Opinion Issue 03

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(Maria, who works for us as a housekeeper about four hours a week, speaks little English. She and her family are good, honest people. She and her husband have lived and worked in the U.S.A. for many years and raised their kids here. They own their home, which is immaculate and well-maintained, and they pay taxes. I enjoy Maria, her laughter and sense of humor. We have good times communicating, especially when we don’t get it quite right. This is an example from several years ago.)

I had to leave the house for a few hours one morning while Maria was there. When I returned, she greeted me excitedly. “Mucho sangre heer! You no see?” she said, pointing to a clean spot on the brick floor of my entry room. She must have cleaned it up.

No, I hadn’t seen any blood there, I told her. “Por que?” I asked.

“Posible Whiskers keel poquito alligator aqui,” she said. “You no see?” From her surprise that I hadn’t noticed anything, it must have really been a mess.

“Oh, si? An alligator?” I asked in amazement. Whiskers was my grandson’s cat.

“Si! Alligator! Pero poquito.” She insisted it was indeed an alligator, but a small one, showing me its size with her fingers.

The cat must have dragged in a lizard.

When my grandson, Brandon, came home from middle-school, I told him how his brave Whiskers had killed a poquito alligator, and in the house, no less. “You are a good, big, brave kitty,” he said with a grin, petting Whiskers. “I’m proud of you.”

We’d had an unusual amount of rain the past few days, and strange things do happen in New Mexico after a rain. Actually, rain itself is unusual around here. I’m glad it doesn’t rain dogs and cats since we already have plenty of those. I have seen it rain frogs, horny toads and tarantulas; those are plentiful after a good rain. And at one time, I think, it rained giant dinosaurs because I have seen fossils of those, along with shellfish, that were found on my grandfather’s ranch. But alligators? Wow.








(This was written in 1996, after the death of my mother.)

Mama recently died and my husband, Dan, and I inherited Pretty Bird, her cockatiel. My brother, Jerry, and I had given Bird to her one Mother’s Day, believing it an ideal companion for an 83-year-old, partially blind woman mostly confined to a small area. We picked a male because, we were told, males talk more than females — at least in the bird world.

More than three years later, Jerry, Dan and I were satisfied we were right. We believed Pretty Bird had been right for Mama but, I believed, not for me. Inherited or not, I did not want a bird for a pet. I thought a bird, like a fish, no fun and without personality. Uncuddly birds, like fish in a bowl, were boring. Our poodles miss us when we leave, howl, and slurp us and squall in hysterical joy when we return. They love us and they have personality. Birds only make noises and messes.

Soon after Mama died, I considered finding a new home for Bird.

Mama had lived in an efficiency apartment I built onto our adobe home. Dan and I were often amused hearing, through the open connecting door between her domain and ours, her telling Bird, “Hush! Be quiet! You are too noisy.” A retired teacher from a bygone era, she expected to be obeyed. She was often annoyed at Bird for not minding and being untidy.

Mama taught Bird several words and phrases. Jerry thought it amusing that she taught him how to talk bird talk. “Tweet, tweet, TWEEET!” said Bird, sounding just like Mama. She spent time talking to him, but she was ultra-conservative in his care and treatment. After reading the cockatiel manual, Dan and I advised her that Bird should not be cooped up all the time. He needed to be handled and occasionally stretch his wings and fly. Still, she seldom let Bird out of his cage, and when she did, she did not want him to leave its immediate vicinity. She was frightened during the rare occasions Bird fluttered off his cage to the floor, and even more so if he flew around the room. Whenever he could fly two feet above the floor, she asked someone to rush her to the pet shop to have his wings clipped.

At the moment, Bird resides in our large, high-ceilinged living room to relieve loneliness. His, that is. We keep his cage doors open as an invitation to explore his expanded universe. Still, he mostly remains in his cage or climbs, by beak and claw, over the outside bars of his voluntary confinement. We believed Bird had regressed because Mama seldom held him.

Today, Dan and I got out the cockatiel manual. We read: “Replace the store-bought cage perch with a real wood tree branch.” So we did. I was also innovative and added a wooden and ceramic bird, one on top of his cage and one beside it. To relieve his boredom, I placed a small upright mirror inside it.

