By: Patricia Samples Workman
Weâ??d just moved back to California. It was early 1959 and Iâ??d started first grade. We lived in a house with a vacant lot for a yard. It was located just a few houses over from the Harbor Freeway. You could see the signs on the freeway for the Imperial Highway exit.
We had a green and yellow parakeet, which probably came from Aunt Judy. She kept a parakeet rookery in her backyard at her house in South Central for a couple of years. We kept him in a small cage. Grandma covered his cage every evening. (She said it let him know it was time to go to sleep). Grandma routinely took him out of his cage and weâ??d play with him. It was always fun.
One day, I was putting him back in the cage and I accidentally broke his neck. I was holding him when Mom told me he was dead. He looked fine to me and I told her so. Mom took him from me, and then gave him to Grandpa to bury. Dusty and I slipped out of the house, secretly watching Grandpa as he dug a tiny hole at the edge of the vacant lot that was our yard. As he shoveled dirt over the bird, I still had my doubts.
A couple of days later, I mentioned the absence of our bird to Dusty. I missed playing with him. I still had it in the back of my mind that he wasnâ??t really dead. It seemed to me that my family was ALWAYS telling me something was dead. I was in a show me, deviant state of mind. After all, I was in school now, so why should I have to believe them?
We crept out to the site of the tiny grave. We were on the look out for the adults as we began to dig. Dusty had a stick, but I used my bare hands in the dirt. Before long, we unearthed the bird. I held him in my grubby little hands; but there was something VERY different about him. He was stiff, cold and covered with dust. He didnâ??t move around and play with me either. In addition to this, he smelled funky. Despite all the negatives, I still wanted to hold him and play with him for awhile. The longer I held him, the more intense the odor became to me. It began to overwhelm me.
Suddenly, everything came together in my mind. In a split second, I realized the unusual odor was the smell of death. Our little parakeet was dead. (It was one of my earliest grownup moments). I told Dusty we needed to put the bird back before we got caught. I laid him back in his tiny grave and we covered him with the loose dirt. The whole incident lasted ten to fifteen minutes, but Iâ??d learned a valuable life lesson.
In my short life, Iâ??d experienced the death of my baby sister, a puppy and now our parakeet. In hindsight, digging up the bird wasnâ??t the act of two ornery kids; rather, I needed proof the bird was actually dead. I needed to see a glimpse of what death looked like–after the fact.
A few months earlier, we had a puppy when we were living in West Virginia. I remember the puppy running around the floor of the living room. When Mom said the puppy was choking to death, I didnâ??t believe her. Then I noticed he was acting funny and making strange noises. Then it dawned on me what Mom said was true. He was chokingâ?¦poor little thingâ?¦I couldnâ??t stand it anymoreâ?¦ I started crying. Grandpa saw my reaction and took the puppy outside before it died.
A year prior to that, I lost my baby sister. She only lived one day. Her death was an unexpected tragedy in our lives. When I stood beside her tiny casket, my heart was breaking. I couldnâ??t take my eyes off her precious face. I knew that once I left her side, Iâ??d NEVER see her again. The pain of her loss overwhelmed me. I knew I would never forget her brief life here on earth.
I suppose when Mom told me the parakeet was dead, I was at the stage in my life where I needed proof. When someone or something dies, itâ??s gone from this life forever. Nothing can change that simple fact. It could be a loved one or a cherished pet. Although the loss is painfulâ??all your memories, happiness and love continue to live on in your heart. As a result, a person never really dies if someone remembers them. No one knows for sure what awaits us after death. I choose to believe I will see my loved ones again.