Bay Reflection
Vol. 9, No. 19
May 10-16, 2001
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My Mother’s Voice
By Connie Darago

Three years have come and gone since we bid farewell, mother and daughter. Again I face Mother's Day without her. But it's gotten easier with the passing of time. At first, passing that photo of her sweet, smiling face without crying or looking the other way was impossible. Now I often speak to her as I pass by. Simple words. Words from the heart. I love you Mom. I miss you.

Slowly I've moved past the pain, taking comfort in the memories.

One such bittersweet memory rose recently as I held a phone conversation with her devoted bird.

Mom's love of music began as a child. Growing up in coal mining country, she was playing guitar at eight. By 13, she was performing with her uncle's bluegrass band. Long before Loretta Lynn was a Coal Miner's Daughter, Bessie Austin was the Coal Mining Sweetheart.

I believe that my mother's love of music was one of the things that drew her to that bird.

My sister Diana, up for a summer's visit, bought the charcoal-pied cockatiel with his yellow-feathered head and tangerine cheeks on a whim. She'd admired our yellow lutino non-talking cockatiel, Bert, for some time. This bird can already say a few things, promised the flighty breeder. But if he could talk, he wasn't giving speech samples that day.

Diana began bonding at once, speaking softly and removing the young babe from the cage. At first, he was afraid, but within minutes he resembled a corn-starved chicken, pecking her hair, her earrings and her bracelet until a pearl and a sapphire fell to the floor. We laughed and called him a jewel thief. Diana named him Ali Babi.

So off they went, back to the picturesque Roanoke Valley nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge to meet the rest of the family. Diana was still waiting for those promised words.

Mom, who lived with my sister, was mesmerized by Ali Babi, but she could never remember his name. So she gave him one of her own. Abbadoobie. Abba for short.

And so began the life they shared.

As the bird became comfortable with his new surroundings, that promised speech materialized. A high-pitched voice echoed: Hello, good bird, good morning, and he wolf whistled. Mom, recently retired, seized the moment, teaching new words and sentences to Abba, who was by then her bird. She'd talk to him; he'd talk to her. She'd sing to him; he'd sing to her.

Good morning Abbadoobie, Granny's Abba and Granny's pretty Abba were morning favorites, as well as his wake up song. Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear Abba, good morning to you. Kissi kissi.

Mid-day found them sharing lunch and music

Cracker, cheese cracker and It's good were Abba's contributions as Mom served cheese sandwiches, potato chips, crackers, cookies and ice cream.

And as Mom sang and whistled bluegrass songs, his favorites, Abba would mimic the words. making sure he sang each verse and added the chorus in the appropriate place. Du du du, du du du he'd sing while swaying to the music.

Nights they shared the couch. listening to the Nashville channel eating popcorn and drinking iced tea. They were like two peas in a pod.

When Mom moved to the retirement home, she had to pay extra to take her faithful feathered friend. As it turned out, it was well worth the money. She made many a friend as neighbors knocked on her door asking to see and hopefully hear her bird. She became known as The Bird Lady.

But Mom only shared her Abba for a short time. Less than a year after moving to the complex, she had a heart attack.

One of the few bright moments of her hospital stay came when her grandchildren lovingly made a video of Abba and arranged a private viewing in the intensive care unit. Mom smiled and nodded in appreciation, with tears in her eyes. After a three-month battle, she said good-bye.

And Abba?

He went back to live with Diana.

These days he sways to the sounds of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He's even had two offspring.

On bright sunny mornings he often struts with a half-hour performance that includes every word, phrase, song and whistle that his loving companion taught him. Over time he's perfected the pitch, the sound of her voice.

So maybe this Mother's Day, I'll make a call and ask to speak to Abba. And if he's talking, I'll close my eyes, reminisce and take comfort as he speaks.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly