Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Hold it out with both hands and just offer it back to the sky
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   05/10/2002)

It's a Saturday morning and Jeanne and reading--basking in an unprogrammed day--when a hard knock drives open the bedroom door.

"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 away."

"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 mama bird.

"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.