I, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to watch him grind the wiggling worms between two stones, and felt he was cruel for doing it. Looking back now I can see that he wasn’t cruel at all but willing to do my dirty work for me.

I faithfully administered the putrid pabulum with an eyedropper, coming home when the springtime sun was still high in the sky, and the streets were abuzz with the excited shouts of school pals. I named the bird, Buddy, on account of him being my new best friend.

I awoke Monday morning to a startling silence. Pulling the shoebox from beneath my bed I found Buddy lying within a shroud of toilet tissue, his demanding beak still, his somber eyes closed. He had lasted five days away from his nest.

Years later my mother admitted that she knew all along that Buddy was going to die, but she wanted to teach me about compassion and responsibility toward the helpless. Buddy was one of many strays sheltered over the years at our apartment. My mother welcomed anybody in need, and whenever I got judgmental about someone’s situation she would say, “Be careful Leah, there are lots of ways for babies to get separated from their nests.”

I never forgot her words.


Christine said...

Think I love your mom.... :-)

Leah Griffith said...

Yes Christine, She was an amazing lady. I could write a book on "Phyllisisms." Her name was Phyllis;)

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

A valuable lesson to learn and be reminded of. Your mother was very wise.

Leah Griffith said...

Good Morning Karen, Yes, she was wise...and funny. Oh the memories! LOL!

Jayne said...

Oh, Leah, how we've all tried to save the poor baby birds! This brought back memories of stowing away little critters, though I'm not so sure my mother would have willingly let me tuck a bird under my bed!
I love how your mother sent you out to forage for food, and her sage advice to you. How sweet. :-)

Chris said...

Ah yes, I had my own baby swallow some ten years back... it didn't make it either but I hope we provided it with a safe environment at least for those few days. I wasn't actually a kid but I cried like one when it died.

Moms never cease to amaze me with their wisdom. It's like it comes from the gut somewhere. It's not learned, it just... is.

Leah Griffith said...

Welcome home Jayne, you’ve been missed. Yes, Ma was sage, and the older I get the more I “get” her wisdom. My kids have “adopted” a few castoffs over the years offering me an opportunity to share Ma’s wisdom. I love how she keeps on giving…

Leah Griffith said...

Morning Chris, yes, a mothers’ wisdom seems sort of instinctual, like it comes from a reservoir of maternal knowledge secretly stored in a “yet to be discovered” part of the heart;)

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