Sometimes Caged Birds Don’t Sing

[About the photo: I took this at the Mt. Pleasant Pier near Charleston. This bird didn’t sing, and didn’t need to sing either–what a view!. 2014]

The other day a friend came over and asked me to go into an apartment with her.  Her neighbor had gone on a camping trip with a church group and left my friend to feed her two pet parakeets.  My friend is afraid of the birds (and most living creatures) and she wanted me to do the feeding while she watched.  It wasn’t a big deal really. The birds politely moved to the back of the birdcage while I lifted the door and placed the seeds in the front of the cage.  “That was easy.” She sighed.  The experience reminded me of story about my father, a somewhat eccentric person.

When I was in the first grade we lived in Illinois in a pastorium next to the church where he was pastor.  He loved animals and took every opportunity to fill our yard with an array of dogs, the garage with Persian and Siamese cats, and in that year one of the bedrooms of the house with canaries. I am not sure where my 3 sisters slept, but I remember this bedroom lined with cage upon cage of pretty little yellow and other brightly colored birds.  There was one problem–other than the obvious one of crowding his children into spaces so he could have the birds–the canaries wouldn’t sing.  He specifically bought the canaries so he could have bird sounds around the house. What to do?

He decided that the canaries didn’t sing because they had never learned how to sing and that encouragement was needed.  So he went to a pet store, and under advisement of the shopkeeper, purchased an LP of canary singing.  There was no orchestral background–just 90 minutes of canary sounds.  He set up our record player in the room with the canaries and what felt like an eternity–day and night–he played the canary album at a volume so loud that none of us could think, with no place to find solitude in our small house.  Did it work?

No.  It did not.  And I think after several weeks of our complaining of the noise, he gave up and returned the to the store where he had purchased them requesting his money back because they were defective singing canaries.

I’ve reflected on this experience many times.  I miss my father for one.  He gave me many experiences to laugh and the patience with things I could not control. But most of all there was a lesson for me.  You can’t make a canary sing if they don’t want to sing. I am sure they were traumatized, but it could be they just didn’t want to sing–if nothing else just to irritate my father–passive aggressive birds.  I actually think they were not singing canaries and wound up in the wrong place because of being mislabeled at the store.

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