Most unusual for bird, he remained clinging to the outside of his cage all day. My hours of off and on observation made me suspect he was afraid to enter his cage. I took him bodily and tried to put him inside. He squawked and jumped down onto our brick floors. Because of our two excited poodles, I slowly backed away from Bird, keeping a protective eye on him fluttering about on the floor. My intention was to draw the dogs away, and to gather them up and put them outside. Bird, wings beating the floor, rushed across the room to me and perched upon my foot. That brought him right up to the fascinated dogs, who yapped at my feet while Bird flapped on my foot. I was afraid to reach for him; that would excite him and the dogs more, and they might grab him before I could. I slipped my leather-clad foot out from under Bird and backed away, the dogs dancing back with me. Bird, wings beating the floor, rushed forward and again perched on my foot. This time, he climbed my long broomstick skirt and my bare arm (ouch!) until he reached my shoulder. I yelled for Dan, who was in another room, to come to Bird’s and my rescue and put the dogs out.

Bird perched with renewed determination upon my shoulder. I tried to remove him from there; he beat me with his wings, squawked and bit my groping fingers. I was finally able to grab him and again tried to put him in his cage. Forced into it, he screamed as if I were killing him. Wings flapping wildly, without touching his new wooden perch, he jumped to the floor of his cage, ran out his front door, and jumped to the brick floor, sat on my foot, and then scurried up my skirt and my bare arm (ouch!) to my shoulder. Any attempt to remove him from there resulted in harsh scoldings and ungentle bites. “Tisk, tisk, tisk!” he clucked in my ear, sounding like my school teacher mama when she disapproved of my behavior.

Before this, Bird seemed foolishly fearless. When our poodles or the cat poked inquisitive noses at his cage, he pecked them and pulled their hair, and it was they who feared. To my horror, one day Bird hopped off his cage onto a fluffy poodle. The poodle was horrified and — lucky for Bird — petrified by the wildly flapping apparition on his back.

Normally fearless or not, Bird was today terrified of something. I decided it had to be the new wooden perch.

With Bird on my shoulder, I removed the tree branch from his cage and replaced it with the original “store-bought” perch. I slowly reintroduced Bird to the interior of his cage. He hopped upon his perch. Spying himself in the mirror, he fluffed out his white feathers to increase his girth, raised his yellow head-feather-crest, turned his head from side to side to admire his orange-rouged cheeks, and piercingly proclaimed, “Pretty Bird! Pretty Bird!” He seemed to find himself fascinating. Then he spied me watching him. He gave me a fetching wolf whistle and I leaned my face close to him.

“Hello there!” he said as he poked his head out of his door and gave me a lip-kiss.

So much for useful cockatiel manuals. So much for boring birds. I believe I shall give away one and keep the other.






With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approaching, give yourself a warm glow by dusting off the cobwebs and polishing old memories.

When my children were small, they went through a period when they made many cards and letters, written and illustrated in pencil and crayon and adorned with cutout pieces of paper and other embellishments, for me to find all over the house. Among them were treasures. Here are some.

I found one grade-school child’s carefully lettered piece of paper. Obviously having trouble spelling one word and in doubt as to which letter to begin it with, both letters were used. “Hi Mom. You have a scent.” Securely taped to the paper was a penny.

My children knew how much I valued old family heirlooms and keepsakes passed down in the family. A note from a child when I was in (what I thought was) my youthful twenties read: “Mom, you are speshul to me. You are like a anteke.”

Another memory that has stayed with me was a unique breakfast cooked and served up especially for me one morning by my young children. The meal consisted of a platter of bright, peculiarly shaped pancakes. They got into my food coloring and generously used colors — in the batter, on the counter and their clothes. The small pancakes, with gooey centers, were bright blue, red, green and yellow. Some of them seemed to be attempted smiley faces. Others were topped off with cheese, a good thing, and some with things not so good in pancakes. But of course, I managed to eat several and proclaimed them delicious. The rest of the day, I wore my badge of courage: a multi-colored tongue.