POST 7: A Bird in the Hand

The sound of bob white quails echo through every memory I have of my grandfather and I can hear their pleasant chirp in my mind each time I think of him. Bob, Bob WHITE. Bob, Bob WHITE. He raised these quails to sell, mostly to gaming preserves. I am sure he never made much money from it, but it kept him busy and it kept him outside so he loved it. He spent more time fooling with those birds than anything else and as I watched him care for his little quail farm I became fascinated by him. Wherever Grandpa Roby went, I wanted to be there. Whatever he did, I wanted to do, too.

On lazy summer mornings I would sit on my grandparents' front porch with Grandpa Roby. We talked about nothing and about everything. We would sit on that porch for hours, nodding to cars as they drove by and talking about the quail. He did most of the talking and I listened; I hung on every word he said. We waited and talked until we could hear the distinct faint rumble of the UPS truck. It was egg delivery day. The UPS man hopped out in his brown uniform, "Afta'noon, Mr. Wyatt. How's things goin' with them birds? I got some more eggs for ya'." Grandpa responded with a smile, "Oh, 'em birds. I on' even know why I mess wid 'em." And they'd laugh, my grandpa's eyes noticeably twinkling. Egg delivery day was an exciting day.

Each morning and evening my grandfather marched to those bird pens and lovingly replenished their food and water. He cleaned the cages, removing old feathers and bird poop. He put medicine in feeders if one got sick. He fretted over those things like they were special. And on the sad occasion that a bird died, my grandfather would get that bird and look at it with regretful eyes. "Damn it. I hate 'a lose one a 'dem birds, I sw'ar." But life on a farm isn't picturesque. With one strong throw, he would toss the lifeless bird body far into the woods for the cats to get later. I could hear it flying through the air. THUD. I think that one hit a tree. I cringed.

If egg delivery days were exciting, egg hatching days were even more exciting and very busy. The work would start early in the morning. I would have been watching those eggs turn around and around in that incubator for days, sometimes seeing one tiny beak pop through or a few brown, wet feathers that had made their way through a weak spot in the shell. Will they hatch today? The anticipation grew with each day until finally one morning, Grandpa would find me and say, "Come on h'uh. We gotta get up these h'uh birds now." And I would follow him to the bird room and begin the work of counting eggs, hatching eggs, and transferring birds from one pen to the next. It was an all day job, but it was a fun job.

I helped Grandpa Roby carefully go over each egg. If a chick needed help leaving it's shell home, we would assist it. Then we would dry them off ever so carefully and place them under the warmth and safety of the heat bulb inside their little birdie home. After an hour or so under the glow of those bulbs, each biddy would be covered in brown, fluffy down. They were adorable. I loved those baby birds and I could watch them for hours. It was sad when we would open an egg, and find that the little life inside had stopped growing, a mix of yolk and a tiny bird body that had made a valiant attempt to start life but couldn't finish yet death is a part of life and so we would refocus our energies on the remaining chirping wonders that were thriving in that little box - all 200 plus of them. But even though death is a part of life, which is clear when you grow up on a farm, it was still sad anytime even one bird fell sick or sustained an injury or died. Even though my grandfather had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of birds, he cared for each one with sincere devotion. Each unviable egg was a loss. Every bird with a lame wing was a tragedy. And we grew to care for his birds as much as he did.

On one of these bird hatching days, I was helping Grandpa Roby with all of the attention one could possibly devote to such an important job and caring for the eggs in the usual way. Oh. This one needs help getting out of her shell. I'll do it. I gently pried the white shell off of the tiny bird. She had tried to make her way out of the shell but tired out halfway through. She weighed mere ounces and she was wet and sticky. Her eyes were closed. What is wrong with this bird? Hey, little bird. I laid her on the work table. I stared at her. She didn't move. I poked her with my finger. Wake up, little bird. I picked her up carefully and held her. Her neck fell back, limp. She wasn't breathing. "GRANDPA!" He jerked his head and stood staring at me holding that baby bird with these huge, fat tears rolling down my face. "She's DEAD!" Why was I crying over this stupid little bird? There were hundreds just like her. What difference does one bird make?

That was not the attitude of my grandfather. He had paid for her. He could see her potential because he was her caretaker and he knew that even the loss of one bird meant something to the future of our little farm. He walked over to the table. "Don' cry now. Look here. She ain't dead." He took her tiny, lifeless body from my cupped hands. I watched my Grandpa Roby place her tenderly on the work table, then bend down over her and with his huge index finger he pressed her little bird chest. Then he put his face over her tiny beak and breathed into her face. She didn't move. He did it again. Time had stopped. Please,bird! Please wake up! I waited. Nothing happened. "Help her Grandpa! HELP HER!" I was pleading through my tears. And just at that moment, her eyes opened. I wiped the snot from my face and stared with HUGE eyes at my grandfather. It was a miracle. He picked her up and placed her gently down with her brothers and sisters in that box. I watched her stand up. I watched her walk around. How is this possible? She was dead. I was astounded. I had asked him for a miracle, but I wasn't expecting one. He could not have surprised me more if he had sprouted legs and wings and turned into a grasshopper. A miracle. "See. I tol' ya she ain't dead." He patted my back and smiled at me. I smiled back weakly. I was still in shock.

That bird was dead and now she was alive. Why did my grandpa care about that one little bird? She was worth pennies. She could have been tossed in the woods, dead and forgotten without a second thought and yet he saved her. He had seen my anguish and swooped in at the perfect moment and allowed me to witness a marvel. The little bird was precious. She was valuable. She was given a second chance at life. I didn't know at that moment that my grandfather was giving me a window into my own future; a glimpse of the miracle to happen in the years to come. I didn't know that my own life was being examined by a Caretaker and that much like this baby bird, I, too, would be raised from the dead.