WALTER, WE HARDLY KNEW YE
When my daughter Jenny was a little girl, she loved insects and animals, and still does to this day. Once, when I came home from work after a heavy rainstorm, I found her walking around the yard picking things up and putting them in a container. I asked her what she was doing, and she informed me that a lot of worms were on the ground floating in the water, and she was trying to save them from drowning. I said that was nice and went into the house.
The following day when I came home from work,my wife, that would be Mrs. Birmingham, told me she went out to hang up the clean white laundry and discovered that Jenny had hung countless worms on the entire clothesline, holding each one in place with snap-on wooden clothespins. By then, they had all died and dried in the hot sun and were stiff as a board. They were all hook-shaped, and looked like bird candy canes. Mrs. Birmingham had to wash all of the clothespins before she could hang the clothes. Mrs. Birmingham was not amused.
On another occasion, Jenny brought home a preying mantis wrapped up tightly in her little fist. The mantis was big, one of the largest I had seen. She excitedly told me she had tamed him, then proceeded to pet him on the head. He did seem to like it as she stroked his little noggin while he looked around contentedly. He had the look of being warm and cozy. Then she produced a dead cricket from her pocket and handed it to the mantis, which snatched it and started munching on it back and forth like an ear of corn. I said something like, “Cool!” and moved my finger to pet it. It dropped the cricket, swiveled its head around like it was possessed, and hissed at me.
On still another occasion, I pulled into the driveway after work to see Jennifer sitting on the back steps with our cat on her lap, sitting opposite her. She had an ice cream cone in her hand, and after taking a couple of licks, she would tilt it toward the cat, who would take its turn with a couple of licks, and then sit back contentedly to wait it's next turn. I watched for a couple of minutes as Jenny and the cat finished their treat. As I entered the house, I told her not to tell her mother. Coming home from work and pulling into my driveway was always an adventure. But, enough about that, this is Walter’s story.
In New Britain, Ct. I came home from work one night, and Jenny and her best friend, Yvonne Wright, ran up to me as I got out of the car, jumping up and down. "Dad, we found a pigeon, and he's tame! You can pick him up and pet him and everything, and he doesn't even fly or even run away! We're going to train him to do stuff. We tried to feed him bugs, but he won't eat.” Yvonne's brother Max was also there.
Then I got out of the car and they showed me the pigeon. He was your basic non-descript, lack-luster, shades of gray, run-of-the-mill, bacteria-laden, flea-bitten, statue-crapping pigeon with diarrhea. He had feathers missing and his eyes were filled with mucous. They put him down on the driveway, where he just teetered back and forth, trying to stay erect. Amazingly, he didn’t even try to flap his wings, much less take to the air.
"See, Dad, he's tame. Go ahead, you can pet him and he won't even fly away. We named him Walter."
I managed to keep a straight face and declined the offer. I suggested he was very sick, but my little animal lovers would hear none of it. Then they all left and took Walter into the back yard, and sat down in a circle around him. Someone produced a rag to cover him with. I think he may have tried to cough, but he just didn't have the strength. I saw no compelling reason to tell Mrs. Birmingham or apprise Yvonne's mother Mrs. Wright about the situation.
The following day I came home from work as usual and pulled up into the driveway. When I got out of the car, Jenny, Max, and Yvonne were huddled in a tight circle near one of the trees in the backyard. I walked over and saw that they were encircled around a hole that they had dug, and beside that was a cardboard box, wrapped up in brown paper and string. Printed on the box in felt pen were the words, "Goodbye Walter."
Sadness hung heavy in the air. If I had been wearing a hat, I would have taken it off and held it over my heart. Then they placed Walter tenderly in the hole while muttering and sniffling final words, and covered it with earth. There was a small homemade marker with the old cliché, “Rest in Peace.” Below that the simple name: “Walter Pigeon.”
After the funeral service, they all went home. When I walked into the house, I asked Mrs. Birmingham if Jenny had mentioned the pigeon. She said yes, Jenny and Yvonne mentioned something about a pigeon they found. Mrs. Birmingham had not gone out to look at it, but had suggested that they do not pet it as it might have rabies or something, and to wash their hands. I then told her the sad news. Walter Pigeon was dead and buried. She said something like, “Well, it’s probably just as well. I think it was probably sick.”
Mrs. Birmingham could be very cold-blooded sometimes. I’m sure at that very same time, Mrs. Wright was in her house sitting at the kitchen table with Yvonne and Max, sobbing their hearts out. Now that I think about it, Walter could have been a female pigeon, but we’ll never know, as no autopsy was ever done. Let’s not even think about that.