Monday, November 14, 2011


I was thinking it had blog potential

As we stood outside an aviary in a park in Germany, one of my cousins asked, "Why are you taking that photo? It's just a plain yellow bird. There are prettier ones on the other side."

"I'm taking it because it reminds me of the canary I killed when I was little."

"What! You killed a canary?" my cousin reacted in shock.

"Yes, but I was little, only three and it was an accident. We had a pet canary and I wanted to hold it. I took it out of the cage and accidentally squished it." I responded.

"What? You killed a bird?" she asked, incredulous, as if she hadn't totally internalized the first response.

"Yes, but I was little, only three."

I stood there feeling a little like Hannibal Lecter as one of my other cousins chimed in. "Don't worry about it. She doesn't understand. She's never had children."

That comment seemed to act as an explanation that appeased everyone including my distressed eldest cousin.

Would that it had been that simple during my childhood. I could have been saved a lot of guilt and embarassment. On the other hand, the experience has become part of who I am today...a person with an evil and secret past...a bird murderer.

I heard the sad tale of our dead bird several times a year, every year as I was growing up. My mom used to sigh, then show the blurry black and white photo of me sitting beside the little cage. This always prompted people to ask, "Where is the bird?" The story of the canary's tragic demise was recounted to family, friends and strangers. It was one of those traumatic events that psychologists claim we easily remember from our formative years.

We lived in a mining town in northern Ontario. I have no idea why we had a canary, where it came from or what his name was. I could probably remember with some psychological counselling or perhaps under hypnosis, but to be honest, I don't really care.

I used to watch mom clean the bird cage and take out the canary. I was fascinated and envious. Often, I'd ask, "May I hold him?"

The answer was always the same. "No."

Children don't understand that response. Children require reasonable explanations even at age three. I was no exception. In fairness however, my parents were practically children themselves. They did the best they could with what they knew. They hadn't heard of Dr. Spock or Dr. Seuss or Dr. Phil. Of course, neither had most of the rest of the world. 

One day, I inquired about holding the bird and received no answer. My mom always used to say, "Keine antwort ist auch eine antwort." (No answer is also an answer). I reached into the cage and removed the feathery creature just as my mom yelled, "No! Don't touch that bird. Besides, he'll fly away."

Thinking back on it now, I'm fairly confident that my terror upon hearing those shrieking words caused a reflexive jolt that ended with this sad statement. "No, look how nice and still he's laying on my hand."

After hearing the story of how I squeezed the life out of that little canary with my bare hands, everyone was appropriately disgusted and gave their deepest sympathy and regrets to my parents...either for the loss of the bird, or for having such a deviant child, I'm not certain which.

I am fairly sure though, that I have since, repaid my debt to bird society. I've hatched and raised dozens of chickens and ducks. I've nursed injured sparrows and robins back to health. I've fed bread to swans, geese and other wildlife. I've allowed birds to build nests under, and subsequently poop all over my deck. I've hung feeders outside in the winter. But just in case there's something more I can do....if perhaps this bird in an aviary in Germany is a distant relative of our long deceased pet, I am taking a picture. Perhaps I'll even place it in an album next to the old black and white photo of a 3 year old me sitting beside the cage, staring longingly at the canary inside. Or maybe, I'll just write a blog.

Wild child eyeing her unsuspecting potential victim

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