My grandmother loved animals — a trait she passed on to many of her offspring and their offspring and their offspring. A dog, a cat, a lamb, a colt ... it didn't matter. Grandma was the matriarch of animals on the farm.
My grandfather, the farmer, also loved animals but in a different way. All animals — by his standards — were livestock. He respected them; he fed them; he understood them. But when it came to allowing animals inside our home, he wouldn't budge. After all, livestock was meant to live outside.
How my grandmother ever talked by grandfather into her bird cage filled with either a canary or a parakeet still puzzles me. On the other hand, I'm sure she never asked him if it was OK, and I'm equally sure he never commented on the cage that often held a bird inside our home. Instead, the cage would just come out of the cellar one day, and just as quickly, a new bird would appear inside it. It was as simple as that.
Grandma's birds were traditionally named — names like Tweety, Peanuts and Birdy were the norm. I'm not sure how many she had in that old, drafty farmhouse, but I have to tell you, there were quite a few. Everytime a new bird would appear, there would initially be a current of excitement in the house among us all (well, except Grandpa), but the newness would wear off quickly. I'll tell you why ...
You see, canaries and parakeets are singers; they chirp away and sing their songs like nobody's business, which is exactly why Grandma loved them and exactly why Grandpa did not. But for our family, the chirping and singing was always followed by my grandmother chirping and singing too. That's right ... she would hear Little Peanuts sing, and she would either whistle a tune back to the bird or chirp away in conversation with each of her feathered friends. Once or twice was fun ... but consistently throughout the day got old really quickly, even for our youthful ears.
But that was just the beginning. You see, Grandma was troubled by the fact that Little Peanuts and Little Tweety had small confines in their bird cage, so every once in a while — when Grandpa was in the field or down with the hogs for a considerable amount of time — Grandma would open the door to the cage and allow the bird to escape. What transpired after that would be utter chaos.
With the doors locked and Grandma's grandchildren as wide-eyed as we'd ever been, those birds would soar through the house. Grandma would be chirping and whistling and singing for all she was worth, as her pet birds traversed the rooms of the farmhouse. It's been said the caged bird sings begging for its freedom, and that must be so, since the bird silently soared from curtain rod to Grandpa's recliner to bedposts and beyond. Grandma and the freed bird were in their glory, and we cowered under the dining room table, fearful of the dives and swoops her feathered friends were making — not to mention that Grandpa could reappear at any time.
For the life of me, I have no idea how Grandma was able to entice her birds back into their cage, but they always went willingly. Grandma would snap the door closed, and before we knew it, their lyrical duet would continue.
I hadn't thought about those crazy birds in a long time, but the other day I was thinking about my grandmother's small world on the farm — when she was clearly a big city girl, and I came to the conclusion her act of freeing those caged feathered friends might have been indicative of what she wanted to do as well — spread her wings a bit and fly. After all, she found such joy in their songless flight.
And now that I think about it, perhaps her "conversations" were far more than chirping and whistling. Just maybe those birds and Grandma understood each other all along.
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