Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
I slid the 78 rpm record from its paper sleeve, and placed it on the turntable. Hartz Mountain birds... this wasn’t like the records I’d tried out in the soundproof booth at the music store on Main Street. When the clerk offered me ‘bird music’ it was “Peter and the Wolf” and flutes for chirping tones. Didn’t he understand I wanted real birds not suggest-sounds!
Noticing a speck of dust on the shellac, I lifted the 78rpm from its short metal spindle and took out the brush to wipe it. In my hands, it felt similar to the blackboard erasers at school.
An uncle, who worked with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians told me that an automatic record-changer would soon be coming out for personal use. How could several records be piled up and automatically dropped without scratching? What would happen to this sturdy Stromberg-Carlson cabinet that also had a regular and short-wave radio? I put the needle on a groove and my ears captured the magic I wanted. I turned up the volume and ran into the dining room.
The metal cage hung from a floor-stand. Sunlight from the eastern exposure streaked the room. My mother had already taken the cloth cage-cover from the top and my yellow canary was on its perch. I pursed my lips and whistled, adding to the spray of sound from the living room.
My canary. A turtle barely moved and seemed like a blob in a jar. Why my goldfish decided to leap from the glass container and die on the kitchen floor bewildered me, and how did the tiny fish jump through the narrow opening anyway? But Woolworth had something more wonderful in the back of the store beyond the window shades and table linens: canaries.
Each canary was in its own wooden crate with spindle sides. I went up and down the aisle waiting for one to want me. Bird seed wasn’t part of the war rationing, and my allowance would cover a lot of it. I got close to each crate, humming, waiting for a gesture. A flutter, then a few notes, and I knew which one to take home. I hugged the crate, brought it to the soda fountain, ordered a chocolate milk shake and showed the clerk my prize. Unlike a fish or turtle, I would talk to and sing with my bird, and the color of sunshine in my favorite room with its crystal chandelier was perfect, and the bird would greet me when I came home from school, and I’d tell it my day. Swell. Totally swell.
I swirled on the leather stool and the clerk smiled. He dropped my coin into the brass cash register, and I slid from the stool and waved goodbye. Walking along the displays of purple perfume and sterling silver barrettes, I knew I wouldn’t be having my initials engraved in barrettes for awhile, nor would I buy any of that perfume for my sister; my bird was going to be part of my life and my money.
My mother, as always, was supportive and my dad found me the treasured record someplace; he could do everything! She’d lined the cage with newspaper and I could see partial words from Roosevelt’s speech or war-effort or Japan stuff; without telling her, I turned the paper so the comics showed. My bird was happy and didn’t need to be involved with the blackout shades, tales of bombers, draft boards, food and gas rationing, and all the horrible. Together, we’d insulate ourselves with music and the joyous color yellow.
My mother had already placed a tiny water cup, and bird seed in the cage; together, she and I released a side of the crate and my bird flew into its new home.
When my piano and singing teacher came to the house, the bird chirped many times and I just knew the record playing would then make it think many birds were in the room. I told my teacher that; she nodded with approval.
About two weeks later, the bird, that transformed war and air raid drills in school and such to music and joy, was dead in the bottom of its cage. My mother sensed my needs, gently placed it in a box, and we went into the back yard and dug a deep hole. We buried it with prayers, and marked the spot with a small rock. She then gave me some money, told me to get on my bicycle with its balloon tires, ride to Woolworth, and bring home another canary to fill the cage with music. She stroked my silky strands of hair, said it would never be this bird, knew nothing could replace it, but I should provide a sunlit home for another lonely bird sitting in a wooden crate.
Records that were as big as 10" played music for 3 ½ minutes. I squat on the floor in the living room with my new yellow canary still in its crate, let the bird-tones etched into grooves that a diamond needle brought to life be a welcome sound, and whispered “don’t die”. I lifted the needle-arm and put it on its holder, walked into the dining room to the pretty cage and introduced the bird to its house. My mother had cleaned it, placed fresh newspaper down, filled the seed and water cups, and helped me release the canary to its large and pretty surroundings.
We both then went into the backyard, bent, touched the small rock, and I told the ground that another was in the large cage but I would never forget the happiness and singing of this one.
©2009 The Jewish Press
reprinted April 2010 Clear Mt.
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