“Tell me the story again,” I say. I used to say this to my grandmother to get her to tell me stories of what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression. Now I say it to my daughter.
She always rolls her eyes in what I like to think of as mock-protest, “Aw, Mom. Do I have to?” I feign disinterest, which reels her right in. “Okay, okay. So I was like six,” she starts.
“Five,” I correct.
“Okay five, but I’m telling you I was six because I remember what I was wearing and I know I didn’t have it when I was five.”
“You were five.”
“Do you want me to tell the story?”
“No, fine. I was five.” She rolls her eyes again and, as though there’s a chain reaction going on with our eye muscles, I roll my eyes right back as though I were her age all over again.
It was Mother’s Day and my daughter, for the record, was five. It was just the two of us at the time living happily without a TV and going on crazy, creative little adventures like to the paint-your-own-pottery store where we could pick the next mug we would sip milk or coffee from and paint the most outlandish designs on it just for fun. Just because we could. We made our own rules and we stuck to them. On this particular outing, we were going for a “tea party”, which was really nothing more than a trip to our favorite coffee shop. I always parked the car in the furthest spot from the store, not because of the exercise but because it gave me an excuse to hold my little girl’s hand for a few extra steps. She thought she was too big to hold my hand “just because” but accepted the fact that her little fingers needed to be tightly curled around mine as we walked out in traffic.
We were walking and chattering like monkeys to each other when something caught our eye. It was lying on the sidewalk fluttering in the spring breeze. When it fluttered, it shimmered a metallic green, making me think it was a rather large beetle. As we got closer, my daughter recognized what it really was and pulled at my arm to make me go faster. It wasn’t until I was right upon it that I realized my beetle was really a hummingbird, a sweet little presumably dead hummingbird. Obviously the bird had crashed into one of the plate glass windows on the building. My daughter started sniffing. I looked down at her and tears were falling off her cheeks and hitting the pavement in huge blotches. I knelt down to comfort her.
“Aw, Sweetie,” I cooed to her. “I know, I know. It’s really sad, but the bird isn’t hurting anymore. It’s in a better place.” I looked at her to see if she was buying it. She was staring at the little bird with such sorrow in her little eyes. I wanted to pick up the little bird and show her how peaceful it was despite the fact that it ran into a window. The voice of my mother flooded my head: “Never, ever touch a dead animal. They’re full of disease and fleas.” So, I did what any good mother wanting to teach a lesson would do. I reached down and gently picked the bird up.
I think I picked the bird up more out of curiosity than anything else. I had never seen a hummingbird up close before and I knew that my daughter hadn’t either. Sure I had seen them flitting around the backyard from time to time, but they were always in such a hurry that they never bothered to slow down to let me admire them at my own speed. The bird was so much lighter than I ever imagined. I knew they were tiny, but I could barely feel the weight of it in my hand.
I brought the bird to eye level so we could have a better look. As soon as my hand stopped moving, the bird flipped itself over in my hand. The bird wasn’t dead after all (so I could skip the lecture to my daughter about never ever touching a dead animal at this point). My daughter gasped, the tears freezing on her cheeks. A gleeful giggle bubbled from her throat as she watched the tiny bird blink in my hands.
“Can I touch it?” she asked.
“Cup your hands so you can hold it.”
She cupped her hands as if she was about to receive the most precious treasure of her life. Gently I set the hummingbird in her waiting hands. She raised her hands to her face as though to give the bird a kiss. And when her hands stopped moving, the hummingbird stretched its wings and took off in its busy buzzing flight. My daughter gasped. Something magical had just happened right there in her hands and she knew it. We looked at each other with our mouths open, both of us were speechless. Even though we were now on the sidewalk, my daughter grabbed my hand and we walked toward the coffee shop.
“Hey, Momma,” she said tipping her head up to look at me.
“Why do hummingbirds hum all the time?”
“Hmmm…I don’t know, why?”
“Because they can’t remember the words!”