I buried probably, like, a million birds as a child.
I don’t know of a southern household that doesn’t own a pair of binoculars or have a jar of Blue Plate mayonnaise in the refrigerator. So, this is going to be a disappointing blog, in part, because my house has neither.
Ok, well maybe a thimbleful is left of the mayonnaise.
Ms. Frankie, the sweetest neighbor I had while growing up, God love her, thought it was because people really liked to look at the birds, that’s why they all had binoculars…and that anything other than Blue Plate was sacrilege.
She had a pair, herself, but they sat on the mantle after her husband died and became some sort of an un-dustable relic. And she was sort of correct, about the birds. Some people did really like to look at them. But, that’s only because they were in the way of the neighbor’s house.
Ironically, we had neighbors whose last name was Byrd. But, they were good, God-fearing people. So, why spy on them? They also lived a little too far down the road.
My Uncle Jum kept his pair on the arm of his swivel chair. He went crazy eventually, so who knows what he saw when he looked through them. U.L. keeps his pair in the cabinet over the oven. But, I probably wasn’t supposed to tell you that. Aunt Sally’s pair weren’t really binoculars. They held bourbon; the lens caps unscrewed to reveal, ta-da, circular-shaped flasks.
I learned this the hard way. As a child, visiting her in Texas, this was during my Dr. Who-meets-Sherlock-Holmes-and-Jem-Is-Truly-Outrageous-Truly-Truly-Truly-Outrageous phase. It was an awkward time for all, though, it didn’t really get me in trouble until we went to Idaho later that summer.
Anyway…I found her binoculars, oddly enough, in the liquor cabinet. She was nearing 100, so she didn’t bother to lock it anymore…what with “arthur” and all in her hands.
I took them outside, found something innocuous to stare at, like tree bark, something that didn’t really require binoculars, but then that’s not really the point of binoculars, is it?, to a kid…and when I lifted them to “mine eyes,” I poured bourbon, or it might have been liquid fire, straight onto my eyeballs.
“Arthur” apparently inhibited her ability to tightly screw caps back on things like binocular-flasks.
U.L., when he’s not waging some silent war of angry stares at the neighbor on the other side of the road (she sometimes forgets to wear pants when she mows the grass…so, cut him some slack), he actually enjoys bird-watching.
Not just any birds, either. And never a jaybird. No, he likes to watch for the turkeys. He particularly enjoys watching them in their frantic and mostly unrequited attempts at flight. Usually over the road.
On his acres of land live many creatures: coyotes (pronounced cow-yotes), racoons, deer (though they’re about to be put on the neighborhood Endangered Species list if they don’t stay out of his hosta), gray foxes (when they scream they sound exactly like an ingenue being murdered), and the lumbersome centerpiece of every Thanksgiving dinner: the wild turkey.
Maybe that’s what Aunt Sally drank.
On a few occasions, when I’ve been back at home, he’s shown me these turkeys in repose, except they’re not at rest. I just like the word “repose.” And I have to be honest: when the falling sun hits their tail feathers, it’s a rather beautiful sight. The underwings of the turkey, as well, are quite purpled with irridescence. I found myself staring longingly after them through the binoculars. It didn’t even matter that they looked like turkeys.
Which are, you have to admit, an odd lot of birds. They have a vulture named after them, for crying out loud. And Ben Franklin…remember him?…tried to outvote the eagle in favor of the turkey for our national symbol of freedom.
Personally, I would have written in a vote, if I’d been there: for the guinea.
Old Man Caser, and this had to be back when I was six or seven, lived across the road, directly in front of U.L.’s house. He was a nice man if “different,” (as in when his wife died, he didn’t tell anyone, and so there she stayed in the chair up against the front parlor window – also, I met his sister, after he fell in his house from a heart attack. He died. But, get this, so had his sister, like almost ten years earlier, back in 1978. I’ll save that story until Halloween. Nana was there, with me, that time, but she’ll never admit it. Never).
Old Man Caser had a hobby of collecting guineas. He had over the years, until the county took them all away (the ones that cars didn’t take out from running over them, that is), varying numbers of guineas…but never fewer than thirty, I would imagine, at any one time.
He had a great deal of land on his side of the road, and on that land were many, many trees, but the guineas seemed to prefer the most dangerous one: the water oak that grew over the road. Right by the mailbox.
I’m not sure, but they might be the dumbest birds that have ever lived. (And they didn’t live long in our small church community of loose youth in love with drag racing and little old ladies in Cadillacs).
From the top of the water oak, they got a pretty good look at the inside of U.L.’s kitchen, and I don’t know why, but they were forever trying to cross the road to get into it. I used to think it’s because he has such a large picture window over the kitchen sink, and the way his house is designed, with larger picture windows framing the den (these windows go all the way to the ground), it appears, at least to birds, that they can swoop down and fly through it.
Or, they could have just wanted some cornbread dressing.
I buried probably, like, a million birds as a child, though, because of those windows…birds that had lost their lives to the glass-trickery that was U.L.’s kitchen-and-den architectural combo. Heck, I’d even walked into the windows, myself. Now, add to that, the fact that from the southside of the den looking toward the kitchen are three identical doors, each right after the other: one to the carport, one to the utility closet, and another to a separate part of the yard, out back of the house. People came to visit and stayed a whole extra day because they couldn’t figure out to leave the house.
Anyway…so, we’d be sitting there quiet as can be, watching Wheel, or Lawrence Welk (please note that I never watched Lawrence Welk, but family time was family time, period), and Whomp!
Into the shrubs would fall another bluebird, or cardinal, and one time, a very angry, disillusioned cat.
But nothing whomps a window quite to the same tune as an 8-pound guinea trying as eagerly as the turkey to get off the ground. Even without taking flight, a guinea with a well-intentioned run can kill itself by hurtling face-forward into plate glass.
This particular unfortuante guinea hit the window so hard it dropped an egg.
Yet, I was fascinated by them. The best part, I think, was how loud they were. I mean, these are some noisy fowl. They were quite handy when company you didn’t prefer came over. All you had to do was pretend to be very interested in working in the yard, and after a few minutes, most of the time, the company just got tired of talking over the flock, and left.
Thankfully, the guineas never really did anything by themselves…ever. Every now and then, one might cross the road alone, but he always went back to the tree with the rest of them, if he didn’t get caught under the tires of a Buick. And, I mean, one could make some noise, by itself, I imagine, but you really needed the whole kit and kaboodle to get that delicious cacophony.
It’s an unusual childhood memory, I’ll give you that…and there’s a lot more attached to it, but still, I miss those birds. I miss nothing about their avian qualities, per se, but they were a definite freedom-encouraging symbol of my upbringing: make your own kind of squawk, but keep your family near; live on the edge but keep to the shade of the tree, you know cliche things like that.
I told Amanda and Erin that these fowl had impressed their birdy ways onto my core, my psyche, and because of them, one of my grown-up dreams was to, one day, own a small publishing firm. I said I was thinking of calling it The Guinea Tree Press, and just as I was about to show them the logo I’d put together on Adobe Illustrator, Amanda informed me that “guinea” was an ethnic slur against Italians. So, probably, I’d want to re-think my name.
I just looked straight at her, and then straight ahead, and you know what I did?
I said, “Damn.” I’ll have to go back through all my of my childhood and wipe it clean with a politically correct cloth because, all my life, I had no idea about the history of the word “guinea” as a slur.
Plus, now I’m worried sick that “hoop cheese” is next on the list.