My Father was a friendly person and a natural story-teller, entertaining everyone with stories of his time in the military as well as his experiences as a thirty year truck driver. But day to day at home, he was short-tempered and impatient, especially with his two daughters, of which I am the youngest. He was strict to a fault and any opinion, other than his, wasn’t accepted even if he WAS wrong. He was never intentionally cruel and yet I always felt like I was a nuisance to him, he had no time for any foolery, games or one-on-one play time. He never told me he loved me until he lay dying when I was 16. But I knew what he could not put into words during those days and he tried so hard to love me the best way he could.
He slept late every week-end to make up for rising at 4am daily during the week so he was rarely awake or involved in the day to day events. I remember having to tip-toe around the house on Saturday and Sunday so as not to disturb his sleep. I attribute his lack of parental involvement with us as to the fact that he was nearly 45 when I was born. His attitude of children being seen and not heard was a carry-over from the way he grew up and lived his childhood back in the early 1900’s. I’m also sure that his smoking-3-packs-a-day-body was breaking down at that point, a deadly cancer eventually eating him alive by the time he was 60 so he probably felt lousy most days. When we were young, he was always too tired to come outside and play ball, take a walk, push us on a swing. He did make me a tether ball in the backyard and a skate board when I was 12 which I cherished. I do remember that he became incredibly winded as he ran along side my two-wheeler while I, at age six, peddling madly and squealing in delight, made my attempts at riding without my training wheels. Him, yelling as I took flight, “Keep going, keep going, keep going!!!!!!” and me, trying to turn my head back to acknowledge his commands which then led to those inevitable crashes. I think he ran more that day than he ever did in his entire life. For that effort, I loved him more.
When I was seven, he told me I would be helping him “de-bird” our giant palm tree that stood in the middle of our front lawn. He had always complained to anyone who would listen about the “damn pigeons”, God, he hated those birds! They did indeed make quite the mess and I remember him cleaning up for hours on end before he could mow, cursing a blue streak under his breath while he raked. He would have done anything to get rid of them. His anger set in motion his Pigeon Shoot plan.
As a child I did love those pigeons, enjoyed their gentle cooing and pecking-necked walk, their shiny feathers gleaming with shades of purple and gray, their ringed alert eyes always watching me while I played beneath the giant palm. The way they clustered together in swirls of light and dark grays, sitting motionless on the telephone wires while the kids in our neighborhood rode bikes, played hide and seek and stayed out until near dark.
The plan involved the only gun he had, which happened to be a B.B. gun; he would go into the upstairs bedroom which had three large windows, each one eye level with the main part of the palm tree. When it was “clear” he would lower one of the top windows down and put the pigeons out of their misery one by one. Mom was furious and worried about him getting in trouble for shooting out the window. As a passive person, she rarely voiced her opposing opinion. Despite her objections, his Pigeon Plan was set in place.
Daddy had been in the military so Mom wasn’t worried about him handling the BB gun, she was just terrified the neighbors would call the cops. She wanted nothing to do with his brain-storm so he recruited the only person who could help, a partner in crime, which unfortunately happened to be me. My Sister was nearly seven years older than I and he knew she would never agree to partake in such cruelty.
I was 6, maybe 7. He convinced me that all I had to do was stand down at the base of the palm tree with a brown lunch bag and when the pigeon “fell” from the sky, I would swoop it up, put it in the bag, close it, and wait for him to get down to me. It was an abstract concept to me, kind of like a riddle or game and in my innocence, I failed to realize that this was in fact, not a game.
When the shot was fired and the loud THUD swooshed past my ears, it’s victim falling at my feet, I grabbed the petrified gray and purple bird who, stunned, was looking me straight in the eyes. I felt it’s soft feathers, it’s warm thick body and it’s heart beating out of it’s chest.
