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Oralya G Ueberroth

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Member Since: Jul, 2007

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Short Stories
· I Remember You

· To Picture A Wedding Dress

· The Dryers

· The Hard Line


Articles
· Easier said than done

· Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

· On Bullying


Poetry
· Turbulence

· Only one thing left to say…

· Giving Up

· What If?

· Finding Fault

· Where Are the Words?

· The Debt

· The First Time

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The Canary and the Lily
By Oralya G Ueberroth
Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2009
Last edited: Saturday, January 24, 2009
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Oralya G Ueberroth
· The Dryers
· To Picture A Wedding Dress
· The Hard Line
· I Remember You
           >> View all 5
I think it's like this...

I learned about social classes from watching the haves and have-nots in my family. Looking back I realize that none of us were rich, some just seemed to do better with what they had. My uncle Bob’s kids got new bikes every year from Sears. When I got a new bike, it needed to be hidden in the basement for two weeks and then spray painted before I could ride it; a homemade version of “new.” I was born before Big Wheel’s and remote control vehicles; weaned on the police scanner that my parents put on a stone picnic table in the summer as they watched the police cars race through the neighborhood trying to catch a quickly overheating Chevy long before Court TV.

We were the “have-nots.” The kind of kids who used whatever was around for a toy and divided penny-candy equally. We played fair; disallowing any manipulative script changes in games of make-believe – it had to be fair. I was always surprised by the kids who wanted to change those rules of fairness. Not surprised that they would try it, we all tried it, just to see if the others would catch us at it. No, I was surprised that they were serious. They genuinely felt entitled to create their own rules and force the rest of us to become less, even in our imagined roles. Those kids would whine and get no mercy from us. They would cry to their parents who approached our parents, a look of superiority on their faces as they discussed how unruly we were and how we lacked discipline. Our parents would shout at us to “be fair,” so we were.

Fairness sometimes demands something from you that might otherwise be viewed as cruel. Though I have to tell you, (I wish I could say with some regret; but no), that there was some sweet victory in obeying your parents from a “big picture” perspective. Fairness demanded that we give those whiny controlling superior kids, exactly what was coming to them. We did that too. At 9 and 10 years old, you really don’t have a great deal of imagination about the ways your parents can punish you. The worst case was a beating with a belt; we’d all lived through that. So yes, we considered the cost of our crime and chose to “take to school” those “rich” snooty Christian relatives who were always waving their faith and their stuff in our faces. We whipped’em good. When our parents asked us why we’d done it, I said, “You told us to make it fair, and they wouldn’t play that way. So we made’em.

My mother always told me that she was able to see the laughter in my father’s eyes. I thought I saw it too that day. Despite the laughter that may or may not have lived in his eyes, he spun me around and whacked my backside with the belt. One: Black and white scenes from Mutiny on the Bounty flashed through my head; Two: Spartacus; Three: I finally managed to squeeze out the obligatory tear that would signal the end of the torture. My father turned me to him and said, “You know what you did, but maybe your uncle is right, you need to learn more discipline. Next week he’s going to pick you up and take you to church with him.” At this point it might bear mentioning that I had already been cordially asked to leave Catechism on at least two occasions and was dismissed from Mass at my grandfathers church because some of the other “good Christian” children accused me of sticking my tongue out at god while I was looking up at the paintings on the ceiling of the church. I began to express, not my unwillingness to go, but simply a hesitance, given these unsuccessful previous experiences. I started to suggest that there might be an alternative to this punishment and to point out the pitfalls of sending your kid into the midst of a group of complete strangers on a Sunday, when there were so few witnesses out and around. I reasoned, “What if they’re mean? What if they don’t like me? What if someone touches me?” I pleaded, I whined like my priviledged snooty cousins that we’d taken the time to beat just moments before. My father unmoved replied, “Your uncle will be there to look out for you.” I looked at my shoes, desperate for some epiphany that would move him from this insane action; Sunday was my play day, if you took away Sunday, I’d only have one day! Only one whole day to do all of the stuff I needed to do outside of the classroom, as the teacher so snottily put it!

