I have a routine I follow every night with my pets. It’s habitual and one that never changes.
I always make sure everyone is fed, the cat litter box is clean, the fish tank is free of algae and that fresh water is always available. The routine itself is mundane as I’ve done it thousands of times over the years with a variety of different pets that have come and gone.
I had just finished placing the contents of the litter box cleaning into the garage and proceeded over to the next task at hand which is feeding the bird. This daily ritual involves giving fresh food and water and hanging a new millet spray.
Usually, unless I’m in a hurry to do some other “life” event, I’ll whistle to him to get his attention while I serve him dinner. He’ll reciprocate by whistling back affirming his satisfaction of my efforts. It’s a form of communication we’ve established over the years and a job I’ve done so many times I think I can even do it now with my eyes closed.
Today was one of those days where I was in no hurry so I whistled to him. He greeted me back with his own wolf whistle which always gives me a chuckle. You know the one, the whistle you watch men do when they see a pretty girl. This bird has that type of whistle down pat.
By now you should know from reading my blogs that sometimes, without warning, doing the most mundane of tasks seems to trigger memories in me from times long past. And today was no exception.
It was 1986 and I was getting ready to begin my final year of high school when Dad brought him home. He was a grey cockatiel that after much deliberation I decided to name Pokey.
I already had big plans for him. Pokey was going to talk, shake his head and dance. He was going to be my buddy and get me through my senior year. Yes, I had it all planned out.
The first few months were a bit of an adjustment. Pokey and I would feel each other out. Sometimes he wanted to come out and fly to the highest point in the house. Other times he wanted to just stay in his cage and no amount of coaxing would get him to jump onto my finger and come out.
As time wore on we became accustomed to each others habits. He would go on a tear with wolf whistles for no reason until I would scream at the top of my lungs telling him to “SHUT UP!”. Silence would follow for about five seconds at which point the process would begin anew. As angry as it would make me sometimes, especially if I was trying to concentrate on a TV show or be reading while he was doing it, I always knew he was pushing my buttons and just messing with me.
The revelation of old memories really hit me as I was changing his water today, in 2011, for this bird has been with me now for over half of my life. Sadly, he never did learn how to shake his head or dance but does know how to say “Pretty Boy” (thanks to my grandmother’s patient teaching) in addition to his wolf whistling ability.
Has anyone ever had a pet for a quarter of a century? Usually, our animal companions don’t stay with us long at all. A few years at best for a turtle or fish and if we’re lucky 16-18 years tops for a dog or cat. Most of the pets we had as a youth are forgotten memories unless we see pictures of them in old photo albums. Then the joy we had while they were alive is rekindled for but a moment.
And yet, here I was cleaning a cage for a bird that is twenty-five years old and thinking about all the things in my life that he’s actually experienced along with me:
- Graduating high school
- Getting my first job
- Moving into 7 different apartments and houses
- Being around for all the bands I’ve been involved with
- Getting married
- The birth of my daughter ten years ago
- The life and death of the three dogs and three cats that I’ve owned since my father bought him home.
- The deaths of my father and my grandmother
- The beginning of the 21st century
Pokey has been there for every one of these events and more. Been there even before my wife and daughter. He was there when I was doing homework and going to Canada with the choir in high school. And he’s still here now when I come home from working a full time job that I’ve held for over 21 years. To say that I’m blessed is an understatement.
I sometimes wonder to myself how much longer he has left. Most books and websites tell me he is well past the age for his life span so any day could theoretically be our last one together.
I do have mixed feelings though about how I’ll feel when he does go. I mean, it’s not like he’s a dog that is around you constantly. And it will be less of a burden to not have to clean up seeds on the floor every day.
But still, I think I’ll shed more tears for him that day then for a dog because it will feel like a bigger part of me will die too.