Sunday’s were often a time for short family adventures when our children were young. On one such adventure, we found ourselves along a deserted rural road paying final tribute to a bird. One of God’s feathered creatures who had the misfortune colliding with the windshield of our car.
This particular incident happened during our customary Sunday afternoon visit to Southern Utah’s Pine Valley Inn for a relaxing sit on their rustic, country porch and slice of homemade pie alamode. “Dad, that bird just flew into our car, stop, I think it’s hurt really bad!” That was the urgent cry coming from my ten-year old daughter Ashley. Stop, dad, stop pleeease… Now, what dad could resist a plea like that? After stopping the car, I inspected for damage, the kids ran past me and found the bird lying on the side of the road. My eight-year old boy Michael was more interested in poking it with a stick, but Ashley held the poor creature gently in her hands asked is if we could bury the bird. At my daughter’s insistence we gathered flowers and prepared a primitive marker. After the short ceremony, complete with words of tribute to the bird and a family prayer, we hurried back in the car and we were once again on our way. This experience we shared and the many questions which followed, conjured up memory of my first experience with death, and it too involved a bird.
On the day before Thanksgiving 1965, I was five and my sister Dianna was four. With a desire to treat his family to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, our father proudly returned home from work with a live turkey in the trunk of his car! The three of us quickly went to work assembling a make-shift pen for our new friend to live. Over the following days my sister and I would feed and water the creature we lovingly named Tom. Now please keep in mind that as children, we had no idea what our dad’s real intentions for the bird were. We thought he just wanted to give our new pet, dear old Tom a good home. The afternoon before Thanksgiving, we watched in horror as my father took an ax from the garage and chopped off old Tom’s head off with one quick strike! With his two children screaming at him to stop, dad lost control of the bird as it wiggled, headless from his arms and floundered around the yard. With blood splattered on his face, dad then hastily attempted to pluck the feathers from the bird. “Why did you kill Tom dad?” I remember screaming. “This is our Thanksgiving turkey dinner” he shouted back. “This is how the pilgrims did it. Where do you think turkey comes from?” Thanksgiving Day, after dear old Tom was plucked, dressed, cooked and presented for dinner, my sister and I suddenly became big fans of potatoes.
During the years that followed, many pets came and went from each of our lives. With the passing of each family pet there was a story to tell and an opportunity for a parent to teach. Teaching moments come at different times and in many different ways. A parent should always be prepared to respond with a thoughtful message and a kind gesture of comfort and love. Death is a confusing subject for adults to comprehend let alone for the curious mind of a child absorb. Explaining the circle of life is one of the more challenging subjects a parent will face. Temperance, patience and love are always in order when teaching young minds of these sensitive matters.
Now over two decades later, my children are adults and still talk about the funeral we had for that poor bird that Sunday afternoon long ago. Likewise, my sister and I will forever remember that fateful Thanksgiving day of our youth. As my grandmother frequently said, Memories matter and are one of the few things you can take with you in the end.