I just looked at Sheila Finklestein's latest Picture To Ponder, a more-than-weekly e-mail newsletter I subscribe to that features her thought-provoking nature photography. This issue, which you can view here, features a feral green parrot that looks for all the world like a parakeet.

Memories kick in and I'm transported back to childhood and my heart squeezes with longing for Pete, our family's wunderbird. We bought Pete before he had left the nest, and he was never sure he wasn't a person. He had an amazing vocabulary of over twenty words. Some of his phrases included:
  • A bird can't talk.
  • I'm a little varmint.
  • Pass the birdseed.
  • Hello.
  • Here, Elmer
This last one was accompanied by a whistle that was so much like my father's that Elmer, the not quite as bright beagle, would come running, and then look foolishly around when he didn't see any people. Pete also mastered the art of summoning my sister, though she knew it was him. He often mixed the sentences up in creative new ways, muttering to himself, "A bird can't pass the little varmint Elmer, (three whistles)" or something like that.

Pete spent much of his time loose in the house, and how I miss the tiny tickles of his wee little claws on my fingers, and on the bare skin of my shoulders and neck. He loved to burrow under my long hair and hide in the warm darkness. While he was in there, he'd gently peck at the roots of hair strands, giving me a mini neck massage. Sometimes he pecked lovingly at my cheek, or rubbed his silky feathered head against it. That felt like angel kisses.

Not everyone was enchanted with Pete. One night my father brought a visiting British engineer home for dinner. The man's pate was shiny as a bowling ball. Pete was fascinated, and zoomed in to explore, much to the Brit's consternation, but the worst part was at dinner. Pete made a three-point landing in the mashed potatoes. We knew what a clean bird Pete was, and Mother simply took him in the kitchen to clean him up, while the rest of us helped ourselves to potatoes. Our guest discretely ate roast beef without potatoes. Pete was in his cage for the rest of the evening. I can only imagine the horrified tales the man told when he returned to civilization.

This bird also had healing powers we humans would love to emulate. One afternoon the family sat around working a jigsaw puzzle on a card table in the living room (remember how families used to do things like that, before t.v., computers, GameBoys and all the other life-style enhancing gadgets we have today?). Daddy gave Pete a sip of his beer, a treat Pete especially relished. It doesn't take many sips to ground a parakeet. Pete was soon on the floor, and my sister didn't realize he was under the table. She moved her feet, catching Pete's foot under hers, and when he jerked it loose, his leg snapped.

We all felt terrible. Daddy called the vet, who suggested splinting it with a soda straw. Pete wanted nothing to do with that. He pecked that soda straw off in short order. For around six weeks Pete perched on one leg and spent a lot of time preening his broken leg with his beek. One day he gingerly put that foot on the perch. By the end of the day he was moving normally, and you'd never know the leg had been broken.

Pete had to leave our family after my baby brother was born. He had never forgiven my sister for breaking his leg and had begun biting her ferociously, so he was already living on borrowed time. When wee little 4.5 pound Ronnie came home from the hospital (he was born six weeks prematurely, but that's another story you can read on Ritergal's Story Site), Pete zoomed in to check him out, once again landing on a bald head. That infant may have been small, but his lungs powered a shriek that filled the house. Later that day Pete went to live with a friend of the family who had always admired him.

Now and then I think about getting another parakeet, but I realize that Pete was one of a kind. The likelihood that I'd ever get another bird who could fill Pete's perch is so remote that I prefer to live with a loving memory rather than inflict my disappointment on a substitute.

I was prompted to write this lifestory in response to an impromtu trigger. Maybe this story will trigger one for you. What pets did you have growing up? What did your family do on Sunday afternoons?

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Jo said...

Neat pet story, Sharon. I don't have any to share except that I have cats instead of a bird who can be entertaining as well. For the most part they sleep alot, lol.
I got your blog from an email off of Sheila Finklestein. I had her bird on my desktop for a few her photos.


Lauren Strouse said...

Enjoyed the story - also arrived by way of Sheila's site. We had many, many pets while growing up, but we too had a parakeet - she was bright blue and her name was Jezzebel. Because we also had dogs and cats she wasn't allowed full run of the house at all times, but did frequently enjoy a bit of freedom. The only thing she ever learned to say was "pretty bird," but my dad did teach her some tricks involving tiny plastic ladders and a little car that she would push. Funny you should mention the puzzle table - my family used to do the same thing, especially during the summer. Thanks for the memories.