It was growing dusky-dark, that magic hour between daylight and dark, when the children squeeze in every minute of play that they possibly can. Reuben ran through the yard yelling to me in excitement. He had something tenderly cupped in his hands and said, “Oh look, Mommaw, at what I found!”
He opened his hands carefully to reveal a tiny fluttering object, with beady eyes and a sheen of blue-green feathers. Reuben went on to explain, “I heard something rustling in the ditch and it scared me. I thought it was a snake, and then I saw it was a little bird that couldn’t fly.”
Together we examined the frightened creature, and discovered that it was injured. It looked as if a cat had caught it and dug sharp claws in its breast and wing. It was bleeding slightly, and lay quivering. The grandchildren have always brought injured and orphaned animals to me, and we try to nurse them back to health or adulthood so they can be released. I couldn’t tell how badly this little bird was injured, but we had to try. We found a sturdy cardboard box, and put a layer of wood shavings in the bottom, adding a jar lid full of water.
Morgan and Molly (great-grandchildren) ran to their Nana’s to bum some cockatiel food, and I added a teaspoon full of finch seed. It was an unusual bird, with a forked tail and short beak. We looked it up in the bird book and discovered it was a tree swallow.
The next morning it seemed better, and we gave it fresh food and water. It survived the following night, and the next morning when I checked on it, I got quite a surprise. It had laid a tiny egg in the corner of the box! We were hopeful then that it was going to survive, but the next day it was listless and clung to my finger. Infection had started in the wing, and the following morning, we found it had died.
We mourned over it, and I buried it beneath the overspreading catalpa tree close to the creek. It was just one of many wild creatures that we had loved and lost. If Christ notes the sparrow that falls to the ground, then why shouldn’t we have pity on the helpless ones?
There is no better way for our children to learn compassion than to minister to a hurt animal. There are lessons learned here of life and death, and children raised in the country are exposed early to these facts of life. In learning to cope with these small sorrows, they are better able to cope with major heartaches.
Memorial Day will always be May 30 to me, although we did have a family gathering this past Monday. At one time, families gathered at the family cemeteries to honor their deceased loved ones by decorating their graves with flowers. It was also a time for a family reunion, with an afternoon of picnicking and visiting together.
It was a way of passing on remembrances of dead ancestors to the younger generation, and keeping family traditions alive. It gave a sense of continuity to the family, and forged deeper ties of kinship.
There are still families who carry on this tradition, but in many places it has evolved to a cookout together, and visiting the family cemetery later.
The important thing is the gathering together of the family, as so many people are scattered here and there in this age. Children lose their sense of belonging, and it is a great loss. No one can take the place of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
We had a wonderful day together, and after dinner some of us took a group of the little ones and walked on the hill to the family cemetery. We made bouquets of piney roses (peonies), Grandma O’Dell’s graveyard rose, and mock orange blossoms. On the way up the hill the little girls picked daisies, golden hawkweed and ferns.
They were astonished at the many kinfolk buried there. Morgan, Molly and Becca looked at the gravestone of their great-great-great grandparents and couldn’t fathom the relationship. The girls solemnly strewed wildflowers on every grave, and questioned Patty about “her little baby” that was buried there. It was a sacred and unforgettable time — a time that the girls won’t forget.
My friend Ellie has urged me to include some of the children’s funny sayings, so to oblige her; I’ll try to include some from time to time.
Regina brought Morgan and Molly down to visit Mom the other day. They are only a year apart but quite different in temperament. Morgan is quiet and ladylike, but Molly is a live wire.
Molly wandered around the living room for awhile, and then sat down on the couch beside me. After about 45 minutes, their mother told them, “Well girls, we have to be going. I have more laundry to do.” Molly looked up at me seriously and remarked, “I figured you were going to ask us if we wanted a snack or something!”
Cousin Alyce Faye