A birthday present that became much more.
As though a child had carefully colored inside the lines, reticulated streaks of yellow and green with black borders flashed back and forth past the wire grids. The Crayolas missed a few spots, and they remained colorless, but then the brightest of yellows was rubbed hard around the nose area and contrasted with the brilliant blue nostrils. This is how I remember Petie streaking through his cage hanging from wires on one side then the other, almost faster than my eyes could follow. He pecked on his mirror admiring his beauty, and used one foot to hang upside down from his swing. Petie was mine for eight years, or more truthfully, I was his.
It was the mid 1950’s and I had a birthday coming up. Usually I received board games or puzzles or books, but this year the twelfth of November was on a Saturday, and Mommy woke me early.
“Get up and get dressed, Connie. We’re going to Milford to do some shopping.”
Trips in our pale blue Ford Coupe were rare occasions and had to be important. I suspected a birthday present was in the works and slipped into some school clothes faster than on any school day. Milford was five times as far away as Harrington, our closest town, and had lots more places to shop, so my imagination and anticipation soared. Mommy slid in behind the wheel ignoring my thousand questions.
At the main traffic light in Milford we turned right and pulled into a curbside parking spot in front of an unfamiliar store, a pet store. I conjured up a mental image of kittens and puppies of all colors and sizes licking, climbing and jumping on me standing at the center of their attention. Mommy tapped on my window and beckoned me to come on, putting a temporary end to my fantasies.
Inside the store Mommy walked right up to the counter like she was great friends with the sales clerk. I hung back a little overwhelmed by all the activity around me. I saw not only cats and dogs, but parrots, guinea pigs, white mice, and other things I had no names for. Oh yeah, eww, snakes, and a beautiful aquarium with the most colorful fish in the world. I could hardly take it all in.
Mommy walked toward me carrying…what?...a shoebox with holes in it?
“Don’t worry. You’ll like it,” she said with a smile as she handed it to me. I held it out in front of me as she opened the door for me to go outside.
She followed me to the car, opened my door, and told me to wait and not to open the box which was now resting on my knees. I could feel something moving around in there, but decided I should do as she said. It could be anything, even a snake, but I couldn’t imagine my mom getting me a snake.
Soon she was back outside carrying a cage and a couple more bags. The secret was out; and I had a good idea about what was in the box. It took all my self-control not to pop up that lid. The ride home was interminable, and the occupant of the box was quiet as the proverbial mouse.
Finally at home I helped carry in the packages and set up the stand with the birdcage and all its accessories. I don’t remember how I decided on Petie’s name, it just came to me natural-like. When Mommy said I could open the box, she showed me how to extend my index finger in front of Petie’s feet, and he hopped right on. We were buddies from the start. I carried him up to his cage, guided my hand inside and he jumped onto one of the side wires. He hung there and looked at me for several minutes, sizing me up. I guess I passed the parakeet test because he quickly decided to ignore me and jumped into his water dish splashing most of the liquid onto the clean paper Mommy had just put in the bottom of his cage.
In the months and years to come, Petie filled in for the siblings I never had. When I came home from school each day, he and I watched Bandstand together. I could tell he liked it as much as I did. He would sway from side to side and move his little head up and down keeping time to the music. It seemed in no time he was saying, “Pretty bird, pretty boy,’ and giving that sexy whistle boys covertly make to flatter pretty girls. He was a fast learner.
At night I covered his cage with a soft, flowery towel so he would know it was bedtime. Once I peeked in and there he stood on his swing, eyes closed. Another time I looked and he was standing on one leg with the other tucked up under him. I thought he must really get exhausted having to stand up all the time. When the sun came up and light filtered through his cover, he woke me up by ringing his toy bell and giving me that sexy whistle. If I dawdled at removing the towel, his little head feathers would rise up showing his displeasure with my lazy attitude. He had his own special morning treat, then he bathed in his water bowl and preened in front of his mirror while I had my breakfast.
I never tired of Petie’s entertaining antics and often opened his cage door so he could fly around inside the house. He would light on the curtain rods and like royalty, survey his domain. If I tapped my shoulder, he would land there and nibble on my ear, making funny little clicking noises deep down in his throat.
I’ll never forget those happy years growing up with Petie, but life continues on for little girls. I graduated and went away to school and in my self-centered teenage world did not give much thought to the effect my absence would have on Petie. When it was time to come home for Thanksgiving break, Mother had bad news. Petie’s appetite had dwindled to the vanishing point during the months I was gone and he had died a couple days before. She waited until I got home to tell me.
I sobbed and sobbed and felt Petie’s loss as much as if he had been my real-life brother. Together, me and Mommy dug a small hole in our backyard beside a tall pine tree. I lay Petie inside his flowered towel and wrapped him up with his mirror and bell and a special treat just in case he got hungry.
Thanksgiving was a sad holiday at our home that year, but in time the sad memories faded, and I remembered all the joy Petie had brought into my life, always singing when I came in the door from school, waiting for me to turn on Bandstand.