News From The Woods - April 15, 2002


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published April 15, 2002

"The Mockingbird"

April 14, 2002

It was sort of an unusual day from the start…….. Foggy and damp early in the morning, following an all night Spring rain. It was almost 10 O'Clock by the time the sun has burnt off the lake fog and driven the temperature up to the mid 70's in a strange sort of muggy day normally reserved for a mid-summer day. It was a Sunday and as usual I tried to spend as much of the day as possible with Robert. Weekends are for family, unless I have pressing business at hand. I had a few odd jobs to attend to, but for the most part we stayed around the house so I could get my odd jobs done and Jane managed several loads of laundry while cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming the living room.

Robert wanted to go outside and play on his swing and I obliged him. As we played in the front yard, my son took notice of a large Mockingbird sitting on top of the unused TV antenna which resides atop a telephone pole right next to the house. We all knew that particular Mockingbird. He had been around for ages. As a matter of fact, I told Robert, he had been here when his "Nana" was still alive. I knew that because my mom would always go outside when she heard him sing his birdsong and whistle at him. They would have a Mexican stand-off…. Mom standing down in the front yard whistling up at him and he would just sit up there on that pole and perform every bird song he knew. And he knew most of them. Whip-O-Will, Blue Jay, Robin, Swallow, Cardinal, Quail, even the chickadee and finch.

After mom passed away we took less notice of the bird, but every spring he would make himself known and always return to his default position high over the house on the tip top of that pole. Today he was in rare form as I pushed Robert in his swing. He would demand our attention with his extensive catalog of songs, and then - for no apparent reason at all - he would fly straight up in the air about 6 feet and do a complete back spin with his wings spread out to show his distinct markings before coming back down and landing right back on his lofty perch. The first time we noticed, Robert let out a yell "Wow! Why did he do that, Dad?" I had no ready answer and within the next 30 seconds he repeated the maneuver, this time landing just below his perch on the crosspiece of the antenna. Then he'd flip back up to the top and once again begin his performance. We sat there watching this for about ten minutes and I still could not figure out why the bird was acting like that. We walked over to the pole and looked straight up at him. He just watched us, continuing to sing, but stopped the aerial ballet. We returned to the swing set and he once again repeated his antics. By this time, Jane, who was in the kitchen and heard all the commotion, asked what was going on with all the whistling in the front yard. I told her I was calling out to the Mockingbird like Mom used to do and tried to explain to her his reaction.

When we moved to the garage to play some basketball and I could start to grill some hamburger meat for dinner, he flew to the Walnut tree next to the garage and continued his serenade, only without the aerial flip routine. I was bouncing the basketball back and forth between Robert and I, while at the same time making the dog happy and throwing a stick off the hillside. Bear gets jealous when I only play outside with Robert and starts barking incessantly and generally making a nuisance of himself. NOW I had a Mockingbird in on the action! As Robert moved around the concrete pad at the garage entrance, the Mockingbird flew from one nearby tree to the next, strafing lower and lower with each circuit. Several times he zoomed just over Robert's head during the course of the next half-hour. It wasn't in a menacing way. It was almost like he was trying to share some playtime with us.

During all this I was telling Robert about the bird and how he had always lived here, even back when my mother was still alive. And about how much she enjoyed his company and bird song. But I had never seen him perform his aerial antics before and I was marveling at how unusual I thought that was. Robert seemed genuinely interested in the bird and watched him like a hawk (pun intended) for the remainder of the time we spent outside today. By the time the meat was cooked and we were about to go inside to eat, the Mockingbird had wandered off somewhere and I didn't see him, although I could still hear him in the neighborhood.

After dinner, the plan was for Robert to have his bath while I ran into town on an errand, then I'd come back home and we'd put him to bed before retiring downstairs for a little late night work on a video job I was trying to complete. I went out to the garage where Jane was taking a break before starting to run his bath water. I started to get into my car to leave when Robert came outside to say goodbye. He no sooner had reached me than we all heard a very loud crash coming from inside the house. Bear and Bill the cat were out in the front yard. We were puzzled so we all went back into the kitchen and looked around. Nothing. Then I peeked into the living room but didn't seen anything at first. I started to turn around and say "Nothing in here", when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I looked back and then I saw it.