This process, playing out in moments, moved through my brain in slow-motion. That strong moral part of me cried out with the realization that we were harming, no KILLING the bird and that what we were doing was so wrong on so many levels. My brain screamed NO TAKE IT BACK!!!!!!, my own heart beating in my throat, the thud of the bird’s body hitting the ground still ringing in my ears. Only injured but still very much alive, never losing eye-contact with me as I shoved it into that brown bag death trap…
I have fragmented and hazy memories at this point, a fractured part of me watching myself just standing there… shaking, waiting, then handing him the bag still tightly closed. He did thank me, told me I did a good job, I do remember that. All the while my mind racing with a confusion of right or wrong, remorse and devastation mixed with feelings of knowing I had betrayed my own instinct to want to save that poor creature when I became aware of what was really happening, but knowing I had no choice to to obey my Father’s orders. Feelings of shame and anger, layered with humiliation and guilt for the act that I had just participated in came rushing through my whole body. Although Mom did not witness the event, she heard my cries and saw the terror in my eyes, telling Daddy that I would never be helping him again, EVER, with his pigeon problem. It was one of the few times she stood up to him and with Mom’s intervention, the Pigeon Shoot was officially over. She always did her best to protect her children from harm but lived mostly as the unspoken voice, turning her back to the severe spankings which were occurring right beneath her nose, too caught up in her own fear and shame to say it was wrong, that is was cruel, that is could leave a small person oh-so broken over time. She was not an outspoken person but she did love me deeply, even if it meant standing against him on occassion.
Here I am now at age sixty-three. Daddy died of cancer in 1970, when I was sixteen. Mom remarried and was widowed twice more so technically she buried three husbands and I, three Dads. Mom has been gone 12 years now and how I miss her so. Our old childhood home was sold ohsomany years ago but the palm tree stands there still, and within it, all the pigeon descendants of the pigeons we housed before them.
I have always loved all animals but there is a different feeling when I see birds. I, at one point, collected owl statues and as a young adult got to see live owls in Oakland, California at Lake Merritt Park where they roost wisely in their enclosure there, observing people jogging in and out of the park. My first and only time seeing them in that beautiful park was that I came upon them by surprise not knowing they had a live large owl santuary on the grounds. I stood before their cages in awe, refusing to leave for hours, until I had a chance to really take them in. They sat in wise silence, blinking occasionally. Being near them gave me a sense of calm, a comfort within some deep and quiet place inside me.
You might ask if I hated my Father for what he did that day and/or some of the other negative things he did all those years ago. I never hated him, but I despise some of his children-rearing practices, no doubt. He did the best he could, with what he knew, or perhaps I should say, with what he didn’t know. I never stopped loving him because of his mistakes and living without him all these years as softened my scars. The Pigeon Shoot episode created within me the desire to be extra kind to birds, and people, really. I guess you could call how I treat birds and most people the positive pay-back for Daddy’s bird-brained idea. So now, out of either guilt or remorse, or maybe just because it gives me great joy, I feed the wild birds wherever I live. I sit and watch their freedom and their frolicking lives. The varying chirps and cries letting me know when the feeders are empty and that I am not doing my job. It’s my way of moving past the look in that gray and purple pigeon’s eyes.
I am now a self-taught artist these past several years. I have made three hundred pieces of jewelry, made copper-wire sculptures of human faces (seven hundred or more), created colorful on-line Mandalas (thousands now). One day I felt compelled to try my hand at drawing. It was not a conscious choice by any means, but as I drew birds appeared on the paper. These birds are were not pigeons, but what they were and how I drew them came from a deep place within me. They are simple in design, connected together in a kind of perfect harmony, swirling and swooping, molding their bodies around each other in love and trust. They are Escher-like in the way they flow in and out of each other and I am flattered by the Escher comparisons. I have varied my style over time, tried drawing other subjects, but invariably one of “my birds” finds it’s way into whatever picture I am working on which is quite amusing to me. And I don’t mind, I don’t mind at all. I believe it’s the purple and gray pigeon’s way of reminding me to forgive my Daddy, and to forgive myself as well. Life goes on…