My mother loves birds. She loves to help people too. That is how Popeye joined the family. The cockatiel’s owners moved away and were unable to take him with them. Our family had fish, a cat, small children… why not add a bird to the mix?
Popeye was magnificently handsome with gray and white feathers, orange cheeks, and a bright yellow crest. He was fierce too. I didn’t get too close to him for fear of being bit. Well, I stayed away most of the time. I remember a lot of painful fingertips, so I must have had some interaction with him. Like most small children, I had to learn to keep my fingers to myself and out of the bird cage.
We all had fun visiting pet stores to pick out new toys for Popeye. Birds love jangles and bells. His largest toy was an arched ladder that attached to the top of his cage. He would sit up there chirping and screeching. Popeye was a big fan of popcorn too. It was the only thing besides birdseed that he would eat.
Mom got along with him the best. She was the only one who could hold him. Like most cockatiel's, Popeye was a "one person" bird. Mom remembers that after we went to bed, Popeye would perch on the top of her book while she read in the evening. A confirmed troublemaker, Popeye nibbled at the books. It was the only way he could appreciate the written word.
At the time, my mom wasn’t sure if it was right to clip a bird’s wings, so Popeye was free to stretch his wings occasionally. He would take off from his perch and fly in circles around the room. That was exciting! We didn’t like it when he flew, however, because he always ended up on the floor eventually. What if Charity’s feline hunting instincts awoke?
Popeye and Charity got along just fine, so there was no need to worry. What we didn’t worry about was the front door. What were the chances that Popeye’s urge to fly would happen while the door was open?
Well, it happened. It was our last autumn in New England, and Mom was walking through the door when Popeye took his chance. Out he went! He flew high into the sky – higher than he had ever been able to go before. Mom, David, and I ran out into the street after him.
“Popeye! Popeye!” we yelled. I was louder than anyone. Popeye ignored us completely. He was so happy! His chirps were shriller and more excited than ever as he gained altitude. His circles above the house continued on without any hesitation.
Then, without any warning, our cockatiel broke the circle and flew in a straight line away from the house until he was lost from sight.
Popeye was our bird. Sure, he wasn’t loveable or soft, and I couldn’t hold or cuddle him. It didn’t matter that he bit me. He was our bird – our pet. He was loud, bold, and colorful – full of character and spice.
And he was gone.
Susanna ran out of the kitchen where she was making muffins. Her red tearful face matched my own. She was so relieved to see me and gave me a big hug. “I thought you were run over by a car, Elizabeth! I heard you yelling, “Goodbye! Goodbye! I thought you were dying!” Susanna cried.
“Goodbye? No, I said Popeye. He flew away!” I sobbed.
The neighbors had all come out by this time. “Little Italy” had awakened, and an abundance of advice was offered. We ended up putting Popeye’s bird cage on the roof of our house for a few days in the hope that he would return.
He never came back, but it might have been a lot worse. I could have died.