Right in the middle of writing a different blog post (a pretty dreary and potentially depressing one) I thought, “Hey, let’s lighten things up a bit.”
We’ll start with the basics.
Parakeets can talk. And fly.
Twelve-year old girls aren’t always smart. But they mean well.
The summer of 1974 was monumental. We, our giant family of Mom, Dad, and me, moved from Colorado to Arkansas, away from the only house I’d ever known. Since it was always all about moi, it didn’t really occur to me what an adjustment my parents were up against, their challenge of doing virtually a 180 degree flip in career changes and setting up a brand new business/life. Professor and teacher becoming real estate brokers. Nope. All about me. Looking back, I can almost physically feel their stress. Kids though, what are you gonna do?
So I spent that summer with my cousins who lived nearby where we were moving so as to be out from under the feet of the parentage. (They would’ve chosen much more diplomatic wording, no doubt.) It actually was a wonderful couple of months in my young life, and as I look back, quite possibly formative in my perception of a Christian household.
My Uncle Charles and Aunt Maxine took me in. I was the same age as my cousin, Connie, and just a bit older than Dorothy. Their siblings were mostly grown and gone, though I remember Gary still being around. To put it mildly, my descent into the household must’ve been a shock to the collective system of the family.
Their routines were sweet and predictable. They included me in those times around the table, participating in chores, during outings, and when Aunt Maxine came into our bedroom at night, where they had somehow wedged another bed in for me. She would read to Connie, Dorothy, and wide-eyed enraptured me from Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. If you don’t know that big yellow-ish volume, it used to sit on every doctor’s office waiting room table until that sort of thing got frowned upon.
Once on an evening picnic when the cousins and I were exploring up in the bushes on a hill by Lake Atalanta Park, we must’ve stumbled through a terrifically virile patch of poison oak. Within a few minutes the cursed stuff passed by (ala Angel of Death) cousin Dorothy and myself and landed squarely onto poor Connie who had one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen even up to now. Sad sad sad. That poor girl laid on the couch the following day with cold washcloths–and who knows what else that I can’t remember–and I read the entire Swiss Family Robinson to her. (We had a conversation about this a few years ago and she has no recollection of that, but I’m stickin’ to my story. She was, after all, near death’s door with a rash.)
So maybe you’re wondering about the parakeet I spoke of earlier. Though it pains me to start this story, I guess I’ll have to. Maybe healing will come to my psyche after all these years. But I doubt it.
My dear Aunt Maxine was a selfless person. She served her family beautifully and without complaint, taking care of needs, feeding, doctoring, and even working alongside Uncle Charles in their real estate business. The one thing she had for herself was her bird. A sweet little blue parakeet that she kept in a large cage in a corner of the kitchen. I don’t remember the actual name of the bird. His talents overshadowed any need for a name. He could talk. Seriously.
This bird said many words. Individual words and some even strung together. And it wasn’t one of those inadequate cheesy birds you had to struggle to understand. This bird could teach elocution at a finishing school. But before I tell you his most famous phrase, I must clarify one detail. My cousins’ last name was Mitchell. And yes, my married name is Mitchell. It’s confusing but not illegal or immoral. I didn’t marry a cousin. It’s a common name, okay. Now let’s proceed.
Mr. Bird would look you straight in the eye and say clear as day in the King’s English, “Mitchell Real Estate Bird.”
I kid you not. “Mitchell Real Estate Bird.”
Only in a bird voice. Come on. You know you’re doing it now.
Then the day happened. My love for Aunt Maxine compelled me to do something in service for her (probably the influence of the Egermeier’s) so I decided one fateful August afternoon to clean MREB’s cage.
On the back porch.
With my 12-year old brain fully engaged.
And just because he could talk doesn’t mean he had the sense not to fly away at first opportunity clear across the backyard and around the side of the house before I could even gasp and possibly even wet my pants.
You’re feeling sick aren’t you? Yes, well, just imagine.
I’ve blocked out what must’ve been pandemonium in the house as I sounded the alarm, but somehow all six of us (Uncle Charles in his white shirt and tie, Aunt Maxine, Gary, Connie, Dorothy, sobbing me) ended up across Highway 71 that ran in front of their house and stood in front of a towering tree gazing up at a tiny blue form about 20 feet above our heads. We all called desperately and held out our fingers to old What’s His Name but the notion was forming in our minds as the sun was setting that we’d never get him back. And that he’d most likely meet an unpleasant fate pretty quickly. Nightmare.
What do you do if you’re the aunt of the young niece who irresponsibly, without thinking of future scenarios or possible outcomes, loses your dearest and most prized little pet? If you’re my Aunt Maxine you put your suffering aside and assure the girl of your love and forgiveness, living out what that old yellow Egermeir’s talked about every night at bedtime. She had to have felt just awful for a long time. Who knows how that played out in scenes I was not part of. But she protected me from bad feelings. She knew I had enough of my own. And here I am, 46 years later, benefiting from her gentleness and restraint.
Dear ones, if you have even the slightest opportunity to come alongside a young person and show them the love and care that was shown to me way back when, you must know that it will make a difference. Children and teens have big feelings. Tender souls. And they can be molded easily in one direction or another according to the actions and reactions of the important adults in their lives.
Of course, since the dark day we lost Mitchell Real Estate Bird, I’ve done untold hundreds of dumb things. And deep down where my young soul stored up memories I didn’t even know I was remembering, and formed plans of how to conduct myself as an adult, I recalled the faces and the words and the outcomes surrounding my mistakes. It’s a good thing, a heaven-sent thing, that I’ve been embraced by mostly forgiving people. Because, as you and I both know, in our tender leftover children’s hearts, angry, bitter reactions sting. Forever.
If you need an image in your mind of reactionary grace (hey I just made that up and I’m gonna use it) try to picture my Aunt Maxine. I’ve got a few other pictures of folks seared into my brain I could conjure up for the opposite reactions but I’m sure you do too, so we’ll just leave that there. And it wouldn’t be a real space here if I didn’t acknowledge that I myself have not always reacted with gentle grace. God, forgive me. And hopefully I’ve asked that same thing of the right people.
So as to leave you with good cheer, encouragement, and a bit of a giggle, here’s a tip: Remember to secure your bird before cleaning the cage.
And please enjoy this song. And pardon the ad.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:5 NIV