The year I turned eight, life transformed. A birthday card had arrived during the night fastened to a beautiful bird cage. In the cage sat a very young very frightened Parakeet. It was my first animal adventure.
Most would have thought a Parakeet an odd gift for a boy of that age. Most wouldn’t have take the trouble to know that boy. Someone did.
Ecstasy was mine. In the 50’s that was an emotion.
Tweety was blue and white. He had been hand reared with love and not from an animal factory. He had nevertheless been removed from familiar territory and family. His terror as I changed the water and filled his seed cup was obvious. I cooed and gentle talked. I covered his cage each bedtime with a lovely but frayed old shawl and told him goodnight.
I read the pamphlet that had arrived with the cage and sought books that went further. I am not built for moderation. Interests become obsessions. It has always been so for me.
I learned about the species and their habits in the wild.
Budgies are native to Australia and have been bred in captivity for different colors and markings. The males can learn to talk but not the females. It is a world.
Learning is a tool. To up-end the up end it is useful to tell ends apart. I am still more apt to read an instruction manual than most of my friends. Success depends on knowledge. Somehow I knew this.
Did you know Budgerigars eat rocks? In fact without small gravel to consume they cannot digest seeds and die. Did you know bird seed alone is not a healthy diet? Did you know they like toys and mirrors and need their nails clipped and…
I didn’t either, not at eight.
I remembered what Ruth Had showed me. I opened the cage door slowly and spoke gently. I offered not the bird, but my index finger. No dice? No problem, tomorrow will come. I began pressing gently with that finger and pushing him gently off balance low to his center of gravity. This forces them to step onto your finger for balance. Our sessions were gentle and frequent and soon enough he found me friendly furniture in his world.
I mowed yards and washed windows and cleaned garden beds. I had a mouth to feed. I bought him a plastic Mate that slipped onto the perch and was weighted to right its self in a scuffle. I bought him a mirror that clipped to the bars of his prison. He chirped endlessly to the mirror and rubbed it with his beak. He sat next to the Plastic Parakeet on the perch and gave it a kick and started a scuffle.
I acquired sandpapered perch slips in lieu of the more frightening toenail clippers. He had cuttle bones and brightly colored plastic ladders and me. More than anything he had me. His fear had vanished and I was became important. I talked to him constantly and moved him from perch to perch. I began gently petting his neck with my finger.
Time is a gift the young and the old seem to have. I was still trying to pray. At night I would look at the glow in the dark cross thumbtacked to the wall by my bed and pray that he would be a boy so he could talk to me.
My trips to the library and pet shop literature told me about the cere. It is the soft plate above the beak with the nostrils. In male budgies, at puberty this turns blue on a male. The cere on a female remains pinkish. They get dots on their cheeks as well. I seem to recall it was about the number of dots.
One purchase I was intent on, was a cage clip on landing strip. It anchored in such a way that it cleverly held the spring operated door open and gave a lovely exterior perch. He trusted me now. I detested his small world prison. The first few attempts failed and he stayed inside. After a few days took him on my finger and gently extracted him through the door. I deposited him on the landing strip perch. He considered and went back to the rim of the door and back to the strip. He suddenly took flight and circled the room again and agin and landed on a picture frame. He had been cooped up for his lifetime and it wore him out but I could tell he was delighted. When he rested he flew to me and landed on my head. it was startling for both of us. He had not been expecting Vitalis and I had not considered my head a probable perch. We soon worked it out and he decided my shoulder was better and had great fun sassing and tugging on my ear lobe. He would rub his bill and bob his head up and down and jabber bird talk.
I still held him on my finger and close to my face and repeated the same word over and again.
In those days Grandma had a brownie camera and we must have had one but I don’t remember it. They were cumbersome things with huge on time use flash bulbs the church ladies made into glitter and pine cone covered Christmas trees to sell at the Church Bazaar along with the Barbie bleach bottle crotched dress spare roll TP cover Methodists kept on the back of the tank.
Pictures were posed and stiff in those days. There are no pictures of Tweety. Only the ones in my mind.
