Godly little birds

Allen and I drive down to town for winter errands. Fifty degrees and the 3rd of December, a continuing mild autumn with a few Indian Summers. A scum of ice tries forming on ponds, sending crystals far-reaching, only to thaw next day. We have delicate ice on the surface of the north pond in our town.

We took Outlaw Valley Road and stopped at a small greenhouse cum floral establishment by the road. Wreaths were fixed to the side of the shed/barn, simple evergreens with red bows and pine cones, swags with colored ribbons and cones. Seven dollars, or ten for the larger. But I was also after a bird with nest. I had called around a little and could find no birds, no nests. I wanted them for  a wreath I was hoping to compose for my mother-in-law.

I dreamed she was standing on tiptoe looking at a wreath on the back of our house, saying, “Oh look, here’s a little bird.”

It would make a lovely present, but I was finding artificial birds with real nests scarce.

Allen waited for me in the car as I walked around back and found the door. I looked through its pane and saw a feminine figure at work in the little room, put my hand on the brass knob, pushed open the door.

“Do you have any little birds and nests?”  The young woman looked back at me out of the shiny panes perched on her nose—outsized glasses. She seemed nonplussed by my request, went rummaging through boxes; and found a bedraggled cardinal but would not consider him. He stayed in the beribboned clutter while she went for another box. I looked at him carefully, picked him up. No he would not do. Not with his deep red harsh contours, but I was so glad that someone had a bird I was willing to consider him.

Then she thrust a box beneath my eyes and delicate subtle colors came up at me:  the dainty forms of speckled birds wrapped in clear cellophane. Real birdness in a box.

Slowly I reached inside and picked one up. It weighed nothing and looked at me vulnerably with one eye. The eye was in a pointed head of burnished feathers before a speckled back. Its wing feathers were golden. Its tiny claws clasped some twigs. It was the real thing as pretend birds go. Remove the cellophane and it might fly away.

I was enchanted, could hardly speak, but managed to ask, “How much?”

“A dollar fifty.”

A dollar fifty!  For an enchanted almost living bird looking at me with one eye?  The eye on the opposite side of its tiny pointed face could be seen by turning the bird on its twigs, but when I did this that eye looked away, as though we could meet visually only from its left side.

That this bird, this enchantment, would cost only $1.50 as though two sparrows could be bought for a penny. If gold were to come alive . . . if gold were alive it might be a bird breathing fiercely, containing a metabolism necessary for flight.

This young woman, who possessed the ability to have birds wrapped in cellophane appear from a box, had no bird’s nests. She told me how to make one myself out of Spanish moss.

My crest drooped. How could I go to north Florida on such short notice to gather Spanish moss for my mother-in-law’s bird nest?

“You can get it,” she was saying, “down at Woolworth’s in South Paris.”

Allen pulls into the parking space at Ames, and, because the radio is on, leaves the key in the ignition. He goes off to get antifreeze. I am listening intently to a quartet of flutes on St. Paul Sunday Morning because I need inspiration for the faerie romance I’m working on, lately, at my desk. The melodious scale being offered is like a polychrome tonal scale from bass clarinet to piccolo. Ah.

Allen returns and we start for the other end of town, me surreptitiously looking for Christmas trees, Christmas tree prices. For some ungodly reason, people in our household don’t seem interested in Christmas. Is it ungodly to grow up?  My sons are college-aged adults. My husband needs children under his feet in order to feel the excitement of the season. It would help if the temperature fell 20° with snow gently falling. Fifty degrees in early December around here might also be ungodly.

“Oh, look,” I commented innocently as we passed a truck flanked and obscured by evergreens. “Only six dollars and up.”

Allen kept driving. We drove on to the other side of town, and by this time I had him talked up to a tree. We pulled into a lot where they stood on display:   $29.95 read one tag. He turned the car around and headed in the direction from which we had come.

We pulled into the dirt lot where the tree-crammed truck stood. Off to one side I saw a boy building a mud castle, patting it with his hands. As he worked he called to the young man who stood indifferently by the truck full of evergreens. “Yeah yeah,” he said dismissively to the boy.

I walked around the truck, surveying those goods of the forests, some large, and in some cases quite spindly. The young man followed, his hands rammed into his pockets, not particularly interested in pulling out trees for my perusal.

An airplane droned overhead and the boy looked up from his work, shouting.

The young man said, out of a square-jawed face scarred with acne, “Yeah yeah. It’s only an airplane.”

It must be ungodly to grow up.

“How much?”  I pulled out the spindling, smallest of the lot.

“Eight dollars. They’re expensive, but my uncle sets the price and he’s not here.”

But the sign says six dollars. I say nothing, continue walking around the trees. I get back into the car without speaking and we pull out, leaving the little castle-building boy behind. But he stays in my thoughts.

We drive back to town, Allen looking for a place to get coffee; self looking for trees. He spies the coffee shop, I spy trees in a parking lot, and we agree to park halfway between. I’m to meet him for hot coffee after I check out the trees.

I approach the lot. Another truck with trees. Trees also propped along the perimeter of the lot, strewn along a driveway below, down toward a trailer where many more are stacked like cordwood.

An old man, with entirely puckered face and hearing aid visible in his left ear, tells me the difference in price between plantation and wild trees. He has a few of the latter. His helper, a black-haired Native American followed his instruction, accompanying me and we came down to the wild trees.

“Would you hold this one up for me?”  He brought it out from among the others and held it up for my measuring gaze:  short, spindly at the tiptop, bushy everywhere else. I could put it on a stand.

We looked at every tree, eyeballing them, some he handled at my request. His eyes were coal black like his hair, he an adolescent, helpful and pleasant. Not the boy of the castles, nor the cynical youth with acne performing a hateful chore for his uncle.

At last we came back to the first tree, the wild tree. The puckered man came over and, at his invitation, we haggled. The price was settled, I handed him a $10 bill and the youth shouldered the prickly tree. We headed for the car, still parked halfway between the coffee shop and Christmas trees.

“Is that your grandfather?”  We walked together, the boy with tree and I.

“He’s my uncle.”


“Do you live around here?”

“We live in Hebron. Not far.”

We approach the car and I open the hatch. He asked how I wanted the tree placed. When the hatch was closed I hand him a small amount in today’s currency, but he seemed glad of it. I was glad of him.

We separated, he going toward the convenience store nearby. I went to the coffee shop to see Allen and drink coffee. I had two uncles, two nephews, godly little birds, and a castle in my thoughts.

©️sdorman, 2021.  Used with permission of Wipf & Stock Publishers