“But what if you miss me?” I said sincerely. I think I even managed a slight tear then too; the good and useful kind of tear that sort of dangles from the corner of your shining and pitiful eyes, and I stared into his eyes with all of the innocence I could muster…

Sunday came, and I was forcefully bathed and violently thrust into clean itchy clothes that no one would wear on the weeken, followed by my feet being forced (in a non-Cinderella-like manner) into shoes that pinched and forced to carry a bible. I still hate Sundays.

It took a lot of church visits, at the prodding of my uncle, (who was clearly trying to kill me with and overdose of Christian kindness) before I heard the Easter story. In his version, a prophet who was the son of God was killed for my sins. I remember thinking that he really got hosed, because my only “sins” consisted of stealing apples from the neighbor’s tree and pounding on the occasional goody-two-shoes. Certainly nothing I would have been willing to die for. I tried to think of who I knew that I would actually be willing to die for. No one popped to mind immediately; well, maybe the dog, yes, the dog, and my canary.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that this guy’s dying was a little like jumping in front of a bullet meant for one of The Mod Squad or Mannix. You know, something that you just did out of instinct or because it was in the script. It seemed like a noble way to die, if only death would cooperate and be as temporary in reality as it was on television. If it were temporary, you wouldn’t hesitate. You’d jump in front of that bullet, die a hero’s death and be home for Easter dinner.

My uncle told me the story slowly, explaining that Jesus died, but he rose on the third day. Slowly, patiently...over, and over again. What I came away with was, three whole days of death wasn’t quite temporary enough. I thought it better to hold back on the heroism for a while.

One thing the diversely religious in my family had in common was the tradition of the Easter dinner. But it generally involved so much in-fighting and complicated communications, it hardly seemed worth it. On the Saturday night before Easter, the families gathered at our house to begin preparations for the large family Easter dinner. This night always quickly became less about religion and family, and more about “celebrating.” By the end of the night, a great and hostile debate always erupted between the Catholics, Nazarine and Assembly of God men in our family; for the record, the Assembly of God men always seemed to be the most obnoxious. After hours of theological debate, the women would retire to another room or to the garden or to someplace, anyplace, else. The men generally buried their respective hatchets with cigars, bourbon and beer, since, they agreed, Jesus did turn water into wine and there was no specific scripture any of them could recall in which Jesus pronounced cigar smoke as sinful.

If that sort of reasoning is accurate, it makes me wonder (now; though it didn’t occur to me at the time) if, since the bible says you should not “frequent whores,” is going only once acceptable? But I digress…

That year, the men began their hatchet burying ritual in the dining room where my canary’s cage hung. I told my mother that I was worried that the noise would keep my bird awake and asked her if I could move it.

Mothers tend to worry more about their children, than show actual concern over what their children are worried about. I remembered that comment, so that as a parent I would never miss that signal.

She said, “little girls don’t have any business in a room full of grown men. Especially when they’re drunk!” How I wish I’d remembered that comment as clearly when I grew older! Like Cindy Lou Who, she patted my head, gave me a drink and sent me to bed. On my way to the stairs, I could see the men blowing cigar smoke into the cage and pouring a bit of brown liquor into the canary’s water dish, trying to get him to speak. I was angry. Angry because I was right about them, angry because I was small and couldn't stop them, angry that my mother was supposed to be my ally and she was shooing me off unconcerned about what the consequences could be for a bird surrounded by six drunken Mexicans, too stupid to realize the bird was a canary and not parrot, and could not speak! I could hear them from my bed, singing and harmonizing, the all important argument forgotten in favor of liquor and some twisted competition of the worst-singing-ever. I fell asleep.

