Lost Journal: Yes, But When Will the Caged Bird Sing?

Journal entry: July 10, 1973 (age 4) – Caged Bird

Now that I’m four, I get to go over to my friends’ houses sometimes, as long as one of the parents is home.  My favorite places to go are Jackie Gosney’s house and Brian West’s house.  They both live on James Street on Binghamton’s South Side, just a few doors from our green, two-family house on Vine Street.  Today Brian and I were both playing at Jackie’s house when we heard my mom calling for me from down the street.

Mom was standing in front of our wood-paneled Ford station wagon, and a small crowd of kids had started to gather around her.  She was laughing and talking about the amazing parrot she had just seen at the pet store.  She said she wanted to take my brothers, Bob and Dan, and me to see the bird, and that she’d take any of the other kids in the neighborhood, as long as their parents gave permission.  The knot of kids exploded in all directions, as if the world’s coolest ice cream truck had just jingled into view, demanding the plundering of parental wallets.

Safari Pets is on Main Street all the way in Johnson City.  On the long drive there, Mom told her eight passengers about the parrot.  It had started talking to her as soon as she saw it, and didn’t stop until she left.  She said it was like talking to a person.  The parrot told jokes.  The parrot sang songs.  If she had stayed, the parrot might have asked her about her life insurance needs.

When we got to the store, we stampeded straight to the bird section.  Mom winced an apologetic look at the startled shopkeeper, who looked to be wondering if a bird-watching bus had just arrived.  In a back corner of the store was the large metal birdcage with its swinging trapeze.  Perched on the trapeze was a foot-and-a-half-tall green parrot.  We gathered around the cage in an excited bustle.  The bird perked up, and surveyed each of us with quick darts of its head.

We all started to talk to it at once, and then my mom said, “Quiet down, kids – we don’t want to scare it.”  Then she put her face very close to the cage and started cooing at the bird.  In a singsong voice, she told the parrot that it was a nice, pretty, beautiful bird.  Two tiny, black beads stared back at her, but there was no audible response.

“Don’t you remember me?” asked Mom.  “You were such a sweetie earlier when we talked.  Don’t you want to say hello?”  The bird remained tight-beaked.  After a few more minutes of fruitless coaxing, the kids started to wander off to other parts of the store.  Bob, who, at age 12, was the elder statesmen of the bunch, seemed to declare the end of the proceedings when he growled at the bird, “Polly wanna nap?”

Finally, even Mom gave up.  She gathered the gaggle of us together for the disappointed drive home.  “I’m sorry, kids,” she said as we started out the door.  Just then, a squawk erupted from the back of the store.  “Don’t go!  Don’t go!”

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