Ever since mom & dad built this house, there has been a large mirror fixed on the living room wall. Three shelves were connected to this mirror, holding some of our most precious family possessions. My Grandmother at one time was heavily involved in ceramics. When she and my Grandfather had retired to Florida, one of the hobbies that kept her going was creating these beautiful ceramic pieces of art. She fired her own kiln in the garage and baked all her own work. They were usually 6" busts of women or 12" full models in elaborate dresses, but often she custom made new and unusual pieces for friends and relatives. She also made all her own dyes and colors and hand painted all her creations. Sometimes she incorporated different materials into the clay to create unusual and exciting textures. This collection on the shelves, consisting of about a dozen ceramic pieces represented the best of my Grandmother's work. There was a beautiful full model of a young woman wearing a lace dress. The dress material was made from my Grandmothers wedding veil, and pressed into the clay before it was glazed. There were two busts of young woman with frilly period-style clothing and topped off with fashionable hats, all created by her hand and dyed with such pale colors that it looked delicate right out of the oven. There were two matching sets of praying hands over an open bible, which she had given to my mother and her sister years ago. In honor of the "barefoot boy" logo of my parent's resort, she created a custom ceramic "barefoot boy" with fishing pole slung over his shoulder and followed by his cocker spaniel. Yes, I was the "barefoot boy" and I had been immortalized in ceramic. Twice, no less. One was made as an ashtray, which graced the den of Blackberry Hill for years before it came home to roost. The other boy was made as a statue and had him walking barefooted and standing on a grassy knoll. There were other one of a kind's: A 12" tall white Santa Claus all in gold trim; a covered candy bowl with ceramic bow handle top; and a delicate oriental vase with a gently tapered top among others.

These items were literally priceless. My mother had placed them in their final resting-place on those shelves over 35 years ago. To venture too near the shelves holding onto any dangerous instrument meant certain death. This covered baseball bats, dart guns, large balloons, even paper airplanes. Back in the 60's I kept all my college pals downstairs just to be safe. Knowing of their legacy, Jane has refrained from even dusting anything on those shelves, just out of the sheer horror of "something going wrong". I impressed upon Robert from a very early age on how important it was that he stay away from anything on those shelves. In the back on my mind I suppose I always thought one or more of those priceless objects might possibly go to the Big Kiln in the Sky at the hands of an over-zealous Robert just expending energy inside the house on a rainy day or something. There have been many near misses…. Enough to give me a false hope that perhaps…. Just maybe….. There was enough of mom's life force hovering around that spot to keep it safe somehow though the years.

Well, today it all came crashing down. Upon inspection I learned that the shelves had originally just been glued to the brace boards. Today was very hot and by late afternoon it was above 80 degrees in the upstairs part of the house. The old glue apparently finally gave away this afternoon and the top shelf collapsed down onto the second shelf, which also lost the brace on the left side upon impact but somehow managed to stay in place (perhaps mom's life force IS still hanging around). The bottom shelf was miraculously saved from the same fate as the top two shelves. However, I had moved all the important and more delicate pieces to the top two shelves after Robert got old enough to reach the bottom shelf but not old enough to understand what "no" meant.

The debris reached almost across the entire living room floor. Every item on the top shelf came down hitting the couch and the coffee table in front of the couch. The shelf itself was driven directly downward onto the second shelf, right on top of the ceramic items residing on that shelf. Some of those pieces fell off onto the remains of the first shelf, which had come to rest on the couch. The top shelf and what remained on the second shelf were hanging precariously over the bottom shelf. There was ceramic material everywhere. Here was a delicate arm right up to the shoulder. There laid the back half of a 12" ceramic doll model. Santa was a paraplegic. Both barefoot boys had been broken off their respective stands, but somehow remained intact. The oriental bowl was just a dim memory. I was physically ill for the first few moments.

Jane volunteered to clean up the mess and save what she thought might be repairable while I took Robert and drove to town and back. By the time we got back home it had all been cleaned up and (once again) vacuumed. I really appreciated her taking the initiative to do the chore, as I would have no doubt lost it while picking up the pieces. I am just so thankful that no one was sitting there on the couch when the event occurred. I was also thankful we were all outside when it happened so there was no doubt that it was just "one of those things" that happened and not the result of foul play (I won't name names).

But, almost from the first minute that I realized what had happened, my thoughts kept going back to that Mockingbird. I don't know why but it is almost like he was warning me of some impending tragedy. Of course there was no way I could have put it all together before the fact… it's just too weird. Too coincidental. Too cosmic.

Isn't it?

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