April 21, 2011

A Feathered Tale

Pete and I shared a unique bond.  It began when we both arrived at my very first home on the same day.   Pete, a living feathered gift whom my grandfather had adopted from an ailing friend, crossed the threshold just minutes before I did.  After being born five days earlier, my parents had returned with me, a precious bundle and the final addition to their family of five.  I am told that between Pete and me, we made quite a rumpus.
Hatched a sulphur crested cockatoo, Pete resided in a large, shiny silver cage that hung from the edge of the veranda and overlooked my proud father’s veggie garden.  Amidst the years of watching my father tend that garden each season, from the planting of seeds and seedlings, to the reaping of organic vegetables that made their way keenly to our kitchen and those kitchens of my aunts and grandmother, Pete was firmly immersed within Greek orthodox culture.  Pete had been present at garden weddings at our home, had witnessed the danced ushering in of many New Years with copious amounts of cousins and second cousins, overheard the hunger dramas that went with enduring Lent before Easter, and had even become accustomed to the smell of cigar smoke as it wafted from the living room where my father and uncles played cards with windows open in the summer.  This was Pete’s familial Greek background.
For me, however, Pete embodied the unassuming role of listening friend.  Growing up, I had taken a seat on the white, wrought iron bench beside his cage out the back and chatted to him about how my days had been filled.  He’d heard a lot.  He’d listened as I perfected my three times tables, sat perched as I whined about my big sisters teasing me, and bopped his head as I taught myself song lyrics to the Top 40 hits.  He seemed to digest it all.  Occasionally he’d choose a word from my anecdotes or lamentations and practice it awhile, in typical cockatoo accent that would of course, always leave me giggling.  I found both humour and solace in the way Pete reflected my trivialities of life in Cockatoo.
As one can imagine, Pete learned to imitate the Greek language heard incessantly around the house.  In actual fact he was multi-lingual.  He’d picked up bits of pidgin English communicated between my middle aged parents and me, as well words in standard English, a language I had endeavoured to master in order to blend in as a first generation Australian of Greek heritage at a predominantly Anglo Saxon school.
My relationship with Pete had lasted through childhood and into adolescence.  For me it was a lifetime.  On the morning that Pete didn’t greet me with one of his rhetorical questions, I knew something was wrong.  As I walked slowly toward his cage and saw an empty branch on my approach, I knew I’d missed goodbye.  Laying face-up, Pete’s pure, white plumage cushioned him on the base of his cage.  His eyes were dark and his once iridescent, yellow crest, appeared a shade or two lighter to me.  At fifteen years of age, I raised a hand to my face and wiped away tears that flowed freely.  My mother stood at the door with a pressed, cream tablecloth held over her arm, ready to take him away.
Pete will always be remembered as our loyal, family pet cockatoo that spoke Greek.

Nerina Dunt

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