Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Bird House...

"Get down out of that tree before you fall and break your neck", she bellowed, having spotted me high among the branches of the old elm tree.

"Drat!" I thought. I hated when I could be tracked from the ground in my secluded treetops. These branches were my personal lookout refuge from the silly life of *humans* down below.

I begrudgingly began a very slow decent from my perch, deliberately pausing to notice any bug or bird that flew by. I knew better than to drop to the ground too slowly, however. Once mother beckoned, it was best to do as she instructed to avoid confrontation.

"I'm coming", I hollered out with just enough volume to seem convincing, as I gingerly scrambled down branches that recognized my frequent footpath. Completely downtrodden that I had been discovered, my special perch would have to be abandoned for now. As would the robin's nest and the baby birds I had been watching for the past few weeks. I knew if mother caught me up there that high again, I might be forbidden from climbing ANY trees...something I did almost every day. For now, I would not attract attention to my secret world of birds and bugs. The baby robins would just have to get along without me for the time being.


I grew up my youngest years in rural Nebraska on farm land, where glaciers had deposited rich, black soil ripe for tilling and cultivating. It is said that most of the trees in this area of the United States were brought in by early settlers, trying to make a life for themselves in otherwise flat open spaces...where winters raged and summers burned, finding shelter under a tree was a blessing.

My sisters, who were older than I, often referred to me as "the monkey", and NOT as a term of endearment. Because I was wiry, thin, and fast, they decided I had the shape of a monkey...and because I regularly climbed trees, the image was only perpetuated.

In the summer months, I was called to climb the cherry tree so that all of the precious, sour cherries could be harvested and pitted for pies. This was an accepted duty of mine and something I did not mind at all...I was the only one in my family agile and thin enough to scramble to the tops of the cherry trees and I prided myself in harvesting every last berry I could reach.

But in the spring...ah, the spring was MY season for bird watching and nest observation! I quickly grew to recognize the differences between a sparrow, a robin, and a turtle dove's nest...the typical nest-building birds in my area. I could identify the differences in their nests, their eggs, their fledglings, and their calls at a very young age. I often tried to mimic their behaviors by attempting to jump off tall structures to this day, I STILL believe I could fly if I could only get the flapping of my arms right!

Once, my oldest sister came into her bedroom and found me squatting on the metal frame of her bed...a bar that was approximately two inches in diameter and 3 feet off the ground. I had removed my shoes and socks and sat gripping the bar with my monkey toes, trying desperately to balance myself without falling. She asked me what I was doing and, at the time, I thought her question was quite silly. I explained to her I was practicing "perching"...this is still something I am teased about by my middle sister to this day. Sigh...

At some point in my childhood, I think my mother must have discovered my fascination with birds...I was so secretive as a child, or at least I THOUGHT I was...I had no idea she had caught on to the mysteries of my private world high above the ground. My mother could best be described as a quiet, but stern disciplinarian. She was usually too busy taking care of three daughters and working to find much time for spontaneous notions. But one day, she surprised me.


It was on a warm, spring day my mother called me from the yard to the front porch. I thought for certain I must be in trouble for something or there was a chore needing to be completed. Instead, she looked at me with somewhat of a grin and said, "How 'bout we build a bird house today?"

I stood on the cool cement in my bare feet stepping back and forth on my toes with the heel of the other foot. I had no idea what she was talking about because even I knew a bird house would require wood and probably nails and a saw...things that I knew were off limits to my touch in my father's garage.

What are we going to MAKE it out of?" I said, in somewhat disbelief, yet intrigued by the notion.

"Well, WOOD, silly", she replied in her own form of disbelief.

"Yeah, but we don't HAVE any", I argued in my nearly 10 year old voice.

"Of course we do", was all she said as she headed for the side of the house where the garage door stood safely hiding away the mystery belongings of my father's workshop. Now she had captured my full attention.

No one was allowed to use my father's things...not the neighbors, not his girls, and I had always assumed not even his wife. His tools were treated like prized possessions and he kept them under lock and key, fortressed away like gold at Fort Knox. She took the sacred garage key out of her pocket, turned the lock with it, and we entered the tabernacle of my father's workshop.

"Run back into the house and get my 'Ladies Home Journal' magazine off the kitchen countertop. We'll need it for the instructions," was all she said as she gazed around the poorly lit work area, which was filled with paint cans and ladders and woodworking tools.

I quickly hightailed it back into the house and grabbed the magazine from the kitchen with utter excitement. The "Ladies Home Journal" was my mother's bible...there MUST be something in it that had driven her to unlock that garage and risk the wrath of my father! Surely God must have spoken to her in the fine print.

I raced around the corner of the house clutching the magazine, exhilarated by my mother's new found freedom and daring...I could NOT, after all, be in trouble for entering my father's private temple if I was with HER. Yes, she'd be shouldering the blame for this one if there was punishment to be handed down. I presented the magazine to her as if it were sacred text and smiled up at her face. This was proving to be a delightful day after all.

My mother thumbed through the magazine until she found the section she was searching for and laid it out on a work bench, holding the pages down with two, quart cans of paint. She studied the page for a few minutes while I danced in place, waiting for my next instruction. And then she spoke again.

"OK, grab that piece of plywood over there and bring me your dad's hand saw from that shelf". She was suddenly very business-like and focused. I did as I was told, wondering for a fleeting moment if my father could possibly dust the saw for prints and somehow sentence me to hard labor for touching his tools...the thought passed quickly and, without hesitation, I became my mother's apprentice.

For several hours that day, we drew outlines and cut small pieces of plywood based on the diagrams in the "Ladies Home Journal". Once the pieces were evenly cut to match the drawings, we hammered and nailed each piece into what began to take the shape of a bird house. And then, to my complete amazement, my mother studies the many paint cans lining the garage shelf (my father was an interior/exterior painter by trade) and chose a bright, yellow paint, which we proceeded to brush onto our tiny, little building. The paint dried quickly in the afternoon sun and the bird house was ready to mount on the clothes line.

We eventually got our bird house securely fastened to the post of the clothes line and stood back to admire our work. It was now somewhere in the mid afternoon...we had become so engrossed in our project together, neither one of us had thought to pause to have lunch!

My mother stood beside me, looking up at the bird house, with smears of yellow paint across her fingers. She did not in the least bit seemed worried what my father might say when he discovered we had entered his workshop without invitation and used his tools with utter abandon. Instead she was smiling with what could only be interpreted as a look of accomplishment.

Without breaking her gaze at our beautiful, yellow bird house, she spoke. "There. Now you don't need to climb so high in the trees to watch the birds".


I miss climbing the trees...almost as much as I miss those rare, but wonderful times with my mother...



Shauna said...

You and I would have been best friends as kids.

Great post.



What a great story. I was never one to climb tress, but I do have a spot on the porch which is a favorite for nests. The robins are excellent nest builders, but the mourning doves are horrible builders. I often worried that the babies would fall out of the dove's nest. The little sparrows are also good builders, but this year I didn't even notice that the babies were ready to fledge when suddenly they were gone.

That sounds like a wonderful memory to have of your mother. Did any neighborhood birds make a home there?

Blinders Off said...

I enjoy reading your blog, I could not read this one because of the yellow font :(

Joan said...

What a beautiful story! Thanks for giving me a nice gift.

Blinders Off said...

Beautiful, your story made me think of a wonderful childhood memory I have not thought about in years. Thank you.

have myelin said...

makes me miss the days i used to have a playhouse under the long branches of the willow trees...i'd make rooms out of those "long flowing limbs", ahhhh....

birds in the attic were the norm.

you're not coming for me in your white jacket yet are you? :p

Denver Refashionista said...

Diane commented on my blog about the value of fondly remembering the past. I think she is right. Like this story, our memories are a treasure chest. This was lovely.