A SPARROW’S TALE
There was the soft sound of water running upstairs. The lady of the house was in the shower. "Hey, Do you want company? I could join you in a flash." " Oh, it's you. Your home early." "Well, what do you say, company or no?" "Sorry, sweet boy, I've got to get out and get supper ready. Ted and Alice will be here at 7." "Yeah, that's right, it's Thursday already. Man, this week is flying by."
Juliet drew back the shower curtain and reached out for her bath towel that wasn't there. Phil stood before Juliet's dripping wet body with her towel draped behind his shoulders. He was naked and inviting her breasts to meet his.
"Oh no, we're not going there. You look like you need a cold shower, buster."
"How about a hug for your favorite club member. My dues are paid."
"You can have one after you're cleaned up. Could you hand me a fresh towel? You can use that one for your shower."
"You're no fun."
"I"ll be more receptive after our champagne toast and Ted and Alice have left, I promise."
Dinner that evening with the four of them went off without a hitch. Juliet is a great cook and event organizer. After serving hand rolled manicotti formaggio mixed with shrimp and asparagus spears in hollandaise sauce she finished with a light raspberry tart desert dolloped with fresh whipped topping and a hint of lemon. With the meal she served a semi-dry Reisling and ended the night with a chocolate cordial with Bailey's Cream in the center to toast their guests departure. She is the queen of simple and elegant. Before, during and after dinner their guests talked about what it takes to run a horse farm and together they laughed at the funny stories the two shared from their 27 year love affair with horse boarding. Juliet shared stories of her own about growing up loving horses. As they were leaving, Alice mentioned the shelter position again to Juliet and complimented her on how wonderful she was with animals of all sizes. Their guests thanked them for the delicious meal and for making it such a memorable evening for them.
The next morning Phil and Juliet were cleaning up from the previous day's soiree when Juliet announced she was going to the shelter to follow up on Alice's suggestion. It had been a week since she heard about it, she had the time and interest and she knew she had a knack for and love of caring for a wide variety of animals since reading James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" as a child.
Phil said it was a great opportunity to give back to the community and get to interact with nature and people who care. And then he remembered the care package he had for the two of them and took the opportunity to present the love of his life with the white terrycloth bathrobes from The Corning Radisson Hotel when one phone call and one hour changed the course of two lives.
Juliet arrived at the Oceanside Pet Adoption Center late in the morning and asked the receptionist for information on the McDonough Foundation Memorial Grant. She then asked if the Center's executive director was available to speak with her. Mr. Snyder was getting ready to leave but agreed to a short meeting and greeted Juliet in the hall. After escorting her to his office she explained her visit. She wanted permission to apply for grant funding to update the Center's financial portfolio and records keeping system. And, for herself, she wanted to volunteer afternoons to help where needed at the shelter. Mr.Snyder was so impressed with here proposal and resume he asked if she would join him for lunch along with colleagues from the Center and they would discuss her proposal in detail. As they walked through the main lobby a contingent of third graders and their teacher passed by.
Every second Thursday of the month is Field Trip Day at Narby Elementary School #302 and this day held a rare treat for 14 excited third graders and Mrs. Leach, their teacher. The bus they were on was about to leave the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary when one of the students noticed a downed sparrow fighting off an attacker, a rare spotted skunk. It wasn't long before the bus was empty and a swarm of screaming 9 year olds were confronting the skunk. They kept their distance but their chorus of screams and shouts was too much for him and he made a hasty retreat leaving a battered and bruised sparrow to her rescuers.
Mrs. Leach was seconds away from witnessing the event but not from hearing several different eyewitness accounts and finally commanding the swarm to get back on the bus. With all eyes on her, Mrs. Leach collected the injured bird in her handkerchief and instructed the bus driver to stop at the Oceanside Center where the bird could get the needed attention.
Jan, a part time volunteer and part time veterinary assistant, was in the lobby to meet the group and transfer the patient. A new chorus of voices was asking when and where they could see the bird while it was "getting better"? Jan said when she knew something concrete she would call the school and leave a message with Mrs. Leach. She said that's the best she could do. A hopeful swarm then echoed it's way through the lobby and back on the bus.
