I was in the dining room yesterday — cleaning up cat hair most likely — when I looked out the bay window at the huge butterfly bush that camouflages part of our house from our neighbor’s. In the summer time, the butterfly bush is lush, filled with purple flowers that attract fluttering butterflies of a variety of hues and sizes. Right now, though, it’s barely spring and the bush is still mostly bare. Birds like it, though, and thanks to our neighbor’s bird feeders, a lot of birds make it over to our yard.
A red cardinal had landed in the bush, and we looked at each other.
After my grandfather died, a cardinal started hanging out around my house. And by hanging around, I don’t mean it sat placidly in a tree or bush doing whatever birds do. This bird made itself known. It flapped at the window every day as if it wanted to come inside. After a few days, I made a mush of bread and milk in a tin pan and took it outside for the bird. Would a bird eat that? I don’t know. Those were the days before the Internet and to my 8-year-old self, it sounded plausible.
My parents and I sort of joked that maybe that cardinal was my grandfather, returning to tell us he was ok. Except that we weren’t really joking and being predisposed to fairy tales, ghost stories and other mysteries of the world, I believed it. After a month of daily visits, the bird vanished one day, and I’ve never encountered another bird as tame, as insistent as that cardinal. That story became legendary in my family, and I’ve always associated cardinals with my grandfather and father sort of as if it were our family bird.
I called over Daniel, picked him up and pointed out the bird. We looked at it together and then some noise, maybe something on the tv, made me turn away. When I looked back, the bird was gone.
My father’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 68.
Maybe, just maybe…