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Friday, May 13, 2011

My Parents and Dummy

Dummy

Robert and LeNore Whaley
I've mentioned before that after my father, Robert Whaley, retired from the Air Force in1968, he enrolled in the University of Texas Law School (from which I had just graduated), which meant that he and my mother, LeNore, moved to Austin, Texas, renting an apartment there. I was having so much fun with my parakeet Fred (who I acquired that same year when I moved to Chicago to begin practicing law) that I decided to buy a parakeet for them as a housewarming gift. On a visit back to Austin I scouted around and located a breeder just outside the city. A visit to his house was astounding. This old man loved birds, and had them in large cages outside his home, but he also allowed flocks of parakeets to fly loose from room to room inside where he lived, which resulted in a blizzard of colorful birds and their mess, as well as being hard on the ears. He and I had to go outside to talk. I asked if there was any particular very young bird who seemed to have lots of personality, and his eyes lit up. He returned to the house and came back carrying a small blue parakeet, saying he thought this one was very friendly. I said I'd take the bird, so he put it in a small ventilated box, sat it in the car, and the bird promptly proved he was resourceful by escaping. My seller managed to snag the bird before he could fly off, and then, with the box securely taped, I drove back to my parents apartment.

What happened there amazed me. First of all, I was worried they'd be bothered by the unexpected gift, but they had no current pets, and happily welcomed the idea (I also brought them a cage and basic parakeet things). When the little blue bird was let free, and—I'm not making this up—once he perched on the curtain rod, Mom, ever composed, put out her hand with only the index finger extended, and the bird, after a brief pause to think it over, flew down and landed on it! It had taken me months to get Fred to do that, but my mother had a sort of magic in her I still don't understand.

Well, after that, my parents fell in love with that bird, which, characteristically, given her sense of humor, my mother named "Dummy." He was anything but that—the smartest parakeet I've ever seen (and I've had many parakeets in my life). He quickly learned to speak and before he died developed a 200+ phrase repertoire (my bird Fred could only say about thirty words, most of them—taught him by evil friends—being foul language (pun intended). When visiting them once with Fred (with whom Dummy bonded immediately, though Fred was less thrilled), I taught Dummy to say "I've got big feet" (which he did) in one day. Of course, Dummy's extensive vocabulary was improved by Mom being home with him most days, and both parents played with that little bird constantly. They were a family of three. At one point Dad and Mom became worried that Dummy seemed to have developed a severe cough. They were about to take him to a vet when they realized that Dummy had two different coughs: one that was Dad's smoker's hack and the other that was Mom's (both heavy smokers). He was imitating their coughs!

Mom in particular was very clever in the things she taught Dummy to say, and they delighted in showing him off to guests. My favorite story, which Dad would relate with a pretended frown, had them coming back to their apartment one evening with another couple who wanted to hear Dummy talk. Everyone sat in the living room, Dummy perched on Dad's shoulder, but—like pets and children in such a situation—went mute. Dad and Mom tried various tricks to get him into his usual verbosity, and there was only silence. Just as they were about to give up, Dummy said loudly, "Bobby is a bastard!" That led to some explaining about my mother's bizarre sense of humor.

Dad, Oblivious to Dummy and Fred
When Dad graduated from law school, he accepted a position as an Assistant District Attorney for Dallas County, and when that occurred Dummy went with them. They moved into a 25 story apartment building in downtown Dallas, close to the courthouse so Dad could walk to work. They lived on the 24th floor, with a lovely view. If you have a parakeet, you get used to having the bird sit on your shoulder, and, like wearing a hat, it's easy to forget he's there. Once Dad, going to work, stepped into the elevator and as it filled up people kept looking at him strangely. Finally one of the passengers said, "Do you know you have a bird on your shoulder?" Dad looked startled, then laughed and got off at the next stop. Dummy loved the elevator and more than once the desk clerk in the lobby called to say Dummy was flying around down there.

On Friday, October 28, 1977, my parents' building caught on fire due to an electrical problem. Dad was at work but Mom was home when alarms started sounding. She would have left immediately, but first she had to corner Dummy, never easy to capture. She wouldn't leave without him. In spite of loud banging at her door, she kept after the bird, finally trapping him in a bathroom, throwing a towel over him, and then, with him caged, she headed for the stairs. This made the Dallas Morning News, in which Mom was quoted as saying, "I had to walk down 24 floors, and everything was covered in smoke. I was the last one out because of the bird." Both the firemen (and, later, Dad) were upset that she didn't just run when she heard there was fire, but—by golly—she saved Dummy.

After Dad died in 1980, Mom and Dummy moved to Florida to live near my sister Mary Beth. Dummy died at age ten, probably of complications from smoke exposure through the years (parakeets can live as long as dogs do). Mary Beth was the one who removed him from the cage as Mom was too distraught for that doleful task. We all love our pets, and Dummy was a very special one. Do you know the Rudyard Kipling poem about these awful moments when they leave us? Kipling's thoughts center on the death of his favorite dog, but it applies equally to any beloved animal. Here it is:

                    "The Power of the Dog"

                        by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your affair—
But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent,
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more we do grieve:

For when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as long—
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Kipling and Photoshopped Friend

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Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
"Mama Cat Saves My Life." October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013

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