Valley, Ala.

A Rough Day for Redbirds

By JL Strickland

When school starts every fall, I think about Daisy Red Ryder BB guns and angry redheaded women. Let me explain:

When I was a 10-year-old boy living in the Fairfax (Alabama) Mill village, a teenage neighbor girl gave me a cardboard box filled with her discarded treasures: among other things, a softball and glove, a wooden spinning top with a metal tip, a bolo paddle, a harmonica, some barely read comic books and the grandest gift of all, her old Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.

This generous young lady was starting her first year at Valley High School within a week and putting away her childish things.

The Daisy BB gun came with the proviso that my parents didn’t object to me having it. The hard part would be persuading my feisty, redheaded mother to let me keep it.

At first Mother said no. As they told Ralphie in Jean Shepherd's classic "A Christmas Story," she said I would "shoot my eye out." (We knew two boys and one girl who had suffered that horrible fate. That frightening knowledge didn't help my cause.)

However, after hours of my pleading, cajoling and begging for mercy, Mother finally gave in and let me keep the BB gun — with a stern admonition that I had better not use it to shoot birds.

As if blundering into a trap ordained by fate, when I ran out of the house with the air rifle, the first sound I heard was a bird whistling in loud, sharp chirps.

There, perched high in a tall chinaberry tree in front of me was a redbird, singing at the top of his tiny, arrogant lungs. Obviously, taunting me. Asking for it.

I hesitated for a second, but, as often in my blunder-filled life, temptation overwhelmed me. I lifted the Daisy and squeezed off a shot, never dreaming I would actually hit the bird.

To my astonishment, the redbird jumped and tumbled down through the limbs, landing with a soft "plop" near my tennis-shod feet. When I picked it up, the bird drooped in my hand like a limp red sock.

Shame and remorse washed over me. Dropping the Red Ryder carbine, I ran with the redbird back into our house. Praying that I could somehow revive the bird, I held it under the kitchen tap.

I was running cold water over the redbird's head and apologizing aloud to the limp avian corpse when my mother came into the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"Nothing," I lied. "Just washing my hands."

Stepping closer, she saw the redbird and shrieked, "Did you shoot that bird? What did I just tell you?"

I feared my mother's wrath. Like many redheaded people, when she got angry, she got mad all the way down to the ground and even madder on the way back up.

She severely chastised me for killing the bird. Feeling I deserved it, I stood there meekly and took every stinging verbal lash. I was still holding the lifeless redbird carcass in my hand.

Calming down, Mother reached over and gently stroked the redbird's dangling head with her bony freckled finger. It was another of her devious tricks.

"Poor little redbird," she said pitifully. "What will his mother think when he doesn't come home tonight?"

My mother knew more mind games than a CIA interrogator. She could lay enough guilt on me to fill a Boy Scout backpack.

"But, oh no, Mama Redbird's baby won't be coming home tonight, will he?" Mother continued, sadly. Then in a louder voice she shouted, "Because some mean, hateful smart aleck murdered her baby — and that would be you, mister!"

Fighting tears, I was looking down at the redbird. Then, suddenly, after a spasm, the bird's eyes popped open, and vigorously flapping its wings, the terrified bird flew out of my hand, right into Mother's startled face.

Flying crazily through the three-room house, the bird crashed into objects on the mantle and the dresser. Wildly flapping through the kitchen, it broke a drinking glass and knocked loose the curtain rod over the sink.

It was more than my excitable mother could bear. Grabbing her broom, she started swinging. (This redbird was having a really bad day.)

On the redbird's final swoop, she caught it midair, in the broom's sweet spot, and swatted the hapless critter hard against the kitchen wall, killing it graveyard dead. Again.

I knew better than to add my commentary; emotions were running way too high. However, when I was lying in bed that night and the small house was still, I yelled into the darkness, "Poor little redbird. I wonder what his mother thought when he didn't come home tonight?"

 After a pause, from the next room I heard, "I hope you don't think that's funny."

 Actually, I sorta did.


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