An Homage to Feathers

I suppose my love-affair with the flying creatures on our planet can be attributed to my Mom’s Mom, Nana, as all her grandchildren called her, as mine do me.  In Nana’s later years, she had “her” chair by the window.  Her knitting was nearby, always with the pink or blue yarn casted on and taking shape for the newest grandson, granddaughter or great grand child.  It seems there was a basket of magazines, her reading glasses, the newspaper and latest crossword puzzle close at hand as well.  Of course, for cool days, a beautiful afghan, knitted by her own hands, was flung over the chair’s back or her legs.  But mostly I remember her little parakeet, Pretty Boy.  There were at least two Pretty Boys that I recall.  Nana’s birds were known for their longevity, I’m sure because they were lavished with such tender love.  The Pretty Boys were even more famous for their ability to talk.  Of course, all parakeets can be taught to mimic, but not all bird owners have the patience and persistence that my Nana did.  As Nana painstakingly counted the stitches on her needles, she softly whistled and talked to Pretty Boy.  Over and over, under her breath, you could hear her saying “Pretty Boy, Pretty Boy.  I’m a pretty boy.  I love you.  What time is it?”  Always the same lilting short melody with its melodic Italian accent.  I don’t know how long it took for him to learn to repeat her words back to her.  I only visited Nana a couple times a year.  But Pretty Boy, whether he was Pretty Boy I or II, talked by the time I was there, repeating and responding to my Nana’s song.  As a little girl, I thought this was a miracle.  My later experiences with my own “Pretty Boy” convince me it was. 

When my oldest son was about ten or twelve, I thought my four boys needed a little “fluff” in their lives.  They were outgoing and “manly” for little fellows, being encouraged by one another in their masculine pursuits.  My little parakeet was, of course, named Pretty Boy.  I enlisted the aid of all the boys to help me in repeating the same phrase over and over to him so he would mimic us.  Of course, the phrase they came up with wasn’t near as sweet as Nana’s.  It was something like “Howdy mates!  I’m Pretty Boy.  All aboard.  It’s now or never!”  Sadly our Pretty Boy didn’t have the level of intelligence Nana’s did, as he never repeated our phrase.  I secretly think my sons undermined my attempts to train him – probably changing the phrase when I was out of ear shot. 

What to do?  I had to have a talking “Pretty Boy.”  So I bought a cassette (I suppose today, if it’s considered “animal friendly”, it would be a CD).  It was specifically choreographed to train a parakeet to talk.  My family (and I) got very tired of the high-pitched little ditty on it – quickly.  We all were reporting dreams each morning revolving around a looney old toothless witch in the forest running around screaming in high tones, “Hi.  Hi.  Hello.  Hello.  What’s your name?”  And of course, Pretty Boy’s name was not mentioned on the tape – so my little guy was definitely not going to learn his name. 

Now what to do?  I had a double tape player, so I bought an identical tape, put them both on to play consecutively.  Pretty Boy would get a double dose of the addled old ladie’s chant – but only when we were leaving the house long enough that it would be over when we got home.  My boys wondered how I’d feel if Pretty Boy actually learned to mimic what he was hearing.  My theory was that once he learned how to say anything, I could teach him a new vocabulary easily.  (I should have known from my experiences with my sons as they learned to talk that that wasn’t going to work.  They said, and still do, pretty much what they want, and not necessarily what I want to hear.)

My Pretty Boy got pretty old, which was a feat in itself since we had lots of kitties and various puppies through the years (not to mention the snakes, iguanas, goats, lizards and turtles) who would probably have loved a, to them, “chicken dinner.”

We passed into the early years of home computers.  Our living-room was the activity room in our house – mainly cause it was the only room other than the kitchen and bedrooms and one (yes, one!) bathroom (and that doubled as the laundry room.).  So the large computer and printer was squeezed into our midst.  We’d originally moved into this 24′ by 32′ ft. cabin.  We put a loft in, which housed our first three boys and a friend of mine.  Her bed and a crib for the youngest boy (its legs were removed cause the loft was a-framed and wasn’t high enough to stand in, much less accommodate the height of a crib.) was at one end of the room.  That was divided by a curtain, and the other end had one twin bed with a mattress under it we pulled out at night for the two older boys.  Our bed was the couch downstairs, a hide-a-bed.  It was, for lack of a better word – cozy.  

