When I was five years old, the world was a simple and gentle place.
There were warm summer afternoons spent hanging from trees, running through garden hose sprinklers and digging in a custom-made sandbox while wearing a delightful red sun hat .
I also, chopped firewood, fetched kerosene and knew how to fire up a chainsaw – but that was another facet to my personality that doesn’t fit the tone of this story so we’ll drop it in the bin for future use in a grittier post where I’m sporting a flannel shirt and smelling of fossil fuels.
During this idyllic youth, there were also long arduous sessions where I relentlessly badgered my parents for a puppy or a kitten to love.
I’d grown up with our “community dog” Rheingold , a beast of a German Shepard who would be tamed by no man (or child) who spent his days wandering the property lines around my aunt’s house and mine. He refused to be trained, loved or cleaned ,as was evidenced by the toxic cloud of stench that followed him everywhere he went and the clumps of matted hair that hung off what was once his majestic coat.
Instead of seeing this as a horrific sign of neglect and poor judgement on the part of my parents and my aunt and uncle, my cousins and I took to running around after him with a garden hose and an industrial sized bottle of discount Prell shampoo in an effort to make him presentable to the public.
Formerly the prized show dog champion of my two younger uncles and my Grandmother, before they moved away, this beautiful but menacing creature, who had been named after a cheap beer, was now reduced to chasing squirrels and causing the UPS man to defecate in his own pants every time he stepped on our lawn.
We’d also managed to live through the horror of “Flappy”, the Siberian Husky puppy who’d torn his own dog house to shreds with his teeth and the powerful combination tool of wanderlust and misbehavior. The stress of several all day and night search parties had found him the first few times he’d escaped, but finally his born free vibe got the better of him and on the seventh or eighth escape attempt he’d run for the hills.
So much heartbreak, so few warm, furry, cuddly moments.
Finally, I decided I’d had enough of things that could run from you and reject your love. I wanted something captive and completely reliant on me for survival. Something that would have no chance in the outside world. An animal that was nice to look at and held no hope for escape, unless a malicious idiot left the cage open.
I wanted a bird.
Looking back, this was a terrible experiment in pet compatibility, but at the time it seemed like the answer to all my prayers.
I mean seriously, birds are all delicate bones, sharp edges, and pointy anger.
After a long and serious period of contemplation I decided to lobby both parents for a yellow parakeet.
I named him Georgie.
Georgie weathered many storms but eventually went the way of all birds and bit the dust in the most untimely of fashions. When I stepped off the school bus I spotted the tell-tale clue.
A poorly camouflaged empty cage in our garbage bins.
Had I known then what I know now from all that Law and Order, I would have understood it as clearly as a dead body rolled in a carpet, duct taped and stuffed in industrial black garbage bags.
I became a tiny detective scouring my home for clues and questioning all suspects.
My mother, who had become a person of real interest due to her avoidance techniques, high sing songy voice and inability to meet my eyes -was my number one suspect.
Finally when my endless inquires and refusal to stop my investigation wore her down, I got my answer.
He’d “Flown south for the winter”.
She’d fucking stymied me with an endless riddle that my five-year old mind had no hope of unraveling. How far down WAS south? Could we go there and get him back? By presenting me with an answer that couldn’t be proven or disproven, I was forever doomed to run the cyclical track of “did he or didn’t he?” There was no way of knowing.
Deep in my heart of hearts I knew she’d killed him.
The mystery of Georgie’s murder was left in the cold case files of my heart but then an alarming pattern began to emerge in our lives.
Every time someone of moderate importance in my life would suddenly cease to come around any more they were “on a trip” or “gone someplace I couldn’t see them”.
Effectively, everyone who was old , infirm and mysteriously vanishing in a puff of smoke, had “gone south”- the mysterious part of the country you ended up in when you flew your coop, ate your doghouse out of despair or died of a terrible disease your Granddaughter needed to be shielded from.
Finally, in a fit of terminal curiosity, I demanded to know what the hell was going on because I damn site remember having two grandfathers who conveniently disappeared a few years apart.
One let me drink beer. I especially missed that one.
“Come sit down sweetie”, was the start of my lesson about goin’ south in life and I got an eye-opening lecture about just how many people and animals had died off while I was skipping down the lane and building a tree house.
Right afterward, we took a trip to the Samsondale pet store where I picked out my very own angry, squealing BLUE parakeet who defied the odds and stayed alive well into my middle school years, biting friends and family members who tried desperately to form some kind of bond with him. I christened him Georgie II and despite my festering dislike of this hateful creature, I kept up my end of the bargain while risking the tender skin on my fingers and forearm every time I reached into his hellacious cage of pent-up bird rage.
My husband has these heartwarming tales of how he owned a bird who he taught to sing and do tricks, while they went on fulfilling adventures together -like an avian themed Huck Finn. For the record, I think he’s lying because I’ve never met a bird that was wasn’t secretly wishing it’s owner dead in a fiery car wreck.