LAUGHING IN THE GOLDEN YEARS: A Boy and the Birds – edited


Maryann Nunnally, Porters Neck

This time of year, as the weather warms and birds are flying north, I am reminded of a time when I was principal of an Alternative School. We had been assigned a multi-racial fourth-grader whose only transgression was not attending school on a regular basis. Since his mother’s apartment was next door to the school, some higher-up decided that K (not his real initial) would come to school if he could walk rather than having to take a bus. Furthermore, that I would probably be the one to pick him up in the mornings if he was not in attendance.

I was told that K was bright and very verbal, but because his mother was an alcoholic, she did not get him out to the bus on time most mornings.  According to a Social Service worker, K’s single mother always fed K and kept him clean and clothed, but mornings were difficult for her as she was hungover.

Within a few days, I was walking over to K’s apartment and collecting him for the school day.  He and I would engage in conversation as we cut across a vacant lot, and K would review his life for me.  I came to love the mornings that I walked to school with K.  Soon he began to come into my office after school and hang around while I finished my work, and he completed his homework. One day a large flock of Cedar Waxwings landed in the holly trees in the school’s backyard.

K was interested and curious about everything, but birds really held his attention.  I found several bird books to keep in my office, and he would read them and then inform me of some interesting fact that he found. Once he said, “Do you know that Bald Eagles mate for life? That means, Ms. N., that the baby birds have a real family with a mother and a father.”

He seemed to be resilient and strong, and if life was sometimes difficult for him, he never acted sorry for himself.

One afternoon, K burst through the door and began talking in an over-excited manner. “Ms. N,” he yelled, “come quick, those birds out back are drunk.”

“Drunk, K?” I questioned him. “The birds are drunk?”

“Ms. N”, he said. “You know birds; I know drunk. Please, come see.”

When I got to the back yard, I saw Cedar Waxwings flying in a frenzy, bumping into the school building walls and even falling to the ground. They were eating the holly berries that had frozen and thawed a number of times during the winter. The berries had fermented, and the birds were having a drunken bash. K and I just stood and watched their antics.

Then K picked up a bird that was lying on the ground. “This guy is sleeping it off,” K said as he showed me the bird he had retrieved from the ground.

“No, K,” I said. “It looks as if its neck is broken. It’s dead.”

“Uh uh,” K disagreed with me. “He is just sleeping it off.”

Not wanting to argue with him, I said, “Okay, let’s take him into the science classroom and put him in an empty aquarium, and see what happens in the next hour or so.”

While I finished up my paperwork, K settled down and watched the bird. Before long the bird began to stir. I immediately put an old towel over it, and said to K, “We need to take this bird outside and let him go.”

Outdoors, I lifted the towel off the bird which did not move for the next few minutes. “Can I touch him?” K asked, an as he reached one finger out to stroke the bird. At that moment, the Cedar Waxwing opened his wings and took off.

K, watching the bird fly off the meet his fellow travelers, said to me, “You know that bird has a big headache, Ms. N”

I had to agree with K. After all, he knew a lot more about drunk than I would ever know.

Photo credit: Scottslm on Pixabay