Continuing to digress from Pretty Boy:  it may seem strange that a friend lived with us.  But it was a necessity for me.  Besides the fact that I loved her dearly, and still do, we had to cook on a camp stove.  I was pregnant with number four and the propane made me nauseous.  So Sue (we called her as my three-year old did, “Sa-hue”.) did all the cooking.

But that was our beginning in the “cabin-house”, again a three-year old’s nomenclature.  As time passed we built an addition with bathroom (previously it was the out-house and local hot springs for toiletry), kitchen and bedrooms.  It was with all this amazing extra room and a fourth son beginning to display early signs of high testosterone levels that inspired Pretty Boy’s addition to our lives – the earlier mention of “fluff”.   And the two older boys, now young teenagers, “needed” to have a computer to keep up at school.

It could be asked the relevance here to Pretty Boy.  This is the point in his life that I thought he was going to pass from our lives.  We had put him through a lot:  the awful witch-lady, confusing language lessons from many different family members, cages and aquariums with scary and threatening other creatures, prowling cats, growling dogs, cramped living quarters – to name a few (don’t want to embarrass my sons with accounts of their pranks designed to variously upset any living being – from mother, to Sa-hue, Dad, each other, Pretty Boy – well, you get the point.  There were, by now, five of them! – boys.).

Poor Pretty Boy!  Each day I was convinced numerous times throughout the day he was dying.  It was because he kept doing that “death rattle” I’ve heard people do right before they die.  “Ratatatatatatatatat!  Ratatatatatatatat!  Ratatatatatatatat!”  However, he clung to life voraciously. 

I considered taking him to the vet, but it was difficult just keeping up on doctor’s appointments for the boys.  Plus, though I knew Nana’s parakeets lived long and hearty lives, I felt Pretty Boy had been through more than hers and it had aged him considerably.  (As it had me.)  Plus, he was really no “spring chicken” anyway.  He must have been five or six.  It was getting confusing to remember ages at this point.  In addition, I was getting a little annoyed at the “death rattle”.  We had 1,200 square feet with eight people living in it, trying to co-exist with the boys’ countless pets (did I mention hamsters, mice, rats, guineapigs, rabbits?).  Did I need to hear “ratatatatatatatatat” through-out the day?

On top of all that, I never got over Pretty Boy’s lack of response to my efforts to educate him.  By this time, he’d escaped on numerous ocassions as well.  I couldn’t expose my ruthless feelings to my sons to just let him “go for it”.  (“Go ahead, Pretty Boy, see if you can survive the mountains, winters, coyotes, hawks, owls,” I secretly thought).   So, with the objective of teaching my sons compassion, I was obliged to always run like a “chicken with its head cut off” with a huge butterfly net waving in the air after my precocious Pretty Boy.  He wasn’t looking so pretty anymore and my memories of my Nana were getting a bit morose. 

But wait!  Pretty Boy becomes famous in the annals of our family history.  But only because my oldest son got his wisdom teeth pulled and had a nasty recovery.  What could this possibly have to do with a parakeet, you wonder?

On with the story.  Michael had to spend many days at home.  What better way to idle the hours away than fiddling around with the computer and ancient printer.  I didn’t like him to do it when I was around (this was “pre-internet-porn” time) cause the printer made this awful “ratatatatatatatatatatatatat. ratatatatatatatatatat” noise.

You guessed it.  We re-named Pretty Boy, “Printer”, and we all lived happily ever after. 

But wait again!  There’s an addendum to this tale.  And it, too, relates to birds and language – more or less.  By the time we had our seventh son, we also inherited a pair of love birds from my brother (Printer had, by now, sadly, passed on.).  My brother and his wife had actually succeeded in coaxing this pair to reproduce!  That outed talking in my book – by a long shot.  Of course that (reproducing) was something I could readily relate to.  Then too, I’d never heard that love birds could be taught to mimic, so I wasn’t trying.  Little did I expect that, instead of teaching a bird anything at all – Taco and Bell taught my six-month old son to whistle!  And whistle he did – before he ever talked.  I guess there’s always something to learn from our “feathered-friends.”

This entry was posted on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 6:39 pm and is filed under The Life in Our Lives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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