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Davide Castel Davide Castel
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Houdini and Sweetie Pie

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She had a friend.

This is a repost of an earlier true story of our two little Canaries.

Two little birds came into our lives one day,
They were there for us to love, to share with and to play.
They brought us a gift, which was priceless in value,
A lesson in life and a story to tell you.

                     * * *

The shrill ring of the telephone shattered my peaceful morning on that first Tuesday in November, Melbourne Cup Day.

‘The birds are ready for collection’ said my mother’s old friend who lived nearby.

We had spoken earlier about the difficulty she was having in looking after those two little canaries. They were so much work for her and she was getting too old to be bothered any more. She didn't know what to do with them so offered to give them to me for my two little girls. If I didn't want them, she was prepared to let them fly away. I couldn't let her do that, so accepted, even though I had never owned a pet since I married, much to my children's dismay.

I collected the birdcage, which housed the two canaries. One bird, which had been bought as a baby, was lemon-coloured. The other bright yellow canary had flown into the cage one day and made himself at home. We called him Houdini, as he must have escaped from somewhere. We called the lemon-coloured bird Sweetie Pie. My children were very excited as they now finally had a pet each.

The first thing we did was to carry the birdcage to our lounge room, where our family had assembled around the television to watch the famous yearly horse-race, 'The Melbourne Cup,' which was about to be run.  

Sweetie Pie immediately started twittering and singing. He obviously enjoyed all the company and the fanfare. Houdini remained quiet.  Little did I know then, of the impact that those two tiny little canaries would have on all our lives.

Three months later...It had been established that Houdini and Sweetie Pie ruled our household. We bought another cage as they were constantly fighting. Both birds were now trilling at 7 a.m. each morning. We didn't need an alarm clock. I couldn't believe that two little birds could create such a mess or how much extra work that they gave me.

The canaries seemed to take on the personalities of my two children. My youngest daughter took ownership of Houdini, and he would only ever splash about in a birdbath, in front of her. They seemed to understand each other completely, and would gaze into each other’s eyes or else Houdini would sit on her finger.  True to his name, he escaped and flew away on a few occasions, but always returned.

Sweetie Pie on the other hand, was a happy go lucky little bird, just like my eldest daughter. Both girls loved their little canaries.  My husband was not allowed to sleep in. The birds saw to that. Yet he had a soft spot for them and would often bring them inside when the sun went down and cover their cages for the night.

The birds created much happiness in our household. They were like two new members of the family.  At times I felt it my duty to keep them entertained, so I would play some tunes on my electronic organ. It was also a good chance for me to get some practice. I hardly ever played anymore, before these birds came into my life. They always trilled and sang the moment I started playing so I guess they liked the sound of my music.

One year after we adopted our birds, they had now become an important part of our daily routine. We had our fair share of drama with Houdini, when a neighbor’s cat tried to grab him inside his cage. Luckily, I heard his frightened twittering and shooed the cat away, but not before he clawed Houdini’s leg and wing.

The poor little bird was traumatized and bleeding. Very gently I brought him inside and cleaned his wound then put a small bandage on his leg. However the following week proved to be a lesson for us all when Houdini took charge of his own healing process. He would not let me near him any more. First he got rid of the useless bandage, then proceeded to bite off the injured claw. Now he had three toes instead of four.  We just couldn’t understand why he did this until on closer inspection we realised the cat had severed a nerve in his wing and there was no feeling in that claw. Bird instinct dictated that when something is useless, you get rid of it and in this case, it was one of his claws.

We were now all extremely protective of our little birds, but that didn't stop Houdini escaping a third time. This time it was for three days. He managed to return exhausted, dirty and hungry, to where we would bring his cage outside for the day, to sit on the top of our Barbecue. We brought out his cage and he managed to sip a little water and promptly curled up in a fluffy bundle and went straight to sleep, even though it was the middle of the day!

Sweetie Pie also became adventurous and flew to the top of our palm tree. I would whistle and he would always answer and return to the safety of his cage. He had made many friends with the little sparrows who would come and share his food.

By now the birds were well trained. Each day, I would carry their cage close to where I played the organ, and would start them off with a bright catchy tune, and then proceed with my medley of Waltzes. The moment they heard that first tune, they would start chirping excitedly and trilling and by the time the Waltz tune was played, they were both singing and dancing around in circles. This then became our daily routine. I was now improving by practising every day and with an appreciative audience.

One month later...We had forgotten to bring in the cages, and when we did remember that at 8 p.m. we found that Houdini’s cage had tipped over in the wind. That was his cue to escape yet again. This time he didn’t return. My young daughter was heartbroken. I tried to console her.

Perhaps he’s gone to live with another family.’ I said.

‘But how could he leave me when we loved each other so much?’ she cried ‘I hope that he’ll be happy wherever he is, and that one day he'll come back to me.’

I could only kiss away her tears and hug and comfort her.

The next day...I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had found her precious Houdini. His bright yellow feathers lay scattered in a small area on our front lawn. The cat had had his supper. I sadly collected every single feather, wrapping them in tissue paper and placing them in a small plastic bag. I hid them in a container, as I just couldn’t throw them away. The memories were too strong.

I kept this secret from my daughter for many years and then one day, when I felt she would understand, I told her the whole story. She accepted my explanation with a heavy heart, and took the feathers in memory of her courageous little Houdini.

Then there was Sweetie Pie; A chirpy, carefree, clumsy little bird, who once knocked himself out in his cage by trying to fly in the dark. We found him lying on his back, 'stunned' upside down at the bottom of his cage.  He stayed with us for a further six months, singing merrily each day.  Until one day, I took him out into the sunshine and hadn't properly secured the door of his cage.

Yes, he was free again, to fly to the palm tree to meet all his little sparrow friends. Having lived a life in captivity our little feathered bird didn't know you needed to be streetwise in the land of birds, to be able to survive. Was he so naive as to think he would be safe with the sparrows?  I whistled and he answered, but little Sweetie Pie, was just too gullible and trusting.

He had his freedom at last, but didn’t return that night, or the next or the next. We never saw him again.

                     * * *

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