NORMAN — The mischievous twinkle in Daddy’s eye was particularly bright that Christmas Eve in 1967 when he found a bright red cardinal trapped on the screen porch.
Having started his farm chores extra early, there was time enough to put the bird in a feed sack and implement his plan before the family’s short trip to his in-laws’ home before noon.
To us grandchildren, Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s was always the best day of the year, featuring a full-out feast, Christmas carols played on the guitar, fiddle and piano with singing by the family and a much anticipated gift exchange, usually in that order. That year, we had acquired a “state-of-the-art,” reel-to-reel tape recorder and aspired to record some of our music.
Back to my fun-loving Daddy’s plan: The bird would make an exciting, if temporary, gift for Aunt Jean. When he started punching holes in a shoebox, a cross-examination from Mom ensued.
Recounting the capture, he explained that his idea was to tie a string around one of the bird’s legs, then duct tape the other end of the string to the bottom of the box and wrap the gift loosely with Christmas paper.
Her idea was that his was a “bird-brained” idea. My snickering teenaged siblings and I relished the prospect. It might even be fun to turn on the recorder for the moment of surprise.
Arriving at their home, Daddy gently placed the special gift in front of the tree, centered and protruding somewhat. Within a few minutes, the package jiggled a bit, and as if on cue, Aunt Jean exclaimed, “That gift moved.”
Daddy jumped into action. “Whose name is on it?” Then, “Maybe you should open it now.”
With trepidation, she opened the gift, and the bird, whose name could have been Houdini, was unexpectedly freed to zoom in panicked circles from the living room to the kitchen, bumping into windows, glass doors and draperies, as we shrieked and waved in chaotic pursuit. This was not Daddy’s plan.
When it reached the kitchen window a second time, it crashed hard enough to be temporarily stunned and, in cartoon-style, fell into the cold broth that was soon to have become our gravy. Exclamations that started from the moment of liberation to the “big dip” were loud, but nothing louder than Mom’s “I hope you’re satisfied.”
Sheepishly, Daddy toweled the victim dry and set him outside on a sunny, southern windowsill. We all chose to believe that he lived happily ever after.
Author’s note: The recorder died of old age, the victim of technology. The laughter and the music, however, are recorded on my heart.
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