Angels in Green Feathers

Today is the third anniversary of one of the saddest days of my life. Three years ago today, my beloved parakeet Sam died in my arms from cancer that destroyed one of his wings. It doesn’t seem like three years have passed already. I still miss him, and I still cry sometimes. He was part of our family for all but the first six months of his twenty-one years, in many ways like a child to me and a baby brother to Collin.

To honor his memory–and that of my first Sam, a canary-winged parakeet who was with me through my teen and college years, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book, Sam’s Story: The Life and Times of a Tiny Bird with a Huge Personality….

“Since we’re both Sam, we have to distinguish ourselves,” Sam decided.
“Why?” I asked. “Obviously, if I say Sam, I’m not talking to myself.”
“That would be fine, if you were the only one who could see me,” he agreed.
“Obviously, Mom and Grandma can’t—or Grandma would have wrecked the car by now,” I said.
“They can’t see me, but other animals can,” he told me.
“The sausage dog will be able to see you?”
“Yep.” He gave it some thought. “I’m Sam One, and you’re Sam Two.”
I was mildly insulted. “Why do you get to be Sam One?” I wanted to know.
He regarded me with mock impatience. “Again, I was here first.”
“But you’re a…ghost,” I reminded him.
“I was still here first.”
“I don’t want to be Two,” I said stubbornly. “That’s like being second place.”
“What do you suggest, then?” he asked.
I gave it some thought. “I’m Sam Too,” I said finally.
“Isn’t that what I said?” he asked, confused.
“Not Two as in t-w-o, second place,” I told him. “Too, t-o-o, as in also.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed.
We sealed the deal with a high five. Ever seen birds high five? We do it the way it was meant to be done—with wings.


“Her name is Sandy,” Sam One told me.
She really did look like a big, fat sausage–a sausage with a head, a long pointed nose, and long, floppy ears. And a tail.
And she disliked us on sight.
“What are you two doing here?” she asked, looking up at us.
“We live here now,” I said defensively.
“He does, I don’t,” Sam One said. “I’m just visiting.”
“Chicken!” I told him.
He flapped his wings and made clucking sounds. He did a lousy chicken.
“If you ever come out of that cage, I’ll have you for lunch,” Sandy warned with a low growl. Then she turned and walked away.
“Nothing like a warm welcome,” I said.
“She’ll get over it,” Sam One told me.




Whatever Happened to Tradition?

Recently, I had a discussion with a close friend who lost his mother this year. He talked about dreading Christmas without her. I understand how he feels. I’ve been through twenty-two years now without Dad, and fifteen without Mom. Christmas has never been the same and probably never will be again. Collin doesn’t even mind the possibility of having to work on Christmas.

When I was a child, Christmas was a major event in my family. My mother was the youngest of nine children (she had two siblings and six half-siblings), who recalled Christmas as a wonderful time in their home. My father, on the other hand, did not have any good childhood memories–of Christmas or any other day. As a result, they both went all-out to give me–and later, Collin–the best Christmases imaginable. Mom wanted for us the kind of Christmases she’d had as a child; Dad wanted for us–and in a way, for himself–what he’d never had.

He insisted the tree not be put up and decorated until Christmas Eve. When I was very young and believed in Santa Claus, they wouldn’t put it up until after I went to bed. When I was older, I got to participate. Every year, it was the same routine: we’d get takeout–pizza, fried chicken, anything so that Mom didn’t have to cook–and watch the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. One of our local TV stations aired it every Christmas Eve, and I loved it. Looking back, I’m not sure if it was because it’s a good movie, or because I associate it with how happy that time in my life was. I don’t even have photos of those Christmases anymore.

Once the tree was up and the gifts under it, Dad would do a quick count to make sure we all had an equal number of gifts. They never just bought us one gift. Often, there would be 10-12 per person. If anyone was short, he could be pretty creative in correcting the oversight. One year, he gave Mom a $50 bill wrapped around a roll of toilet paper….

After Dad died, we tried for a while to keep to the family tradition, but Mom’s heart wasn’t really in it anymore. After she was gone, Collin and I didn’t really celebrate at all. Oh, we’d put up our little tree and get gifts for each other, but it was never the same again. There were no more surprises under the tree on Christmas morning–we already knew what we were getting. We didn’t even have to bother with wrapping them.