Juliet and her lunch mates returned to the Center around 2:00 excited with the prospect of a new grant and a financial housecleaning and technology refit. Mr. Snyder took Juliet on a truncated tour of the facility that ended in the records room. She knew she had her work cut out for her when she saw the rotary phones and dot matric printers with sound proof cabinet covers and plexiglass access doors. She thought to herself nobody was that far behind the times. She was hoping she was in a storage area but the phone rang and Mr. Snyder picked it up. It seems something had come up and he asked if she could see her way to the lobby alone. They left the room together. Mr Snyder locked the door and shook her hand promising to call her soon.
Juliet's memory is clear as a Steuben crystal vase. Passages leading in every direction are navigated in true Hansel and Gretel fashion as if bread crumbs marked her path. She paused to smile at passersby in the hall and noted the observation window into the intensive care unit recovery area. There was a large contingent of dogs, a few cats in isolation, a very large raccoon and one lone bird, a sparrow.
No one knew then that the sparrow and the lady in white would be inexplicably linked in a tale of immense proportion encompassing one third grade teacher, a swarm of 9 year olds, a husband that absolutely adores her and Jan, a part time volunteer and veterinary assistant.
It had been an exciting and tiring day. Juliet didn't get home until after 5pm. Lunch with her new family from Oceanside was meager and she was hungry. She had planned not to cook and let Phil be in the spotlight in the kitchen. It turned out he didn't disappoint her. Boeuf bourguignon with a few salt potatoes, snap peas and buttered broccoli sprinkled with farm fresh crisp fried bacon bits. His choice of wine was no surprise since he had learned to make his own private stock and served a full bodied young red mock Beaujolais. It's taken him two and half years and countless trials to get the taste he wanted but he'd finally succeeded and they both agreed it was perfect. At the end of the meal Phil topped off their glasses and toasted his wife for all she is to him and all she is to the rest of the world, including Oceanside. They both drank up and collected themselves to take positions on the sofa with Phil's hand rubbing Juliet's contented tummy,his other hand on her soft breast, her shoulders and back planted on his chest and her hands holding his feet in her lap. If it were a yoga position it would be called "contented tulips". And whenever Juliet wanted Phil's hands to be busy stroking her all she had to do is squeeze his foot.
Juliet woke up and squeezed Phil foot to wake him up and unfold themselves from "contented tulip" position. Phil instinctively started rubbing her breast and she, in turn, took hold of his thumb and said, "Come on, it's past bed time. Wake up, we need to clear the table and get to bed".
Phil's sleepy response was, " I was in the middle of a great dream".
Juliet snapped, "You can tell me about it in the morning. Right now we need to clean up and head to bed before it gets much later". A quick job on the kitchen and table and soon they were in bed and asleep.
Juliet was up early the next morning with a clear idea of how to write the grant. Later that morning a phone call had settled her start time for her afternoon orientation at Oceanside. All that was left was the call from Mr. Snyder with news from the Oceanside board of directors' special session vote to OK her proposal so that the rest of her plan could move forward. It came that afternoon. Volunteering came easy to her, she liked the interaction with people and always found something to appreciate in the other volunteers she worked with. She seems to bring out the best in others and always has.
Her first full shift at the Center was very rewarding. Lady, a black American Field Labrador Retriever, ailing from a serious hip dysplasia was getting the spa treatment equivalent for dogs. Juliet's job is to help Lady through a regiment of hydrotherapy that included a state-of-the-art submerged treadmill, then a water jet sits bath about 2 ft. deep (Lady loves to bite the bubbles), and finally the swim tank with harness attachments for constant support while Lady treads water and essentially swims in circles. Between weight bearing exercise and low impact aerobics she should be back home in 7 to 12 days a trim and fit 12 year old. The hydrotherapy services at the Center are a large income stream that account for a fifth of the Center's annual revenue and have proven to be extremely popular and effective.
In a less known department Juliet works with the feathered friends of her wild kingdom to rehabilitate distressed birds that make their way to the Center and later release them to their homes in the wild. Before she started 500 birds had been helped through the Recover/Release Program and 4 birds were adopted by the Center and are on permanent display as program mascots and help promote the program to the public. This is where Juliet's new undertaking gets interesting.
