The Universe and Pete
Story told at ReStory showcase December 2018 at Life in 10 Minutes
by Donna Johnson Edwards
I was five years old when I first held the universe in my hands. I've reflected back on my life and I see it in a framework of my pets! Now I have three beautiful Bichon Frise dogs Bianca, Liberty and the baby Maxi Mae.
But there was a time when my very best friend on Earth was a blue, green, & yellow parakeet named Pete!
The way he came into our lives is typical of the weird way most people entered our lives! Mom was sweeping the sidewalk, minding her own business, when from out of nowhere, she heard voices and could see no one! The Voice said “whatcha doing? Hello! “whatcha doing? Hello!”
The voice continued to talk with my mother and she said “I'm sweeping the sidewalk, what are you doing? Response “Hello! Whatch doing? hello!”. As she got closer to the end of the sidewalk, she realized the voices were coming from the tree in our yard.
She charmed the bird to the sidewalk, by jiggling the safety chain on her watch!
About that time, I came out the front door. I could see my mom -- squatted on the sidewalk -- having a conversation with a bird -- in English!
She gave me that scream-whisper “Get the Colander out of the kitchen cabinet!” We secured the bird under the colander. Mom smiled and said “Now what do we do with him I was planning to make spaghetti tonight for dinner?” And we both gazed down at the bird in the colander! I pictured a “loony toons moment”.
I remembered seeing a bird cage in our neighbor's attic, so I skedaddled over there, burst through their back door screaming “Emergency Emergency! My Mom has a bird cage Emergency!”
So, the bird became a member of our family and mybest friend. I named him Tweedy. But this wasn't your everyday bird, this was a narcissistic bird!
As soon as he got in front of a mirror, he started prattling on, “Pete’s a pretty bird arh, Pete’s a pretty bird!”
He followed me from room to room every day and when our family ate scrambled eggs or fried chicken Pete insisted on joining us at the table! He tried to sneak a bite of eggs and chicken right off of our plates!! Sneaky! And it was the only human food he ever went for! Mom explained cannibalism and we nearly peed ourselves laughing at him thinking he must be seriously deranged!
Our little Pete didn’t like to use his own bird bath, he much preferred to dive-bomb the soap suds in the kitchen as Mom did the dishes. You could hear her “Pete! You’re going to hurt yourself! Get out of there, stop splashing you’re making a mess!” She gave up and occasionally filled the sink with suds (no dishes) just so he could enjoy himself!
Pete was an excellent mimicker, he picked up on the expressions and accents from anyone who spent time at our house. You could truly be fooled into believing that it was the real person speaking!
When I was 6 years old, my father hired a maid to take care of my brother and me and the house while my parents worked. Her name was Irene, she was raised in rural Virginia and had a strong dialect. Pete had no problem imitating her! Irene had a particular way she called my brother Larry and me in from play. A run-together of our names “DONLARE” Pete could do it perfectly and loved to prank my brother and me when HE wanted to play!
After our evening baths, we usually walked through the house naked and my mom would whistle and say “look at Donna, she's naked” or “look Larry’s naked (whistle)” and before long Pete did the same thing and sounded just like Mom! You couldn’t even sneak through the house naked without Pete announcing it!
At bedtime, he liked to sleep on the pillow next to my head and in my hair whenever possible. He was supposed to be in his cage and covered. But we liked it best when he snuggled with me! Pete liked to put himself to bed, in my bed! I had a yellow and white gingham bedspread. He could pull it back off the pillow, then situate himself on my pillow and pulled the covers up to his neck and be there waiting for me when I came in. Made me so happy!
Now, you may think it's a little gross, this relationship, this love I felt with a bird. But it was so perfect --- truly unconditional.
He especially liked hanging out in the dining room because there was a giant mirror above the buffet where he could perch himself and waddle-sideways-stroll along the frame’s edge admiring and conversing with himself.
If there were a lot of people around, Pete liked to get someplace quiet and safe. Under the buffet was a favorite. After a meal the “coffee drinking and conversation” would be held in the dining room and that’s where I learned about things adults didn’t want me to know.
