MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TRULY EXCELLENT WRITING MEMOIRS FROM VIRGINIA GUNN DIEHL

The baby birds died today.


I only had one bird house left.


When Bill and I lived at the beach, we had so many bird houses.

Billy bird house. The little, red bird house. The beach bird house.

They were painted bright, pretty colors, and every year I looked

forward to small birds moving in, and raising their baby birds.


When Bill died, I had to move fast. I couldn't afford the rent. There

would be no book. There would be no money coming in. It was a very

scary time. It still is. They say when someone you love dies, you

shouldn't do anything for the first six months, or you will probably

live to regret whatever you did. Your mind is not rational. You are not in

the mode to make the right decisions. It made no difference in my case,

I simply couldn't afford the rent.


There were a couple of garage sales. People took away things that had

been apart of our lives for twenty five years. And they got them for a

steal. No one except me knew the value of these items and I wasn't

talking. I was just barely breathing. There was my grandmother's clock

that marked the hour, and half hour. It probably wasn't an expensive

clock, but it was a part of her that I cherished. No one would know

that unless I told them, and I wasn't talking. It went for twenty

dollars. All of Bill's train sets that I had given him. Still in the

boxes. We were waiting until we had a house of our own again before we

set them up. They were to go around the Christmas tree. I had no use

for such things anymore. He was gone. Our bed. It rained that day, as

the taking apart of Bill and Virginia's life together went forward.

So, there is only one bird house left. The chickadees were nesting in

it, and I was beginning to feel a little hopeful.


It's been a beautiful spring. Lots of rain. Not like last year when we

were in the middle of a bad drought. Every night on the news last year

we heard horrible stories about how we would run out of drinking

water, as the lake was drying up. But this year, the rains came.

Everything is green and lush.


I took the dogs out to play in Apache's big yard. For some reason they

won't go to that yard unless I'm with them. There was the bird house

on the ground. The wire that held it in the tree had broken. I picked

it up and looked in. The baby birds were dead. Tiny, black ants were

swarming all over them. The roof of their house had pulled away, and I

knew this was the end of the last bird house. It would never be used

again, which was somehow fitting. I was able to rehang it. I sat in a

chair and waited for their parents to return. Nothing happened for

almost an hour. I figured the parents had been there before I got

there, and they already knew. Then they both flew in together. I

watched as they hung on to the side of the house. I wondered if birds

think. I'm pretty sure they do. Now I know they do. The father bird

looked in, and threw his head back in utter shock. Now that is a

thinking bird. He flew up in the tree. The mother went in and stayed

for a long time. Maybe ten minutes. What was she doing? Trying to get

the ants off her babies? Trying to bring them back? Mourning?

The father bird flew over my head and cheeped as loud as a

Chickadee can, and went back to the tree. When she finally came out,

they flew off together. I sat there for another hour to see if they

would come back, but they didn't.


As I sat there today waiting for birds I thought about falling down.

The bird house that fell down, and wiped out a family. How in the

blink of an eye, everything can change for all of us. A loved one

dies, or your house burns down. Someone gets a horrible disease.

Random, chaotic events that change everything, whether for a family

of birds or people, we just never know when the storms will come, and

how we will react to them. We all fall down during our lives, and usually

we get back up, in time, and start over again.


Ring around the rosies,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.


Nice, catchy tune, except it's about the Black Plague.

Maybe our parents didn't know that when it was taught to us. I never

liked it much. We had to fall down. I always wondered what's so great

about this? We all fall down, and get dirty. I usually had on a

frilly, little girlie, girl dress and I got dirty, and if someone

yanked really hard, sometimes I got hurt. It was a stupid, little

dance that made no sense to me then, and still doesn't.


The first prayer I was taught was:


Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.


Another winner. Scared the hell out of me. I had a hard time sleeping,

because I was waiting for the Lord, whoever he was to come and snatch

my soul as soon as I drifted off.


And then there was lady bug, lady bug, fly away. Your house is on fire,

And your children are going to burn up.


Who is the brain machine that thought this one up?

I had visions of little, lady bug houses burning all over the

neighborhood. Being young is not easy. Full of perils.


As I sat in my chair thinking of chaotic events that change the lives

of people, and today, birds, I flashed back on the first time in my

life I was in peril, and I didn't even know it.


My mother was upstairs preparing for her date. He was a Turkish man.

That's really all I remember about him. He came from Turkey. I just

thought at that time, turkey was something we ate at Thanksgiving.


He told me to come sit in his lap. I did. I always did what grown ups

told me to do. That was the way we were brought up then.He pushed my

panties aside, and stuck his fingers up inside of me. It hurt. I jumped off

his lap, and fell down.


Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.


I started to cry, and he took the very fingers that had been inside of

me and pressed them to his lips.


"Shh" He wanted me to be quiet. And I was. I had been told for many

years, eight to be exact, that "children are to be seen and not

heard." I was also told growing up that when you fall down, you get

back up. You brush yourself off, and get back to whatever you were

doing. That's what I did, not knowing that years later when I was

grown, this would come back in my mind at the craziest times, like

today when the bird house fell down.


We all fall down. We usually are able to get back up, and start all

over again. I hope the Chickadees will start all over again. I'm

pretty sure they will, it's not too late for them to start over.

