Friday, March 04, 2011

The Birdbath

{our next door neighbor's backyard. i love his style. the old woodstove stands in for a firepit on summer evenings. he filled the birdbath with herbs.}

Every time I look out my bathroom window into my neighbor's garden I think of my parents and how little events can be spun into legends that are remembered for a lifetime.

When I look out my window every morning I see a concrete birdbath. It's a massive old thing with a fluted top shaped like half of a clamshell. The three pedestals that hold it up are seahorses, standing on their tails with their heads holding up the bowl. As far back as I can remember one just like it stood in my mother's flower garden. No matter where we lived it was there. According to my father it was ghastly heavy, but my mother loved it.

When my father decided to quit his job, sell our house in Georgetown and move us out in the country the concrete birdbath was loaded into the moving truck with everything else. When my mother realized that there was not going to be a place at the new house to put up her beloved birdbath it was stored in the barn down by the pond.

This new house with the pond wasn't really all that great. It sat way up on a hill which made it very difficult to get to. It was small. We were poor. I was a teenager and only one of our little clan was happy living there – and it wasn't me. One day the pump in the well that supplied all of our water quit and we went weeks without water. My dad's solution was to haul water from the pond below the house by the bucketful so at least we could flush the toilet.

He had a small pump that he tried to submerge in the pond to make filling the buckets easier. The problem was that it wouldn't stay submerged.

So he took my mother's birdbath and sunk the whole kit and kaboodle in the pond.

It was summertime and the pond was low so it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

Time passed. We hauled water. Eventually my father got the well pump fixed. The rainy time came and the pond rose. The birdbath disappeared. My mother mourned. She pestered, hounded, hassled and deviled my father about her birdbath. Over the next few years the birdbath appeared and disappeared with the whims of Mother Nature and her temperaments.

But my dad never made the great birdbath rescue.

When it came time for us to move out of that house and to the tundra of northwest Ohio the pond was high and the birdbath was nowhere to be seen. And my mother was not happy. She didn't want to move to Ohio and she certainly didn't want to go without her birdbath.

You know already know the rest of the story. We went. It didn't.

And that birdbath became a thing of legend. There were family jokes about it. There was goodnatured and not-so-goodnatured ribbing. But way down deep I've always believed that my mother was hurt. Something she valued was taken, used and left behind. How could she not have felt disrespected?

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to speak for her, but I will say that for me, that birdbath represents many of the ways my father made decisions for our family. He did what suited him at any particular time without a lot of input or regard for the implications for the rest of us.

But when I see one just like it every day out my bathroom window, that birdbath makes me smile. This morning when I saw it, I thought of my mother. I thought of all the things she has sacrificed over the years.

Just the sight of that hunk of concrete in my neighbor's garden reminds me that I can never put my own wants and needs above someone else's just to have my way.

And then I wonder if that birdbath is still in that pond near Sadieville, Kentucky. Or if my neighbor would like to sell me his.

1 comment:

Spike said...

Your dad made decisions the same way his father did. How many times did Grampa move Gramma when she didn't want to go? Like from her family in Illinois to Kentucky. How many crappy little houses did they live in because he liked the land - who cared about the house? It was pure selfishness on his part. Grampa died in a nursing home all alone for a reason.