Learning compassion from an old woman
I met Gertie Swensen in the summer of 1955 when I was eleven years old. My first impression of Gertie wasn’t love at first sight, but she demanded my attention.
Like many young boys growing up in rural America in the fifties, I owned a BB gun. My frontier was the small town I called home. In 1955 I would pretend to be a cowboy, at other times, I imagined I was Davy Crocket. Most days, I was just a stupid eleven year old that owned a BB gun.
I spotted a red bird sitting on a bird feeder pecking at black seeds. The dumb thing wasn’t going to move, giving me an easy shot. I raised my air rifle and squeezed the trigger, only to watch a few tail feathers float to the ground as the bird flew off and lit out of range in a tall Evergreen.
That’s when I met Gertie. She came storming out of her house, screaming…yelling at me like nobody had ever done before. I stood, paralyzed with fear, unable to run as the angry woman scolded me.
She must have seen me trembling because she calmed down somewhat and began to explain to me why it was wrong to shoot at birds, especially the beautiful red bird.
Later, I learned from Gertie that the red bird was a Cardinal; one of the many songbirds she fed and watered in her yard. She pointed out Baltimore Orioles, Blue Jays, and her favorite; the little Ruby-throated Hummingbird to me.
I learned about compassion and caring the day I met Gertie. She instilled in me a life long love for our feathered friends and more importantly…love for all living creatures.
Gertie passed away in 1975 at the age of 90.
I miss you Gertie.
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