I need to start over, too, but I'm having a hard time getting back up

this time. I think if I could fly, everything would be better.


Anything that happens more than twice at this house becomes a

tradition. Now that Apache's yard has become available, the "kids" just have to

go there every day. They know what time they "have" to go, and I am

just the person that gets them from here to there. Since for some

reason that feel they can't do this on their own, I must go with them.

I sit and think while they partake in doggie games until their tongues

drag the ground. Then and only then am I allowed to come back in. It's

a doggie day care center without being paid.


I was sitting there flashing back to a time when I ran the streets of

Rome, Italy. I lived with my mother in Rome from the age of eight

until I was thirteen. It was a wonderful experience. She worked for

the Coca-Cola company, and I worked at having fun with my dog, Tally.

I also had a goose named Lilly and the three of us would go hang out

at the market in the afternoons, after school was out.


Tally was a standard size poodle and one of the smartest dogs I've

ever had. He came from a pet store around the corner from the Spanish

steps and we were connected at the hip. Sometimes Tally would wander

the streets without me, and he had a peculiar habit of bringing home

money. I have no idea how he did this, but on three or four occasions

he brought home a bill. It was usually around twenty dollars. I hope

it was a gift and not a theft. He never looked guilty, but as I said,

he was a very smart dog, so maybe he was just smart enough to know if

you don't look especially guilty you can probably get away with it.

What was I going to do anyway? Tell the dog to take it back? I think

not. I was always very grateful when he did this for me, and I know it

was for me as he would practically spit it out in my lap.


I was sitting there trying to figure out why I was thinking of Rome. I

try to figure out everything I do. I had just switched dry skin lotion

because I had a coupon. When you find yourself poor, coupons give you

a sense of power. I love to look at the receipt and see how much money

I have saved. In this case, I switched to Nivia. It had a nice smell

to it. And then I remembered. This was the lotion I used when I lived

in Rome. For some reason, I hadn't used it since. That was what

transported me back to Rome.


Isn't it funny how a smell can transport you back to another time?

It's a lovely day, however we have gone from snow, to spring, to

summer in about three weeks. Hard to keep up with, but there is a

wonderful breeze rushing through the yard, making the dogs especially

happy, and I was loving reliving my Roman holiday that lasted five

years.


I was lost in thought when the chickadees came flying in.

Why were they back? Why would they come back to Armageddon? I had

planned on throwing the nest away, full of dead babies, but I was

having such a good time traveling back in time, that I hadn't gone

there. They were going in and out of the nest box. I was totally

confused. I know some about birds. When Bill and I lived on the

island, I had at least seventy five birds in cages in the back yard

for many years. I've seen a lot when it comes to birds, but I couldn't

get my mind around what these birds were doing. I knew that this nest

was full of ants and three or four dead babies, so why come back?

Surely they weren't going to nest again on top of their dead children.

They flew off for a while which gave me time to check it out. I really

didn't want to see what I had seen yesterday. It was going to spoil a

perfectly good day of life refection, but I had to. I unlatched the

door, opened it to find the most beautiful, little bird I've seen in a

long time. The nest was devoid of ants. It had been put back together

as if nothing had happened. Green moss was layered to make a soft bed.

There were no dead babies. It took my breath away. This baby bird

looked nothing like the others. The dead babies were bald and pink. He

was covered in grey fuzz. He looked very healthy and happy. I tried to

close the door, but the hook came loose. I knew the nest would fall

out without the hook, so I high tailed it into the house and got some

string to secure it. After doing that, I sat back down and waited for

the parents to come back. They watched me for a long time, and didn't

go back in. I thought that the brown string looked a little like a

snake, and maybe I had messed up by doing this, but I didn't have any

other ideas about how to keep this baby in his box. Finally, they went

in and went back to the business of raising this child.


I can't remember being so happy in a long time. How this happened, I'm

not sure. I think this is what came down yesterday. When the mother

bird spent so much time in the box, I'm guessing she first ate the

ants, and there were many, many ants to be eaten. Since this bird has

fuzz, he must have been the first born, as the others were still bald.


The fuzz must have protected him from the stinging ants, or maybe he

was under a pile of dead babies and that protected him from the ants.

Then she must have put the nest back the way she had it. What happened

to her dead children is a mystery to me. I have seen birds throw dead

babies from an open nest, but I could not figure out how they got

these bodies out of a deep, nesting box. I guess they did, and I guess

my cats ate the dead babies. I'm sure some bird expert will tell me

someday how this happened. Right now, I don't care. All I know is that

one perfect, fuzzy baby bird is still with us, and his parents are

pretty mystical and magical in my mind.


His name is Phoenix Rising. The Phoenix is a legendary bird which

according to one account lived five hundred years, burned itself to

ashes on a pyre, and rose alive from the ashes to live another period.

I would be happy to see him live a long, chickadee life, free from the

strife and hardship of yesterday.


I know you are saying, "How do you know it's a boy?" I don't. So with

full disclosure in mind, Her name is Phoenix Rising.


I wish for you the wonder and excitement that was felt in my back yard

today.

1 comment:

genecary@yahoo.com said...

I just re-read the book Eureka...by Bill Diehl and when I closed it....was sad that Bill was no longer here for me and soooo many others that yes, Loved his work.....
I hope Virginia is doing well (or should I say better)....and I so wish her well.

Gene