Sunday, February 28, 2010
Vegas' tale actually begins with that of her predecessor, my male cockatiel, Opie. On Easter Sunday, a few years back, Alan was working in the kitchen while Opie sat on his shoulder (ALL animals, birds, and insects love my husband, that's discussed here.).
Just then, my father, who had just arrived for Easter dinner along with my mother, rang the doorbell and let himself in (he does this ALL the time! I guess the doorbell part is just to "announce" that he's already coming in!). The ringing doorbell, my father's loud "Hello!" and Trixie's subsequent barking all created the "perfect storm" to startle poor Opie. In a millisecond, he jumped off Alan's shoulder and promptly flew over Dad's head and out the door.
I was panicked. Opie had done this before, startled, then flew up on the curtain rod or on top of the cupboards. He would always land there, then, still scared, sit and wait for me to step on a chair, reach up, and get him. He never seemed to figure out how to fly back to me, I always had to go and get him.
I was a mess. The thought of my sweet, defenseless bird, scared to death, clinging to a tree branch and waiting for me to come for him, was maddening. I just couldn't find him. I put up signs with his picture on lamp posts, park benches, even our local gas station and grocery store. Surely SOMEONE had seen him. Still, nothing
I took out an ad in the paper: "Lost: Male Cockatiel. Grey with yellow head. Sings 'Beautiful Dreamer.' Please help us find him." The ad ran for two weeks, and we heard nothing.
Finally, Alan gently told me it was time to let go. Tearfully, I agreed. My only hope was that Opie was rescued by someone who decided to keep him, and if that was the case, I prayed his new owners were kind and loving to him. If he did, in fact, meet with his death out there, then I prayed he was now happily residing on Grandma Simmons' shoulder, waiting with her for me to join them and scratch his cute head once again someday. But, I truly missed him.
A short time later, I came home to this message on our machine: "Hello my name's Cindy. I saw your ad in the paper, and I haven't seen your bird. But I do know what it's like to lose one, and I wanted you to know how sorry I am. Also, my husband and I breed cockatiels and we have a new clutch of babies that just hatched. We'd love for you to have one, as a gift."
Before the message had ended, I was weeping. I couldn't comprehend that so much compassion and generosity was being so lovingly offered by a complete stranger. I can't tell you how much it soothed my sad, mournful heart!
As I pulled up, a middle-aged couple walked through the door of their screened-in porch and waved. The man, probably in his early fifties, could easily have served as an extra in any biker movie. He wore a red bandana tied over his head, thick, mutton chop sideburns, leather vest, and a silver hoop earring inserted through his pierced ear. Cindy stood next to him in denim shorts and black t-shirt, hair pulled back in a pony tail. Both of them were smiling. I loved them immediately. I walked up, introduced myself, shook their hands, and thanked them again for their kindness. They explained that they had lost a bird of their own in a similar fashion, they understood how devastating it felt, and they wanted to help.
Cindy liked to paint (later she would show me the exquisite murals she had created on the walls of their tiny home) and John loved working on his Harley and taking care of his birds. After a while, John turned to me and asked, "Well, do you want to come pick yourself out a baby?" I hugged myself and replied emphatically, "YES!!"
We stepped into the screened-in porch and I immediately became aware that I was standing in an aviary wonderland! Cindy had painted a lovely tropical scene on the wall, and a giant cage, with plenty of room for flying, sat floor to ceiling in the corner. Dozens of colorful, happy, birds sat on perches, preened themselves, and chirped away inside. In another, smaller cage, huddling together for warmth, were five tiny, partially featherless babies. I have often said that bird babies fall into the category of "so ugly they're cute," and these were certainly no exception. John carefully lifted the latch on the cage and encouraged me to choose one and pick it up, assuring me it was OK.
I visited Cindy and John once, maybe twice a week after that, checking in on my baby bird, anxiously awaiting the day she was fully weaned and ready to come home with me. Finally, the big day arrived. I brought my carrying cage along with a sappy but heartfelt thank you note and gift (they flatly refused all of my many attempts to pay them). It was a colorful wind chime to add to her collection hanging from her porch. Cindy opened it, gushed and gasped and told me she loved it. It seemed like such an uneven trade. I gave her a noisy piece of metal to hang from her roof, she gave me a new member of my family and the solid reassurance that human compassion and selfless giving still exist.
I learned later that Vegas' tall head feathers are actually considered a deformity in the cockatiel breeding community. If I were to "show" her (yes, they have bird shows, just like dog shows! Can you believe it?), she would be immediately disqualified for her gross abnormality.
Thanks for Reading!!
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