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L’il Sis and The Fiance came for a visit this weekend — to hang out, get the new in-laws together for the first time, suss out the venue for the wedding and, not incidentally, to provide Groucho, their Dominican rescue pooch, an outing ‘in the country’. By ‘country’, I mean not the mean streets of Toronto. Those streets are considerably less mean and scary than the streets of his native country, but still, he loves the opportunity to walk in the woods and romp unimpeded in yards, through rabbit poop, through my house and, when he’s tired, retire to one of several couches at his disposal. Ah, the life of luxury for a dog. And I won’t even mention the excitement of having ducks, bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, and countless birds to play with, taunt, or stare at in amazement.

Groucho announced L’il Sis and her Betrothed’s arrival by charging full tilt though the mud room door, careening around the corner, directly into the kitchen — the place, he knows, where ‘Grandma’ will be awaiting his appearance with several small ziplock bags of frozen ‘salmon and chicken disgustings’ (the leftovers from my dinners of the past two months saved especially for him.)

It didn’t take long after their arrival for things to get down to mundane tasks at hand. I had overlooked one crucial caretaking household matter — which surprised nobody.

As we traipsed upstairs and entered the bird room, L’il Sis let out a shriek. “Mom, what have you done? Look at the loathsome condition of the birds’ toenails! How could you let them get to this state?”

“Well, don’t blame me!” I countered. “I’ve been freaked out about nail cutting since you three were kids. Don’t you remember how you all — and Crazy D and Gill in particular– screamed bloody murder when I had to clip your nails? I’m sure the neighbors thought I was beating my children! It’s a wonder Child Protective Services didn’t get summoned regularly. And Gill had that little extra added phobia about having her hair brushed. Still does. With that memory, is it any wonder I won’t do the bird nails?”

And, as a kicker, I added:”In case you don’t feel guilty enough about that, there is the small matter that it takes two people to do the deed–one person to clutch the tiny bird and calm it, the other to extend its foot,  clipping the nails without drawing blood and causing harm…and human panic throughout the house. And I hasten to point out that you lot are never here to help.”

So we all gathered in the bird room, although without Gill, to do the deed. I feel I should apologize to her for not waiting until her summer trip here since she enjoys this event– a strange pleasure verging on the sadistic, given her own phobia about HER nails. We had the equipment at the ready–small nail clippers, rubbing alcohol for sterilization, tissues, flour– at the ready.

Other people keep a supply of flour on hand for baking; I keep a supply for application to a tiny bird foot to staunch blood if things go south. And they have occasionally. The special bird vet is half-an-hour away on a good day and, although we have had many bird emergencies over the years, my car is not yet equipped with an ambulance siren…strictly an oversight on my part.

Each bird gave us ‘The Look’ as we approached its cage. They KNOW what is about to happen and, while it doesn’t hurt, they resent being held and messed with. Some are squealers; some are biters; some are drama queens; some merely placid and have retained the memory that, given all the truly awful things that could happen, this ranks low on the list of possibilities.

Once we begin, there is no privacy for the ‘patients’. We have no cloth curtain to pull around their cages, as humans do in hospitals, so everyone is on full display. Now this can be a plus if everything goes well. The others all witness the painless deed (done for their health and safety) and tend to calm down. But, should anything go awry, or one bird squeals in fright beforehand (to scare the clippers off), all Hell can break loose.

I guess this is like a spa treatment or mani-pedi for humans — the more privacy, the better. (Although this brings to mind a roomie of Crazy D’s from years ago. A rather paunchy, unattractive person generally, this man had learned none of the ‘social graces’ and had a habit of clipping his toenails at the dinner table in full view of any other people in the room. Disgusting doesn’t begin to cover it…and is a sure way to kill one’s appetite.)

This season’s canary toenail clipping went remarkably smoothly. This was also L’il Sis’s Betrothed’s initiation into our quaint little family event. How often is ‘must be able to watch and/or assist in bird toenail clipping events’ a prerequisite for being admitted to a family? Or even included on dating websites? Don’t answer that.

The Fiance passed the initiation ritual with flying colors and so is now an accredited member of the family.It also provides him with an interesting story for cocktail parties…