When you're a little girl and you spend a lot of time with a bird; you learn to be very very still and very very quiet! The thing about hanging out with a bird, under furniture, is that people forget you're in the room. I loved laying under the dining room buffet with Pete snuggled up to my face nuzzling me. Even if the talk made me a little sad, Pete made it all okay.
My dad came home one day with a Wirehaired Fox Terrier we named Wendy. She ran off a lot, chasing every garden hose in the neighborhood. I guess you could call her a “loose bitch” always getting bailed out of the dog pound. She ended up having a litter of pups after a dog catcher paddy-wagon gang-rape. We named one pup Sweetheart because of a heart-like marking on her head. Our next-door neighbors got her, but because she grew up her puppy-life in our house, she was always around -- a Maniac -- but we loved her nonetheless.
A tiny girl who is particularly quiet and still ….Thegrown ups forget or don't even notice that you're there. About this time I first understood or experienced worry. I heard things about my father and his behavior,and I knew things just weren't the same in our house. Things felt off, weird and uncomfortable.
One day there was a big ruckus at our house. My parents, some of their friends, my uncle -- a flurry of people in and out. Pete was not in his cage! Sweetheart was barking and running around like a maniac - in and out and in and out the front door --- as people came and went …whispers, closed doors, conversations, lots of “everything is fine” ……… before I knew what was happening, there was a ferocious skirmish ...and in the end Pete was in Sweetheart’s mouth.
Horrified, frozen in place, I screamed ... seeing the unimaginable unfold before me. The adults stopped abruptly. We chased Sweetheart, trying in earnest to save my bird --- still held in her clenched teeth.
I remember the moment my mother finally wrestled Pete from sweetheart’s mouth. He was alive, but Mom said “honey I’m sorry, he might not make it”. His head was limp. Sweetheart had him in her mouth, tail first up to his head. His little neck was broken.
At 10, I knew it wasn't good, probably as bad as chicken pox or breaking your leg. I really thought we could make a cast for his neck and he would get better. Mom said “we'll do everything we can.” I took him carefully from her hands and kissed him, rubbed his feathers and told him he would get better soon.
An adult pulled me away and unexpectedly my brother and I were we were whisked off to Granny's house. We were not packed. and despite all of my objections and questions we were shuffled out faster than jackrabbits.
A Granny's house, naturally my foremost thought was Pete. But I had to wait for Sunday night for my momma to call - as was customary. No call ever came, I knew Sunday came because of church. Granny made quilts for the sick so I made a quilt for Pete - hand sewn with material scavenged from Granny's “scrap-scrap” pile!
After what seemed an eternity, but was more likely a few days, our parents showed up and brought us home. But everything was different. There was no furniture in the living room, dining room or kitchen --- in the den two army cots and a black and white television on an aluminum TV tray stand. Of course, a kid has a million questions.
But there was only one question on my mind - Petewhere was he? His cage was gone. And then I was told he was dead. Mom opened the freezer door and pulled out a form wrapped in aluminum foil - preserved. I was devastated.
Mom said we would bury Pete the next day, so back into the freezer he went.
It was then I looked around the house. “Why is all the furniture gone?”
I ran to my bedroom, it looked perfectly normal as well as my brother's room. But my parents bedroom contained only a single army cot.
The four of us sat down on those two army cots in the den and Daddy told us the reason all the furniture was gone was because he had moved out and that he wasn’t going to live there anymore. He seemed arrogant and I hated him and blamed him for Pete’s death.
If he hadn’t caused all this trouble. I knew more than he thought! Little pictures do have big ears!
He never really loved Pete, he only loved Wendy the dog, he didn’t love me or my brother or my mother. He killed Pete, he destroyed my universe. I seethed.
We buried Pete the next day, My mother, my brother and me. He was laid to rest wrapped in his custom-made patchwork quilt, in the iris bed outside my bedroom window.
Pete filled my 5-year-old hands… I held the universe when I held him.
My universe ---- but only for short time… good times can’t go on forever.
And as I gaze down at my precious Bianca, entering her 14th year in my life, I run my fingers through her soft white gericurils and just enjoy the moment, because I know, you can’t hold the universe in your hands forever.
If times are good, hold on to them … because the universe changes…
If times are bad, hold on … the universe changes.