Juliet's second day at the Center was on a new and beautiful Monday afternoon. The morning was rainy and dark. It had been raining for days and the air was cold and damp until the sun came out in the afternoon and started to burn away the wet dank of the previous days. Jan, a part time volunteer and part time veterinary assistant, introduced herself and began giving Juliet the bird's case review. The sparrow that was rescued by students and their teacher the previous week did not have a good prognosis. The sparrow had a broken wing with missing feathers ( maybe 3 or 4 ), one long tail feather was clipped short and one toe was missing. Jan explained that the broken wing was mending but the feathers that were either missing or altered were problematic for a full recovery and subsequent release and probably explain his lethargy.
Jan gave instructions on water and food for the bird and when Juliet finished cleaning the cage and putting out fresh bird meal she stood back and looked at the sign below the bird cage door. It read "HOUSE SPARROW" and that didn't sit right with her. Juliet removed the sign and turned it over. After finding a marker she reinstalled the sign that now read "Woodstock the White House Sparrow". She stepped back and smiled and Woodstock dropped down from his perch and ate and drank happily. It was the first sign of recovery that anyone had witnessed and Juliet was glad it happened on her shift and added a note to the bird case review file saying, " Woodstock demonstrated modest efforts to eat and drink and flew back to his perch with gusto. A very encouraging sign".
The next morning brought a series of new challenges Juliet's way. A phone message from Mr. Snyder asked that she meet him at the Center at 9:30. Juliet was told then that the grant was on a fast track for approval thanks to her detailed proposal and the explanation that accompanied the grant about rotary phones and dot matric printers. In the back of her mind she thought that might move things forward, but she never imagined it would bump her proposal to new heights. What was originally a modest one time request for financial assistance in the range of $50,000- $69,000 was boosted to the $140,000 ceiling limit. Political favors being what they are and the high profile exposure of the Center and the work they do are just the kind of image building media fodder that brings out the politicians. The new dollar range was a little disconcerting to Juliet. She understood the funds were private sector incentives but to spend that amount meant considerably more time commitment dedicated to the project. Juliet saw one of two choices that needed to be made. Either plan on spending more time on the task or pull together a staff to do the reorganization/refit. She opted for a staff.
While Juliet was at the Center she stopped to check in on Woodstock. It's not clear whether Woodstock could see her coming or smell the wonderful scent of her body fragrance, but whenever Juliet approached Woodstock's cage he would go into a frenzy of activity. He'd jump from perch to perch to perch or he'd splash his water dish and try to pull it around his cage with his beak. Sometimes he'd flap his wings and fluff up his chest feathers. And the one time he got free from his cage he was only free long enough for the call to go out to Juliet to come over to the bird habitat and help get Woodstock back in his cage. As soon as Juliet got in front of Woodstock's cage he landed on her shoulder and then perch on her offered index finger and was gently reintroduced to the inside of his cage. There was definitely a special bond between them.
Putting together a qualified staff of professionals for a short term project is not much different than baking a good pineapple upside down cake. The recipe is where you start and the baker's knowledge of her craft is the key. Juliet knew the kind of individuals she wanted to work with (the ingredients), she understood the new scope of the project and had made detail notes on all the essential elements of her plan and is able to explain it simply and concisely to people she just met (the baking instructions) and she had the will to follow through (handling the cake out of the oven). She prepared the classifieds, both online and print, waded through apps and resumes, interviewed and checked references and left the background checks for Oceanside's HR Department. In the end she was very pleased with the results (serves 8 and everyone at the table is smiling with an empty plate).
Meanwhile, Woodstock was making progress with his recovery and Jan, the part time volunteer and....you know...had called the school and spoken to Mrs. Leach and between them arranged a class field trip to the Adoption Center this coming Thursday. Juliet heard about the visit through the Center grapevine and wanted to meet the class and their teacher and get a little background on where Woodstock was rescued for his review file and aid in his eventual release and return home. Phil asked if he could be there since Woodstock had been integrated into his life too with the nightly dinner reports and occasional sleep talking events that resulted in Juliet waking up giggling and Phil smiling in bed beside her.
