It's a Saturday morning and Jeanne and reading--basking in
an unprogrammed day--when a hard knock drives open the
"Come in," I sing out in a bass voice, the joke being
that he's already in.
It's Justin, our bruiser of a 12-year-old--offensive
guard on his football team--wearing boxer shorts, fuzzy
brown hair, and eyes so wide they fill the room.
"Mom, Dad! I'm watching TV and bang!" he says in his
husky voice. "This bird just crashes into the window!"
He shows us how with his right hand, streamlined and
flat, now crumpling into a loose fist that falls from
the air and flutters down. His head bows like the
bird's. Eyes close, then open wide again. "It's out on
the porch, just layin' there, this little gray bird."
I say with lots more assurance than I feel, "It's
probably just stunned. Pick it up real gently, massage
it's chest with your index finger, not too hard, and
blow easy-like into its face. Then hold it out with
both hands and just offer it back to the sky."
"Great Dad. I'll try it!" He runs down the hallway and
we hear the front door shrug open, then bang shut
behind him. It seems right not to follow.
"Where did you get that?" Jeanne asks.
"I don't know," but I recall the time as a kid when Dot
Ellis, a neighbor boy's mother, dropped in one Saturday
to tell my mother how she'd tried reviving a goldfish
she found drifting in her aquarium. She'd stroked its
tiny chest, then put it back in the water. We laughed
for years over that story because it seemed improbable
that Dot, this no-nonsense woman who wore shorts (gasp)
and sometimes smoked--had performed CPR on a tiny fish!
Anyway, I'm telling Jeanne this story when Justin
bursts back in all breathless, his eyes full of sky.
"Guess what--it worked! I rubbed its chest just like
you said and blew in its face and it woke up." He
choreographs it, lowering then raising his own fuzzy
head and shaking it, "and I just tossed it up with both
hands and it kind of dipped down once and then flew
"I thought so," I said sage-like. But really I felt I'd
been party to a miracle.
I was reminded of this episode on Wednesday--yesterday
as this is written--by my invaluable neighbor Frank
Mead. Frank is a wizard when it comes to woodworking on
the one hand and all things electronic and mechanical
on the other. He's healed well pumps, heating units,
dead engines, crashed computers and other devices,
muttering and fussing along each time he's come over to
help. But that's Frank for you--a gruff-voiced, no-
nonsense man who wears ragged blue jean shorts and
smokes cigars and likes hard-edged rock played loud,
and will argue politics with a stump. He'll do anything
for you though.
Anyway, he's rubbing his hands over his balding, sun-
speckled head, telling Jeanne and me that two birds
just appeared in his yard out of nowhere.
"Big baby birds with these huge claws and beaks. Ugly
as homemade sin," he's telling us. "I don't know what
they are or where they came from. I asked God, why me?
With all I've got to do, now this. I put 'em in a box
to keep the cats from eating them, then asked the
neighbors what I should do and they laughed at me!"
They suggested things like getting a BB gun, or chewing
up earthworms and feeding them mouth-to-mouth like a
"You will need worms," Jeanne observes. "Justin, get
the shovel and dig us some worms." A few minutes later
we drive down the road to Frank's woodworking shed.
Standing in the wide double doors we peer into a small
cardboard box and see huge beaks trimmed in yellow, and
scrawny legs and claws and accordion wings made of tiny
quills with too few feathers to tell us much. One is
scrabbling around in there, rearing its beak for food.
The other just huddles in the corner.
Justin and I sit in the yard and watch as Jeanne and
Frank--both of them skinny-legged and beak-nosed--mash
earthworms between spoons, while stars and planets and
occasional bats decorate the sky. Frank feeds the baby
birds with a big medicine dropper and they perk up,
squawking and chirping and grasping at it with their
beaks. We celebrate this success.
"What do I do now?" Frank asks.
"You're the mother," Jeanne answers.
"No I'm not," he says gruffly, but then goes silent, as
much as to admit yes he is the mother now.
For all who feed, nurture and groom are at least part-
mother. I'm half mother myself, on my mother's side, so
don't take this wrong, fellas, but...
Happy Mother's Day, Frank.
Happy Mother's Day, Justin.
Happy Mother's Day Jeanne and Dot Ellis and... my own
dear, sweet Mother.
To all who ever delivered some frail and perishable
creature from the void with tender loving care, this
one's for you.