Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Many years ago, during one of my mother's visits to Reno, we drove up to Virginia City. Halfway up the steep, twisty mountain road, Mom called out, "Susan! Stop!"
A mother quail, followed by what seemed like dozens of tiny chicks, was crossing the road. Luckily, no one was behind us. We stopped to let the fluffy parade reach safety.
My mother, who loved animals, was enchanted by this incident, and it became one of her fondest memories of Nevada. Later that day, she bought me a beautiful silver bracelet in Virginia City. When I flew to Philadelphia the day after she went into hospice, I wore the bracelet, and when I walked into her room -- after her joyous greeting, with many hugs -- I asked her if she recognized it. "Of course," she said. "I got that for you the day we saw the baby quail."
For Mom's eightieth birthday, five years ago, she took my sister and her husband and me and Gary out to a fancy Philadelphia restaurant. She'd done the same for her seventy-fifth, and we'd had a wonderful time. But her health had deteriorated greatly in those five years, and she sat drooping and disconsolate at the table. There wasn't much on the menu that interested her, but finally she ordered quail.
None of us was thinking, or we would have warned her.
When the two tiny birds, cooked nearly whole, arrived on a beautifully prepared plate, Mom looked down at them. Stricken, she said, "These are the birds we saw in Reno."
My heart sank. "Yes, Mom. They are."
She couldn't eat them. She refused to order anything else. Finally, Gary and I ate them, so the quail wouldn't have died in vain.
It wasn't a very happy birthday.
She would have been eighty-five today. Drinking my coffee on the deck this morning, looking out over the yard, I thought of her with an intense, painful pang of love, and just then saw movement in the dirt a few feet away. A mother quail and five babies -- slightly past the fluffy-chick stage, like the young birds in the photo above -- paraded past me. Later, the papa bird joined them.
Gary and I see quail in our yard all the time, forty at a time sometimes. We love them, with their little bobbing topknots. They look like avian wind-up toys. The cats love watching them, too, especially when the birds perch and strut on the roof of the garage, where the cats can line up on the windowsill of Gary's study to watch the kitty TV, three furry heads moving back and forth as the quail do. But I've rarely, if ever, seen a mother and babies in our yard.
It's easy to dismiss this as coincidence, but I choose to see it as a message instead, as a reminder of my mother's love for me. I can still hear her saying, "I love you, baby."
I love you too, Mom. Happy birthday.