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Emotional Nesting

It was a rather old birdhouse and, quite frankly, I did not see its appeal, but then again, I’ve never been a connoisseur of birdhouses.

Full disclosure: Except for cardinals, I hate birds. I never feed them lest a Hitchcockian flock storm after me. That is the stuff of nightmares. So, although I may consider some birdhouses cute, they are not my thing.

This story is about no ordinary birdhouse, though. A young couple I know was moving from one home to another, and the birdhouse on their patio had been hosting baby starlings, four of them. The busy mother frequented them, delivering worms. Days and weeks passed and it seemed the little babies should be ready to fly, but nothing happened. Perhaps it was the angle of the sun, or the peaceful setting, but those babies were content to stay put in their little homestead.

The trouble was that moving day was looming.

Conventional wisdom says that moving a birdhouse, or disturbing a nest, will prevent the mother bird from returning. Herein lies the difference between us and birds. A human mother would never stop looking for her babies, would never let anything stand in between their being together. Not so with mama birds—proof, I say, of the evilness of the creatures —and so the dilemma over how to relocate this birdhouse to the new house.

Rapping on the roof of the birdhouse didn’t work. Those baby birds just rolled their eyes and continued basking in their cozy den. Shaking it didn’t matter either. And so moving day arrived and the big truck came and went and the birdhouse was left, with its occupants, for the time being. The woman made arrangements with the apartment complex to return in a day or two to retrieve the birdhouse; by that time, hopefully the fledglings would have learned to fly.

Why not just leave the birdhouse behind? Well, you see, all of this kerfuffle was not over just any wooden aviary. That birdhouse was the young man’s last birthday gift from his grandmother. While I look at the birdhouse and see a not-that-cute dwelling and while the baby birds see a free hangout space, this young man looks at the birdhouse and remembers his grandmother and her love of nature. He recalls the crafts fair they strolled through, in the crisp autumn weather before his birthday, the last she would celebrate with him. He remembers her choosing that birdhouse because it had an Ole Miss logo on it, and that was his team.

Mona wasn’t just a sweet old lady but the sum of her stories. She lived in the same house for over three decades and was prom queen at Elvis Presley’s high school. Her marriage spanned five decades. And she was a second mom in the way so many of our grandmothers were. All of these things the young man sees when he looks at that weathered birdhouse.  And, of course, he can’t see the birdhouse without remembering Mona’s sudden death months after his birthday—an unexpected event taking the life of a woman who was larger than life to him.

It’s understandable, then, that this young man was concerned with preserving the birdhouse.

This is why, when the woman returned to the apartment complex a couple of days post-move to retrieve the birdhouse, she was alarmed to find it not there. Upon asking, she learned that unfortunately the maintenance crew did not get the memo about the birdhouse: Everything from the couple’s patio had been sent to the heavy-duty trash compactor on the property.

Because this wasn’t just any birdhouse, this was Mona’s birdhouse, the woman chased down the facilities manager, asking him to let her check the compactor. She must have had quite the countenance to convince him to actually get into the compactor himself to search. They both knew it was a futile attempt; after all, the compactor was automatic, and the maintenance man could already discern that he was stepping into rubble.

But that’s not where the story ends.

The worker found the birdhouse, intact, perched amongst the debris, with virtually everything surrounding it crushed to smithereens, as Mona—a Southern lady—would undoubtedly have said. A lucky coincidence? A divine intervention? Or perhaps the protective hand of a grandmother once again touching a beloved grandson.

The infamous heirloom birdhouse now lives on a new patio. Vacant, it is ready for new life. And I have to believe that somewhere—far from our sight and our understanding—a grandmother smiles.

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