Family · Life · Memories

The Bird Returns

I got mail from Iowa this week. When I opened it, this picture fell out, with a note from a friend of my parents.

Martha reads the blog. She loves the posts about family, so last week was a good one for her. She has a lot of memories of the bird in the pocket. I knew you had to have this picture, she said.

I’ve seen this shot before, but it’s been years. At first I thought it must have been taken at their house when my parents were visiting Iowa. My mother would never have allowed a bird in the house.

But that calendar on the wall looks a lot like the band calendars I grew up with and later tromped around town to sell. Surely the band calendars in Iowa weren’t identical to the ones we had. And that doorway behind my dad, with the bar across it. My brother Chris used to do chin-ups on that bar. It looked like the house I grew up in. But also it didn’t look like my house.

It took me a minute. It is my house. But before it was remodeled. Before I was born. That band calendar is from the early seventies, my father had uniformly jet black hair, and my mother allowed a pet inside the house. I stood in my kitchen and stared at the photo in my hand. It was as if I had tumbled into an alternate reality.

My mother. Mine. Allowed a pet inside the house.

I can imagine Dad doing it. He liked to talk to birds. He’d have loved to have one at home he could chat with. The church I grew up in runs a nursing home and community; we still live nearby. I volunteered as a middle schooler, refilling water bottles and wheeling people down to supper. Mom and Dad visited with some regularity; they knew a lot of the people. And Dad liked to talk to the birds. He’d stop on the way and and the way out, twittering away at a habitat set up in the lobby, trying to get them to talk back to him. Once he stopped on the way out, and the birds weren’t chatty. He persisted. He persisted some more. The charge nurse at the station sighed heavily. “Those stupid birds,” she said, and then looked up straight into my father’s eyes. His lips were pursed to whistle. There was no denying what he’d been doing. He grinned, unabashed, and then he took himself off sharpish.

It’s a little surreal, visiting your family before you became a part of it. You know there was a time before you. There had to be. But it’s hazy, and none of it was the important part. Surely. And then there it is in front of you. Photographic proof. The walls in the kitchen, once upon a time, were sickly mint green. There was a wall where the fridge of my childhood lived.

And there was a bird in the house.

I knew my mother for 39 years, but apparently I didn’t really know her at all.

A bird. I don’t know when I’ll be over it.

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