Sunday, February 21, 2010


When I was a tot, our family had a canary named Cheap. The bird was named by my mother when my father, who wanted to buy a canary for himself, gave dear Momma a canary for her birthday. The bird never sang and Momma, who had to clean the birdcage and feed this hungry if quiet pet, named the bird Cheap in honor of the old man's parsimony. Sadly, one day poor old Cheap passed away.

People who have children know that a dead pet can never be replaced by the no pet option, however well that may serve the furniture and the family budget. Naturally the kids wanted a replacement for dear old Cheap. By this time my big brother was preoccupied with baseball and I, an eight year old, was left with the task of keeping up the inquiries concerning when we were going to get a new canary. I was weepy about losing our beloved Cheap, and the folks, perhaps realizing how lucky they were that we didn't want a dog, promised us a new canary.

Why a new bird didn't just materialize in the family I don't know, but it was decided that the bird would be my birthday gift. Being a December baby, dear Momma was relieved to have a fall where she didn't have to deal with bird baths and Hartz Mountain bird seed and gravel. Come November, my father and I started making expeditions to visit old Henry, who raised canaries in Bogota New Jersey. He had a huge labyrinth of bird houses beyond his driveway and he posed quite an interesting figure, always wearing a golf hat. My father asked him how old he was. He said he was ninety-eight years old.

One problem, though, is that he didn't have any canaries for sale for the first three visits. Whether this was caused by the weather in the Caribbean or because he wanted to make sure my father and myself would make good parents I don't know.

Finally, one Sunday after mass, my father drove us to the house and Henry greeted us with good news. He had canaries for sale. I looked through the birds and picked out one I liked. It had a cute hat like structure on the top of his head. Henry said I had good taste. My father turned ashen for a moment, seeing that I had picked out an expensive specimen of the species.

Nevertheless, we brought the bird home and my mother seemed happy to see the new addition. I got naming rights and I named the bird Henry, after the wizened old bird dealer. Henry was a fine member of the family and it sang and kept my mother company in the house when the rest of the family was away and Arthur Godfrey was not on television.

A few years later my brother had a New Year's eve party and the bird caught a draft and died on New Year's day. That was the last bird the family ever had. The next year we got a cat.

Editor's note: I have a new blog on Brigitte Bardot on the Sixties blog.

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