There was an oak book case close to Tweety s cage. The stackable lawyer kind with the glass doors that raised and slide back in above the books. Ours was four tall or was it three? My father had brothers and family things had been divided. At any rate the top was a perfect height. I soon turned it into parakeet paradise. I loved making things and Tweety was instructive about what delighted him. I have never understood the phrase “dumb animal”. I know to grups it means not lingual.
Animals talk quite loudly if you listen. There were ladders and small bells and a Ferris wheel small enough for him to turn with his beak I filled the cars with seed and gravel and lettuce. There were mirrors and a tree branch I thought Japanese… There was another plastic parakeet, this one on a spring. They fought a lot. The competition kept bouncing back.
I had learned Budgies liked water and found a bird bath that clipped to the cage door. It had a bright yellow top and bottom and clear plastic sides so I could watch him splash and sing.
This bird found me an extension of his playground. In addition to earlobe abuse he liked to fuss with my lip. i was a jungle jim and all his. He rode about on my shoulder. He would off for flights of fancy and return to roost. The droppings were small and no one had taught me to be disgusted yet.
We had our mishaps. He once slipped and fell behind the washing machine and it was a difficult rescue. He made me cry when he ripped out a nose hair.
He hated when I read. He would dance all over the book pacing and trying to eat the page. More than anything he did his clown dance with the head bobbing and his song.
His cere was growing distinctly blue. I had long since purchased him a parakeet record album. I left the arm out on the cardboard RCA hi fidelity stereo which made it play over. The record repeated a set of phrases over and over and did I mention over. My family grew to hate me and that tiny Keet, but I was used to that.
Animals sometimes have disloyal tendencies. One morning I went down for Parakeet time and breakfast before school. Tweety sat on my shoulder as I stirred my oatmeal. He suddenly announced he was a fat bird. “Tweety is a fat bird. Fat Bird. Fat Bird. Tweety is a fat bird”. The family was shocked and laughing.
My father confessed that each time he passed through the living room he had been suggesting these words. Tweety apparently found baritone more pleasing than boy hood falsetto or the Parakeet top forty album.
He learned many words from me, now that he was ready. He had quite a vocabulary. I wish I could remember more. This was 53 years ago. It was a preachers house and I know it was sanitary speech. God help the next talking bird I meet.
We faced our puberty together, Tweety and I. I was slightly behind. He would climb down my arm and up my wrist. He would clutch the base of my thumb and talk to my thumb nail. He would grip harder and shake his tail feathers. It seemed to please him so. There was a small wet spot when he was done. In a Sepia Tin Type world, I had no understanding and saw no harm. He always called to me the next morning. Innocence is only truly lost when the adults say so.
Tweety loved millet still on the spray and had his own garden. They made plastic devices that clipped into the cage wires with a spout outside for easy water and a reservoir to hold it. A wick carried this water to a replaceable cartridge that grew ann edible lawn through a plastic grate. Apparently it was dee-lish. It got mowed frequently and sprouted young tender shoots for quite some time until the next cartridge was needed.
I was THE Christmas gift wrapper in the family. Why no one saw gay written all over that, must be about the fifties. I was so good, my own gifts went in paper bags and I was asked to wrap them too. I would take a Quaker Oats cylinder, stuff it with socks and cover it with Santa paper, add wheels, smoke stack and cattle sweeper and Voila… CannonBall Express.
Tweety loved Christmas. There was a real tree in the house and ornaments to bird drop on. There was constant activity and strange nibbles like oranges. But most of all Tweety loved helping gift wrap. We were sequestered away in the huge victorian guest/sewing room with the Chinese Wallpaper. The gift wrap rolls, recycled paper from gifts gone by and the saved bow collection came out. The Scotch tape dispenser sat on the floor in the middle of my creative madness. This was Tweety time. He would scamper all over a sheet of paper as soon as I had unrolled or folded it. He would hop and fly between my shoulder and head (The dry surfer look had come) and try to tug tape off the dispenser for me. He was into everything. Everything that had to do with me.
All things end and it did. This is a celebration of Tweety. I wish such joy for every child. I endorse it for grownups as well. Should any be listening.
I leave you with the cry of the Loon….