It had been 8 months since the April spring day when Woodstock was rescued by a swarm of panic stricken third graders with just enough compassion in their collective souls to approach a wild skunk and drive him from his prey with their hideous screams. Woodstock The White House Sparrow had found shelter from his attacker, compassion for his wounds, understanding for his plight and love from the one in white. However, the release board of review in Woodstock's case could not recommend his release or adoption. His file was all too clear with the details of erratic flight and control issues, feeding problems unless a given volunteer was there for the feeding and escape history where recovery was only possible if a given volunteer was called in to help. The board's recommendations are final and posted for personnel to review and comment on. When Juliet read the report she was heartbroken and felt a little responsible for the outcome. She was very professional in her care of Woodstock and logged much of what the board saw in his review file. Even with the occasional incidents that are mentioned in the review file Juliet always commented on Woodstock's strong points and positive behaviors and encourage the other volunteers to do the same. She left for home wishing something could be done. She sent up a prayer for Woodstock and then a prayer that Phil wouldn't forget.
Wednesday and the house is quiet Juliet is in bed alone and sleeping in. Her fragrance isn't sensed unless the bottle or box is open or you have the good fortune to be at close quarters. It's delicious before, during and after a meal. Today it would be delicious and delectable before breakfast. Phil slipped under the sheets and was not surprised to find Juliet wide awake and smiling. "What have you been up to." Phil never had a good defense for that question, "Nothing much".
"Well, what are you back in bed for?" Phil knew that answer, "I thought breakfast in bed was something you'd enjoy. I prepared something and I think I can warm it up here". And his hand was where she loved having it from their earliest days together. He never took anything without asking and he always asked with the hope it would satisfy what she needed. Her smile broadened and her eye lids closed over her beautiful hazel-green pools. When she opened her eyes again there was the smallest separation starting and then a heat....and wet...and satin soft skin and smooth muscle and hard bone that held her sensual core. It was a slide of a sort, a passage, a portal to the depths of her mind and heart and deepest being. She rocked with the motion of his hand and his soldiers that were doing the advance work paving the way for a filling experience. And an all day lover was there with her in their home on her birthday. That was not his gift to her. That was always her gift to him. He was always looking for a gift that could repay her for giving herself to him over and over and over......again. Mimosas with breakfast....... wine with lunch.......champagne with dinner ....and a delicious toast under the stars on a blanket in the back yard. And Juliet made one last wish on her birthday before the last giggle of the night and they were content in each others arms asleep.
Thursday morning’s light washed over the two lying on the blanket in the backyard with dew covering the double sleeping bag that cradled them. They hung the blanket and sleeping bag over the clothes line to air and walked naked to the back door where Phil and Juliet stopped to kiss and caress and then stepped into the house to start their day. They shared a spectacular shower and Phil made breakfast.
Juliet's staff was on target with the financial reorganization. She was enjoying every minute she spent with the friends she made at the Center and the animals at Oceanside were the icing on the cake. Lady made a remarkable recovery and was the sweetest Lab she'd ever met; and the most enthusiastic, too. Logan, a cat with an eating disorder, was always wanting to sleep or stage himself near Juliet. She didn't mind and his review file was very promising. He had a diagnosis, a feeding and exercise regiment a family that cared about him and a prognosis that looked forward to a full remission of symptoms. Story upon story and she couldn't thank Alice enough for having suggested Oceanside as a respite from the usual job. It was hard work, fulfilling work and at the end of the day there was a feeling deep down that you made a difference. And the blessing for Oceanside was that Juliet made everyone she came in contact with feel that way about their contribution.
Juliet's staff didn't work at the Center. She had secured a modest office space a few miles away. She knew that the smells and sounds of the Adoption Center were a bit much for the uninitiated in animal care. The staff needed to be focused on finance and numbers and details not the pee and poop that can strike without warning at your nose and eyes. She thanked everyone in the office for their efforts and reminded them Friday was a paid day off for their superb work at crunching figures and uncovering tax errors that put $13,080 back into Oceanside's pocket and saved the Center hundreds of thousands of dollars in future taxes. She left for phase two of her Oceanside career, the Center; the animals, Logan and especially Woodstock.
