My father always had a bird in his pocket.
No, of course not really. What a mess that would be. Still, all my life, I remember children running up to him and with arms over their heads, waiting to be swooped up onto his hip, and shrieking to see the bird. In the last years of his life, it was harder for him to pick up an older child, and they were hoisted by their parents to pocket level. The parents were patient with the birdwatching because they were the original generation of children he’d sucked in.
I went to the calling hours for a friend’s grandmother a while back, and as I stood in the receiving line, her 60-year-old uncle smiled as he shook my hand and said, “Always remember your dad and that bird.” A couple of years ago, I visited a church in Connecticut with a friend, and someone crossed the lobby to tell me they remembered my father and his bird. Some nephew or other called him Uncle Bird instead of Uncle Bert once, and it stuck.
“D’ya want to see the birdie?” he’d say to the three-year-old perched on his forearm. When they nodded, they’d bend their heads together over the pocket on the left side of his shirt. I think he only bought shirts that had that front left pocket so he’d never be without his schtick. When the full attention of the child was on the pocket he was holding open with a forefinger, he’d push the finger down and wiggle it a little to wake the birdie up, and the chirping would begin. My father never got that comfortable with computers, but he was tweeting way back when.
An especially brave child might try to put a hand in my father’s pocket to feel the bird. Delighted shrieking always ensued; my dad was ready with a light pinch on little fingers.
My dad died more than twenty-five years ago, and there is an entire generation of children who don’t know anything about his bird. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter, even a little.
Except that as long as someone remembers us, we go on. So Uncle Bird is not gone completely. Not yet.