“Pretty postage stamps? Oh yes, this sheet of ‘Birds of Prey’ is especially nice,” the helpful postal office worker told me.
“No birds,” I murmured.
Glancing up, she did not comment, but I think she was wondering, “Who doesn’t like birds?”
That would be me.
Before I was old enough to go to school, I regularly walked the quarter-mile from our Alberta farmhouse up the hill and through the woods with my brothers, sister and Katy, the dog. Occasionally, they’d allow me to carry their books.
I helped the big kids, as I called them, wait for the school bus beside the mailbox. When it arrived, my siblings would get on and head off to that wonderful place where I would someday go and learn to read. After the bus disappeared in a cloud of dust, Katy and I would turn around and walk home.
Indelibly etched in my memory is the spring morning when our routine was completely disrupted.
An Overnight Casualty
Hanging suspended from the top of Calgary Power’s electric pole just inside the gate to our farm was a hawk with a massive wingspan. Although it had been electrocuted during the night, its eyes were wide open as if it refused to accept its fate.
Although they were a part of farm life, I didn’t like dead creatures. I was always saddened and frightened by the loss of a chicken, horse or cow. However, none of those deaths came near the horror of seeing that big bird hanging by its wing.
My revulsion was multiplied many times over that particular morning when Bobby and Arthur told me what was going to happen. Once they got on the bus and it drove away, I needed to watch out, they said.
Terror! Sheer terror!
They told me when I walked past the hawk on the way back to the house, it might come back to life and get me.
Upon hearing that assertion, my imagination ran wild.
I thought it was highly likely that the hawk would rip me to shreds with its giant, dirty talons. That would hurt, a lot and I would bleed. Then it would peck around on me, possibly starting with my eyes. Maybe the big bird might even carry off my carcass.
The dog would be so unnerved that she would run home as fast as she could.
I Was Alone, So Alone
When the bus rolled down the hill and stopped, my upper lip began quivering. My siblings got on and the bus pulled away slowly. The driver, who was accustomed to seeing my little smiling face, glanced back in his rearview mirror sensing something was wrong.
I wasn’t smiling that morning.
The dam broke! Standing still like a statue, I started sobbing uncontrollably. I think I forgot how to breathe.
Alec hit the brakes and backed up the bus. He pushed the lever and the door opened.
“What’s wrong, Elaine?” he asked.
“The hawk is going to get me,” I told him through my tears.
Alec looked up in his mirror at the kids on his bus, who were snickering by this time, and singled out my oldest and wisest sibling.
My Sister to the Rescue
“Shirley, come up here,” he said. “Walk Elaine back past the hawk so she can go home.”
Shirley grabbed my hand and we trotted back down the road in the direction of the hawk. She opened the gate and held on tight as we passed the ferocious bird that I continued to watch very carefully. I thought it was watching me, too. When we reached what Shirley considered a safe distance beyond it, she sent me packing.
I’m sure Shirley got back on the bus, but I never looked because, with both the hawk and the bus behind me, I flew down our gravel road as fast as my five-year-old legs could carry me. The dog kept pace, utterly oblivious to my great anxiety.
Granny’s trusted remedy: hot tea
I ran directly to Granny’s house which was perched on a hill not far from our home. She listened carefully to my tale of woe while fixing me a cup of tea liberally laced with cream and sugar. Then she toasted some bread on her wood cookstove and buttered it. The tea and toast certainly helped to settle my nerves.
Granny reminded me that I sometimes pestered my brothers and this could be considered payback. She advised me not to tell Mom and Daddy because the boys might deal me more misery.
I had another more serious worry, though. What if I was forever denied the privilege of walking up to meet the school bus? That would be dire punishment.
Fortunately, Shirley understood and I was once more invited to join the big kids on their morning trek. Every day, though, I checked to reassure myself that there wasn’t another hawk hanging from the power pole.
I continued my surveillance long after my siblings and I no longer rode the same school bus.
Little Birds Don’t Scare Me
Not too long ago, my friend, Carolyn, asked if I’d like to see the amazing photos of a pair of eagles nesting near their home. I had to admit that I’m not a birdwatcher by any stretch of the imagination.
That said, during the frigid February 2021 Texas storm I refilled the birdfeeders when I made my farmyard rounds in the cold and snow. In the past, Emil had conscientiously fed the birds. However, he was preoccupied with the safety of the livestock and keeping an eye on pipes that threatened to freeze.
When the birdseed bucket was empty, I substituted oatmeal and cornmeal. Although the various birds riding out the storm with us may not have been impressed but made do because they were cold and hungry.
Also during that cruel weather, I came across several little lifeless birds on the ground in the tractor shed. I felt sorry that they had suffered, freezing to death before the temperatures finally moderated.
Perhaps that’s a significant experience. Maybe someday I’ll work through my big bird phobia.
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Thanks for sharing another delightful story of your childhood and the fears we all often share when growing up in that great big awesome world! This one especially relevant for Earth Day this week! How blessed you were to have a wise grandmother on hand! Brought back memories of my Gaugau’s cambric tea (as she called it for it’s lacey off white color). A sure cure for whatever ailed you as a child!
I’m glad you enjoyed this memory. Yes, having a wise and devoted grandmother nearby was a huge blessing, one we never have forgotten. Granny treated us each like we were someone special and never played favorites. We knew in our hearts that she loved all of us to the moon and back! Granny made strong, strong tea – reminiscent of the adage that “a spoon would stand up in it.” However, laced with cream and sugar it was a delicious treat.
An amazing story. Love the drawings.
Thank you, Kathy! I still check out that power pole when I visit the farm in Canada…
Bless your heart, Elaine! Those big kids were enjoying and “playing on” your five-year-old fright! I was terrified of chickens nesting and the flapping of their wings if I got too near them when I gathered eggs in the hen-house. My friend Suzanne, a year older, told the story of once being “flogged” when she went to visit her Aunt’s barnyard. I think she said it was a rooster that was the culprit, but I NEVER got close to a nesting hen…especially if the nest was outside in the tall weeds. LOVE YOUR WORK!
Thank you. Brenda, I can see why you stayed away from chickens. I bet you have never owned a chicken since! Ours were generally no problem until we’d try to steal eggs from a hen on the nest. Then the hen would get a little testy.
I look forward to reading your articles and stories. I am with you the whole time. You have an amazing ability to relive these moments with you. Thank you. Gesine
I’m glad you enjoy my work, Gesine. It’s a joy to be able to share other people’s stories and my own. Thank you.
I guess older siblings always taunt the younger. My oldest sister doesn’t like birds either. A rooster attacked her when she was little. I have started enjoying birds now as I have more time to watch them these days. I do like to watch them in the
bird bath. And i saw a couple dead birds too after the horrible freeze…brought some tears, nature can be cruel.
I have to admit that I probably bugged my older siblings more than I should have and if they teased me it was because I earned it! Kid stuff! Glad you are enjoying winged gift to us – birds at your birdbath! Thank you so much for writing.