Life and Death

[This post was originally started on the day Oliver passed away, I put it aside and now at the end of the year, am cleaning up and finishing up posts I didn’t complete at the time of their original writings…]

I woke this morning to the sound of crying.  From my wife.  What actually woke me was a wail from her as she had discovered that Oliver, our 29-year-old cockatiel had died in the night.  Then came the crying.  Personally, I don’t get too emotional about many things, but today has been more than a little different.  Just so many little things that you don’t think about, seem to revolve around that little creature that entwined his way into my life.

To say Oliver has been a fixture in our lives would be an understatement.  Any ‘pet’ that you have past 20 years is pretty well ingrained in your life.  Birds, for the most part, fit that cubbyhole, since some of them (cockatoos and parrots) can live 50 or more years.

Oliver, I’ve personally known for about 25 years.  He was the only thing that pre-dated my marriage.  He outlived the cat that came into the marriage with me and put a pretty good dent in the lifespan of my current cat.

By and large, I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘bird’ person.  I prefer cats.  When I was growing up, at the time of my brother’s 10th birthday, he was allowed to pick a pet.  He chose a dog.  Our parents presented him with a female golden retriever.  Missy was a great dog.  The plan had been to breed her, so she needed a name to go on the certificate that was unique.  My brother came up with “Golden Lady MissaLissa”  which quickly got shortened to Missy.  Goldens do have a tendency to develop epilepsy, and Missy did eventually, so we ended up spaying her and she turned out to be a great dog regardless.  She wasn’t much fun during thunderstorms, as she would occasionally have an episode and hide under my Dad’s desk and have to be calmed during the storm, but other than that, an excellent pet.  At the time of my birthday 2 years later, the same question.  “Your brother has Missy, what sort of pet would you like?”  I didn’t want another dog, so I chose a cat.  I thought cats were neat.  Everyone loves kittens!  They’re cute, cuddly, and a bit insane sometimes when you watch them at the pet store.  My Dad had grown up on a farm and had barn cats, as well as strays that took up residence on the family farm, so he knew a few things about cats.  He apparently knew someone at the local hospital whose cat had had a litter, and on my 10th birthday, I was presented with a little tiny bundle of fur that I named Tabby.   Why Tabby?  Well, she was a calico cat, and she liked Tabby cat food.  I was 10, it seemed to make sense.

By and large, all of the pets that have been part of my family have been long-lived.  Missy, the aforementioned golden retriever, in spite of her epilepsy, lived for between 15 and 16 years.  Tabby, my first cat, 12 years.  Jeb, my second cat, had to be put down when he was 14.  Rochester, my current cat is already 8.  But Oliver really took the cake.  He was around when I first met my wife and was about 3 years old then.  At the time I was dating her, she also had two parakeets, Andrew & Annabelle.  Both parakeets died in the ensuing years and weren’t replaced.  Oliver stayed with my in-laws until their eventual deaths, and then came to live with my wife, I and Jeb.  Since Jeb had never lived with a bird before, we had to be sure to keep the two of them separate.  Jeb was an indoor cat, and very curious (as cats tend to be) and more than once had gotten too close to Oliver’s cage.  One day, Jeb got right up close to the cage, and Oliver, being the territorial bird and fearless (my wife and I more than once had observed that Oliver seemed to think he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof) pecked Jeb right on the nose and scared him.  Jeb never again went so close to the cage, no matter what house we were living in.  Even so, we took great care in keeping to two of them as separate as we could, we didn’t wish to have any accidents.

The same was the case with Rochester.  We live in an old house (built in the 1830s) and it wasn’t originally designed with bathrooms.  So sometime in the last 30 years, someone had carved out a downstairs bathroom in what appeared to be a closet, and an upstairs one in part of the master bedroom.  The adjoining bedroom to the master became Oliver’s room, where he stayed during the day when the cat was free to roam or ‘patrol’ the house.  During the afternoon, Rochester would either be relegated to Oliver’s room upstairs or the downstairs bathroom while Oliver was allowed to come down and spend time with my wife in the backroom addition, coming out of his cage and keeping her company for a few hours.

So it can be easily said that Oliver was a big fixture of our lives.  We miss him a lot and remember him in many different ways.  I may not be a bird person, but I think Oliver and I got along pretty well.