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Sitting at the kitchen table one day near the end of Gill’s visit, we turned to the topic of our pets — specifically, birds we have had over the years. As you, our loyal readers have astutely guessed, pets in general and birds in particular have played a prominent part in our lives. Gill asked how old our oldest living canary (Dad) is. His real name is Citron but since he fathered many of the population of our flock, we thought it fitting to give him all due respect.

As we reminisced, I jumped up. “Do you remember the scrapbook I made with their pictures, births and deaths details, condolence cards from the vet? I bet we could figure out from the family tree I devised how old he is!”

With that, I darted to the living room and dragged the book from the pile. (This pile also includes a scrapbook that contains pictures of the kids — but not nearly as detailed or extensive as the pet volume. In my defense, I knew the kids would be around for much longer than the short-lived birds and an accurate record of the avian family members was more pressing.  I’d also be able to see my offspring  in person for years. Little did I know how MUCH and at what close range I’d be seeing them!)

We gathered around the book and began our ‘dramatic readings’ of the obits I had made for each and every departed bird. “Oh, here’s Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ obits,” I chuckled. They were Gill’s first pair of Zebra finches, the couple that accompanied her to Toronto for her university years. They were smuggled in and out of many ‘no pets allowed’ rentals, drove home for the holidays strapped into the back seat in my car, enjoying the view and the breezes from the open windows. They were sophisticated (if not global, at least  between cities) travelers. They tended to be cranky with each other and with Gill when their freshly-cooked rice was late showing up in their cages. A sharp “Beep!” was the clue that things were amiss.

We had many Zebra finches and they were a horny, busy (in the reproductive sense) lot.I wanted them to have distinctive names so we ended up with Peaches, Patches, Pokey, Grizzly, Sal, Boo, One-eyed Jack (he came later in the breeding cycle and we realized that the birds had been practicing a little inbreeding when we weren’t looking) and my favorite Dopey. There were lesbian relationships, illicit affairs, second ‘marriages’ after a death of a spouse, and even, although we don’t like to talk about it, a bit of incest. Well, they’re birds! Nature often has no scruples.

It was pretty much the same story with the canaries. I began with two — Dad and Sassoon (since the hairstylist was all the rage in those days and our white canary had a grey topknot that looked like a stylish toupee on her head.) That number soon ballooned to over 20 and so the flock was born.  We got to know each bird’s personality, habits, and songs. I blame my dwindling retirement savings on my Boomerang kids but the birds were also willing culprits. Vet bills for small, delicate avian creatures can be astronomical. I wouldn’t begrudge the birds the best in health care, but it ain’t cheap!

And so we spent happy moments reading that some beloved finch died at the bottom of his cage during the night, his faithful mate sitting beside him, obviously mourning his untimely demise. Occasionally, to spare a bird undue suffering, we made the one-way trip to the vet for euthanasia. Only once did we find a bird dead in embarrassing circumstances…that was ‘Crazy Uncle Barney’ who lived in his palatial cage in my large spa bathroom. He loved to be out of his cage, usually playing a hopping game on its top. He met an ungraceful end when he finally succumbed to old age, fell down beside the toilet and took his last breath. Who among us wants THAT in an obit? But he lived a long and happy life. I have the notes to prove it.

Yesterday, when my neighbor came for a glass of wine and a chat, I showed the album to her. After she peeled herself off the ceiling from laughing so hard, she said:”You HAVE to digitize this! You must start a website so others can enjoy this. It’s hilarious!”

So, you never know…another writing project could be on the horizon. At this rate, I can never die…there’s no time. I’m too busy writing and have too many half-finished (or half cocked) projects under way.

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