Parking wasn't usually a problem at Oceanside. The building is a 250,000 sq.ft. state of art facility with new integrated phone systems, computer terminals for staff and authorized visitors, viewing areas for pet adoption and foster pet parenting, exercise areas for four-legged pets of all kinds, a bird habitat and climate controlled bird house aviary and much more. So when Juliet found it hard to park she had to wonder what was up? She noticed three media vans and one transmission truck with a satellite dish installed and wires running in every direction. A yellow school bus in the guest parking lot reserved for dignitaries and special tours. She knew why that was there. She parked a ways away and with her bags in tow trekked back to the employee entrance and clocked in for her shift. It wasn't long before her cell phone rang. It was Phil. Probably wanted the last word about yesterday so she answered. "Hello, .... How's your day going?" "Hi Sweet Thing, I don't know if you've heard, but the news is all over the place about some big deal going on at Oceanside. Where are you now?" "I'm at the Center but haven't heard what's what. Do you know?" "Just a lot of buzz but no information." "Well call if you get news." "You, too. Love you." "Love you back." They both hung up feeling a little alone. They last kissed good-bye after breakfast and suffered knots in their stomachs until meeting up again. That's how it was in the beginning and remains to the present. Hearing each other's voice or being together is their only relief.
CHAPTER 4 OF 4
Jan waved to Juliet and they met at the far end of the main lobby near the stairs. Jan asked if she believed in miracles and immediately Juliet's mind wandered back in time when "miracles" were everyday talk between Phil and her. Juliet said, "Well, yes. Sometimes". "Well, follow me." Jan lead her down to the bird habitat through strange corridors she hadn't used before and through a door that came out near Woodstock's cage. It was still covered with the cage cozy Phil gave Juliet. It had a black satin lining with stars decorating the top half, some in the shape of constellations. You could recognize the big and little dipper, Taurus the bull, Orion and, of course, Pegasus. The outside was a beautiful turquoise blue with gold and silver spiral designs all moving up to the top of the cage cover like an atomized wish ascending to heaven.
Before Jan and Juliet could remove the cover and see...... a swarm of third graders of all heights and description echoed their way forward down the hall towards Woodstock's cage adjacent to the aviary. Following the one mob was their teacher, the press core, any number of staff and volunteers and visitors that had apparently gotten wind of something and seemed worked up about it. Before they all made their way into the bird habitat Mr. Snyder popped through the same door Jan and Juliet had used to gain entry and intercepted the throng. Juliet still had no idea what was going on. She was out of ear shot to hear what Mr. Snyder was saying and when she leaned to move closer Jan held her arm and said, "Look for yourself". Juliet removed the cover and was immediately hit with song. It was like opening a music box lid to hear a melody ages in the making. The music wasn't coming from a box or any device. It was very clear the source was a bird confined in a small space with three perches above and a water dish and feeder below. When his eyes adjusted to the light or removal of the cover allowed her scent to slip past the thin metal tines he stopped singing and dropped to the cage floor and began to pull his water dish with his beak. Juliet giggled at his antics but was beside herself. How is this possible? You see, the bird in the cage was no sparrow. Juliet knew her birds. From North America , South America, Africa, Asia to Europe she studied them all. Next to giggling with her husband, bird studies had become her favorite past-time and this bird was no House Sparrow or Song Sparrow or any other kind of sparrow.
Earlier that day Jan was setting up for the school field trip tour for Narby Elementary #302 and discovered the subject of the tour was not in his cage. No bird escapes had been reported and no accidents of any kind were on the log. The calls that followed didn't shed any new light on the situation. Eventually a phone call went out to the school to explain that the field trip wouldn't include a visit with Woodstock. Mrs. Leach sympathized with Jan's plight and hoped all would be well in the end and they agreed to an alternate tour. Visit the new cat walk arena, interact at the petting farm and help feed the dogs in their cattle cars (a fun way to entertain the dogs and the kids).
The bus was loaded and 15 third graders were on their way to Oceanside. That's one more than the last time the class was there post rescue. Linda Bates was out sick and has heard nothing but the endless story of how her classmates ran this lousy skunk off and threw their lunch pails and sticks and stones and brought the injured bird to Mrs. Leach. Now they were all on board to greet Woodstock with their get well wishes in person. Art class had rendered numerous versions of the ordeal Woodstock endured. English class was filled with the essays of who first witnessed the attack and was off the bus first and what the skunk said when everybody was yelling at it. Some of those accounts made their way into the local courier with comments ranging from the Mayor to the head of Sanitation. Woodstock was famous and no one at Oceanside knew or even suspected.