In the morning I went downstairs to see what the Easter Bunny brought and to check on my bird, since I knew that he probably hadn’t been able to sleep because of the noise. The yellow canary was laying on the bottom of the cage. My first thought was: this bird must really be tired! I opened the cage and touched his belly, the bird didn’t move. I shook it a little, gently of course, because birds are very delicate; nothing. I went to wake up my mother to tell her something was wrong with my bird, and that he wasn’t moving. She followed me to the cage and checked the bird. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re bird died last night. He’s not going to wake up.”

There were of course, tears – real tears and all of the feelings that generally accompany them. There were questions and there was blame. Like a good little detective I went to my father to ask what he witnessed during the evening of revelry, but the reluctant witness denied any wrongdoing, much as you’d expect. During the course of my investigation, I noticed my mother trying to remove the evidence by taking the cage from the dining room hook. I had to stop her.

I knew the process for death, someone died and then you buried them. I was sure it was probably the same for birds. I told my mother that I needed to bury the bird and she helped me find a box and a piece of white velvet to line it with. I laid the bird on the velvet inside of the box and then closed the lid. My mother showed me a bare spot in the garden where I could bury him, and I took care of the rest. I remember thinking how unusual it was to bury this bird on the very day that my uncle told me marked the death of the man who died for my miniscule sins. Suddenly, I remembered the best part of the story – the spooky part where the man rose from the dead after the third day.

The funeral evolved into an experiment. I dug the hole deeply enough for the box to escape tenacious cats and put it in the bottom. I carefully covered the box with dirt until there was a small mound where the box rested. When my grandfather died, there had been a lot of argument about getting a stone on the grave, so I searched around for the perfect stone. During the arguments about my grandfather’s stone, I got the impression that the size of the stone was directly related to how much you loved someone. I had to have a big stone. I finally found a flat sandstone that was shaped like a birds wing and placed it at the head of the grave. Now all I had to do was wait. It was Easter after all. It was Easter, and if one man, a nice man but still a man, could rise after three days with absolutely no flight experience, I was pretty sure my bird would. Nothing to do but wait.

The day after Easter came, no bird, but no disappointment, three days was three days. You don’t pull a cake out of the oven after five minutes, even I knew that. Day two; the stone fell over and I had to do a little repair to the grave, but no bird – of course not. On day three I rushed home from school to see my freshly risen bird, but he was not there. I went through the process in my mind as a good scientist would review the numbered steps. I’d followed the procedures to the letter, the velvet lined box, the digging and filling of the hole, the appropriate amount of tears and I’d even said a little prayer. All of that had been followed by the sandstone I found in the exact shape of a bird’s wing, it had to work! I’d done everything right. Still no bird. I’d been so convinced that if I completed all of the steps, he would rise again, but he didn’t. The experiment had failed, and I realized that my uncle told interesting but unrealistic stories and he told them in an unfair way. When you pretend, everybody is supposed to know when the game ends and when it begins. There was nothing to do but stare at the stone and wonder why nothing had happened.

After a few weeks, I forgot to think sadly about the bird and noticed, quite by chance, that the stone had moved. In its place stood a lily, pushing through the dirt and trying to bloom. I ran to my mother to interrogate her about this trick, but she denied any participation and ran out of the house to see it with me. The lily was there, it was absolutely there. The stone sat beside the little grave mound and the dirt did not appear to be newly dug. It was actually there, a white lily, growing from the grave of my bird.


I was so excited to know that the experiment hadn’t really failed.

The miracle took a little longer and was a little different than I had expected, but it happened. He was there, and he technically “rose,” just not in the way I’d imagined. I started to understand my uncle’s story a little then, though to me the interpretation was quite different. It wasn’t so much about someone being willing to die for someone and what you think they’ve done wrong as much as it was being willing to live for someone or something that may be smaller than you, or weaker than you, or even just other than you. The story was about how you live, playing fair, telling the truth and doing good, not because you expect reward, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about keeping hope alive in the face of impossible circumstances, living your truth while showing the rest of the world and all life within it, the respect that is due based on your sharing of the same breath. It’s about life.


 


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