Our fine-feathered family member

Unlike many things one sees today, this is not merely based on a true story. It is a true story. My three adult children and some former neighbors can all vouch for its veracity.

It all began when we brought home a pale turquoise, yellow, and gray baby parakeet, which my daughter named Patrick. To keep our new pet from flying out the door, as his predecessor had done, my husband carefully clipped his flight feathers. Home for Patrick was a nice roomy cage on a wrought-iron stand in the living room. A nice place to settle in and get acquainted.

Before long, the children could coax the bird to climb onto a finger and come out to play. He began to think of the cage as a convenient place for eating and sleeping, rather than confinement. Our two Shelties quickly learned that Patrick was off-limits. They carefully avoided him, as he had a tendency to pull their fur while they were sleeping.

One day, he was sitting in his cage muttering softly to himself, and then suddenly said very clearly - "Petrick, Patrick, PETRICK!" That settled his name once and for all - "Petrick." From then on, his vocabulary really took off.

Petrick's favorite toy was a small plastic ball with holes all around and a bell inside. He would toss it along the floor, saying ,"Come 'ere" as he ran after it. Often he wound up in a back room, but as long as we could hear the bell we knew where he was.

The trouble was, he frequently forgot to bring his toy back into the living room. When he missed it, he'd set up such a ruckus the whole family dropped everything to go in search of what Petrick called "my baby."

He also used to "feed" it until the holes were so full the bell couldn't ring anymore. This was cause for another tantrum until it was cleaned up.

This tiny bird ruled our roost!

He liked to lick salt from a potato chip or nibble on the inside of a banana peel. When he saw one of us with such a treat, Petrick came running, calling out " 'Ey, come 'ere a minute, willya?" Then he'd climb up a pant leg and onto a shoulder for his share. He learned to whistle the same way we called the dogs and could say "Pixie!" Sometimes she and Bing came running with "Here we are!" expressions on their faces. One time Petrick sat on my shoulder and said, "Put the dogs outside." This was the only time I ever heard him say that.

It was fun seeing the three kids, two dogs, and the parakeet all down on the floor watching TV. Petrick had this uncanny talent for timing the perfect loud wolf whistle, or a laugh, or a sassy "Boop-boop-bee-doop." Whenever he saw one of us with a tissue, he made a sound exactly like my daughter blowing her nose.

ONE evening our younger son accidentally stepped on Petrick's tail, pulling all the feathers out. My husband cuddled the little agitated bird and soothed him while I tried to comfort the distraught youngster. Petrick once again looked like a baby chick until his tail feathers all grew back, good as new.

The most hilarious episode of all happened while we were bird-sitting my mother-in-law's canary for a week. She told us she occasionally let him fly around for a few minutes. Uh-oh. He flew into Petrick's unoccupied cage. The owner, seeing this, ran across the room, climbed up the stand, entered the cage, and chased out the canary, screaming, "Dummy creepy! Dummy creepy!" until the intruder fled to his own cage.

I suppose Petrick learned that phrase from some sibling dispute in the house. He was a quick study.

Petrick was well known in our neighborhood, and we never wanted for a bird-sitter when we went on vacation. He was a cherished member of our family for many entertaining years and still lives on in our hearts. Not one of us ever suggested getting another parakeet after that. That little character was unique.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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