The class asked, "When do we get to see Woodstock"? Mrs. Leach retorted, "Let's not worry about that now. Line up outside when your name is called and stay near the bus until we're all ready to go inside". Jan met them at the special visitors entrance and gave Mrs. Leach the non verbal sign that there was still no resolution to Woodstock's whereabouts. The first half of the tour was going well until Linda said, "I want to meet Woodstock"! The whole class followed with the same plea and before long Mrs. Leach was looking to Jan for an answer. Jan's instinct was to find a private room away from the public and try to explain the missing Woodstock without alarming the class. The room was downstairs and not far from the aviary. They were secluded and comfortable and everyone was asked to take a seat. Jan sent an aid out for snacks and drinks. Although it wasn't scheduled then, it was the plan that the new tour include a break and this seemed as good a time as any. After everyone had a drink and snack in front of them Jan decided to fill the class in on what she knew. It didn't go well.
With the same uproar that saved a sparrows life, 15 howling third graders claimed deceit and fake and unfair the way the tour was conducted. Implied consent, conspiracy to defraud ---- they're just third graders and they don't know the law they just know they'd been lied to. Their art went flying as did the essays, they were out of their seats and very agitated. The ones with cell phones were making calls and in the space of one hour ( funny how an hour can change your life) it all resulted in 22 questioning parents, 5 camera toting reporters, 3 TV news crews and a lot of curious passersby, some visitors and some volunteers. Everyone wanted answers, but only Jan and Juliet knew.
At the cage Jan and Juliet were in awe of the singing they were hearing and how effortless the leap from perch to perch to the cage floor and back. And when the excitement level waned and there was a little calm in the cage Juliet could see he was missing the same toe. This bird had a long beak, a white breast, long brownish red tail feathers in pristine condition, a light brown body and cap except for one distinguishing white mark between his eyes just like Woodstock. He was definitely from the thrush family but Juliet had never heard such melodious sounds from robins or bluebirds who are part of the same family. She took out her phone and took a picture and then he leaped to the floor of the cage and fluffed out his chest feathers and sang. And Juliet knew.... . She opened the cage door to Jan's protest to gently offer her index finger. Woodstock boarded her finger and as soon as he cleared the cage door flew up and around maneuvering like an ace pilot on a clear autumn day. No question, this bird could fly beautifully. And whenever he landed he would sing. And when Juliet raised her hand and lowered it again Woodstock landed on her shoulder.
Juliet, with Woodstock on her shoulder, watched Jan motion to Mrs. Leach who fell out of formation with her class to skirt by the Director and meet them in the room. All four, including Woodstock, passed through the exit door where, on the other side, Jan asked Mrs. Leachif she believed in miracles. And it was there that the three hatched a plan. When the "story" was released to the press only they knew the truth. Fourteen third graders saw a bird attacked in the bird sanctuary where Mrs. Leach picked it up and protected it with her handkerchief. The staff and volunteers weren't closely familiar with Woodstock, a common house sparrow, in the recover/release program. That made it a simple matter to doctor the bird review file to reflect the image of another bird. The media had been witness to the onslaught of a rowdy group of third graders and a wonderful, but short, reunion and get well party for a bird named Woodstock.
As a practical matter, the release of a European Nightingale into the wild in North America is not a good idea. The temperature extremes would most definitely be fatal and the board of review for release of Woodstock chose to award adoption to a knowledgeable colleague. Phil and Juliet love making love with the sound of Woodstock in the background. Phil doesn't necessarily have a one tract mind, but when it comes to satisfying Juliet you could definitely say it's focused. Woodstock's singing, day and night, reminds the two of them that life is short and can be gone in a moment. Second chances like Woodstock's are rare and if you have the good fortune to live long you still look back and wonder where it all went. Phil and Juliet vowed that in looking back they would see the hope for a brighter tomorrow because of what they did. Their lives wouldn't be spent, but instead, be invested in each other and their very large family of friends and a nightingale named Woodstock whose miracle they will always remember and embrace. ANOTHER BEGINNING!
Bill Murphy Copyright 10/10 Dedicated to a favorite southern belle