Age 9 – Birds, Pigs and Witches
We moved back to the States in December of 1974. We transferred to Maryland for 6 months and then moved to Tennessee in August of 1975, when I was still 8. I have to say, out of all the places we moved, Tennessee was my favorite. We lived there for 3 years and they were probably some of the best 3 years of my childhood. It was during this time that I began to emerge, albeit slowly, out of my shell. I made many friends and joined some clubs (Girl Scouts and 4H). School was still a struggle, as usual, but aside from that, I finally felt like I belonged. I mean really, really belonged.
Birds – I had wanted a parakeet for a long time. My grandmother had one and she taught it to say fun phrases, like “Bottle of Booze, Bottoms up.” For my 9th birthday, my parents broke down and bought one for me. I was drawn to the quietest parakeet sitting all alone in the back of the cage at the store. My heart went out to him, he looked so sad and I was going to make him happy. I named him Finnegan, and I soon came to realize that he must have been depressed. He never tweeted and every time I opened the cage to pet him, he always found a way to escape. I spent more time trying to get that bird back in his cage than I care to remember. I should have changed his name to Houdini.
I had a book on how to take care of Parakeets and I read it from cover to cover. I was determined to teach him how to talk. Every single day I would put a towel over both his cage and my head and repeat over and over again, “Polly want a cracker?” It didn’t work. Even though he was pathetic and stubborn, I loved him to death.
One day, I brought his cage into the garage to clean it out. I told my brothers not to come in and out because I didn’t want my little escape artist to get away. Well, boys will be boys and they opened the garage door anyway. Out Finnegan went, free as a “bird” to be one with the sky for eternity. I threw myself on the ground and screamed my bloody head off. I was devastated. I kept calling him to come back, but he never did. I remember looking up in the trees for months, hoping that he would come to his senses and return home where he was loved. It actually took a really long time to get over his loss. My parents probably should have gotten me therapy.
Pigs – We lived on a quiet street with a farm abutting our property. The farm housed a family of the biggest pigs I ever saw. When I say big, I mean BIG. Those pigs could dwarf a rhino! During the rainy season, we would have so much mud in our backyard that you needed waders to get through it. These pigs must have had mud radars, because they came running after every rain storm. We would go outside only to be met with swine rolling around in our yard and having the time of their lives. I remember my dad chasing them out of the yard on many an occasion.
Witches – When my friends and I would get together for slumber parties, we would always hold séances with levitations — Ouija boards and all. We also would try to conjure up the “Bell Witch”. I didn’t know much about her, but the deal was you had to go into the bathroom with the lights off and eyes closed. After chanting “Bell Witch” while spinning, you had to quickly open your eyes and her image would appear in the mirror. Now of course, we did this several times and she never showed herself. I have to say, I’m not quite sure what I would have done if she did. Years later, my family and I went back to Tennessee to visit our old house and stomping grounds. During the trip into town, we passed a sign that read “The Bell Witch Caverns.” I couldn’t believe it! I made my dad turn the car around so that I could further investigate. It turns out that the Bell Witch is an actual evil spirit and is a legend in Tennessee. Apparently, it’s the most documented haunting in all of America. All those years, I thought it was a folktale and we were just some silly kids having fun. We were probably playing a dangerous game, but it was the most fun at the time and makes for a great story!