There were no longer any aromas of the Christmas dinner cooking in the oven. If I had tried to make a home-cooked dinner, the only smell that would have come out of our kitchen would have been smoke! We spent one Christmas, eight years ago, in a motel room. We put up the tree, but our Christmas dinner came already prepared from the grocery store.

I stopped getting excited about Christmas years ago…but lately, I’ve felt a yearning to renew old traditions. I want Collin to be surprised on Christmas morning. I want a real Christmas dinner. I want to watch A Christmas Carol over takeout and eat cookies and candy and say a prayer to observe what Christmas is really all about. I want to talk about Christmases past with Collin and remember how it used to be…before everything went wrong.

This year? No, not quite.

Maybe next year….


Be sure to check out William’s latest Day in the Life blog–and he has some beautiful shots at his photoblog today as well. Also, we have a new post at our joint blog featuring a snippet of Same Time Tomorrow….

A Tale of Two Sams

Wow…I haven’t posted in over a week. I haven’t commented on the blogs I follow, either–I have some catching up to do. It’s been a rough week–but not because I turned 60 on Monday. Okay, that’s a big deal. Turning 40 was no biggie, nor was 50. Age is just a number, right? You’re only as old as you feel, right?

That’s the problem. At 40 and 50, I didn’t feel any differently than I did at 30–but 60? At 60, we’re no longer “middle-aged.” Think about it. How many 120-year-old people do you know? And I’m feeling my age now. I remind me of the car I bought my parents when I sold my first novel. It ran like a dream until the warranty was up. Mom decided to trade it in around that time. The fuel pump gave out when the car dealer was driving it around the block.

I find myself feeling a lot like that car–partially due to health issues, but mostly due to an unhappy memory.

As I started writing Sam’s Story: The Life and Times of a Tiny Bird with a Huge Personality, I realized I couldn’t tell Sam’s story without telling the story of my first Sam, a canary-winged parakeet very much like his namesake. I haven’t written much about him because it’s painful…and because I don’t know how his story ended.

I had just turned seventeen when my dog Scamp died. I was grieving–and dealing with a head injury that left me unable to use my left side for a time. My parents, in an attempt to cheer me up, gave me a bird for Christmas. Mom had seen me visiting the “Bee Bee Parrots” at Woolworths and decided that while I wasn’t ready for another dog, a bird might be just what I needed.

She was right. Sam and I quickly bonded. He was a one-person bird. I was the only one who could hold him or feed him or do anything with him. When I went off to college, I got permission to take him with me to the dorm. When I got my own apartment after college, he was with me, always with me.

We had nine years together–then Collin was born. I knew I needed my parents’ help with a new baby, so I moved back home. Sam wasn’t happy. He was jealous of the new baby, and made his displeasure known. He was always screeching and screaming, keeping Collin awake and driving my parents nuts. They started pressing me to find Sam a new home.

I could have packed our bags and left, but I knew I had to do what was best for Collin. I finally agreed to find Sam another home. Because I needed money and Sam was a species that was popular at that time, Dad urged me to sell him to a pet shop. I reluctantly agreed…but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t do that to Sam. I spent that day at work dwelling on it. I was going to go home and tell them I’d changed my mind. I’d find a way to deal with Sam’s jealousy toward Collin. Somehow.

I was too late. Mom, thinking it would be easier on me if I weren’t the one to take him to the pet shop, told me she’d taken him while I was at work. She said a woman had been in the shop while she was there…someone who seemed very interested in Sam.

I went to the pet shop to get him back…but again, I was too late. He was gone. I couldn’t find out where. I never saw him again. I never knew how long he lived…what kind of life he’d had…if he’d ended up with someone who loved him and treated him well. I convinced myself he’d gotten a good home because I couldn’t allow myself to believe otherwise. I had to hold myself together for Collin’s sake.

When I found my second Sam, eleven years later–at a little pet shop across the street from the Woolworths where I’d found the first, I wanted to believe–needed to believe–he’d come back to me. That’s why I named him Sam, too.

Did he? I don’t know. I know that he acted as if he’d known me forever from that first moment. There was no period of adjustment when I took him home, no bonding process. He was just home, where he belonged. 

*Also posted at WordPress.