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Mr. Pickles' Solo

Today's blog has little to do with photography. It is about a bird. It's about friendship and loss, but most of all, it’s about hope.

It was an unlikely friendship that began 9 years ago when my dad adopted my ornery Cockatiel who went by the name Mr. Pickles, because he was a sour one, the epitome of the angry bird. With two children and a baby on the way the last thing I needed was sniper spitting seeds at the back of my head. Dad, having recently retired as an airline captain, figured it might not be a bad idea to have someone else around the house wear the wings for a while.

Dad flew his Mooney down to Los Angeles and carried Mr. Pickles home in a box.  Upon their arrival, it was clear that Mr. Pickles was going to be a project in patience. He squawked incessantly when ignored, and he should have been named Pig Pen. He wasn't a Cockatiel, he was a Tazmanian Devil. My dad resorted to opening the cage door to see if he would calm down outside of the cage. He did. He flew, and flew, and flew. He dove in circles around the living room, through the bedrooms, down the hall, avoiding mirrors and expertly navigating to one particular bookshelf. It was there where he stopped, chirped, and found what was to be his favorite spot in the house.  

Dad always whistled when we were kids. As a gracefully silver gentleman, it is now reserved for grandchildren, and for Mr. Pickles.  The Woody Wood Pecker theme song became their duet, and when dad walked by, Mr. Pickles would offer a stretched-neck ovation complete with tune reserved for buxom blondes outside construction sites. But his favorite was Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits. That one got Mr. Pickles every time. Dad would begine the song, and Mr. Pickles ended it every time with perfect pitch.

On any random evening, you'd find Mr. Pickles slip-sliding his way to the rim of Dad's Gin, his wings grasping for balance, his nose flaring as he inhaled the vapors rising to his beak. Each morning, Dad would wake to the tip-toe wobbles of his feathered friend bobbing on his chest, warbling like a rooster in a headlock. 

Every time Dad was on the phone, you would hear the echoed chirp of Mr. Pickles, announcing his presence like a jealous mistress coughing in the background of a boyfriend's phone call.

Then one day Dad called me. The background was silent. Dad's voice was short to the point. He was once again the pilot on the PA knowing there was a major problem, but refusing to cause alarm. Mr. Pickles was gone. It was his fault. He was on his shoulder. He walked outside. He bent over. There was a big wind. He struggled to fly back to Dad. Mr. Pickles was gone.

My dad rarely cries.

Life's tables turned, and it was me trying to convince him all would be ok. Mr. Pickles will come back, I'm sure he's found a Robin Red Breast by now and shacked up with eggs on the way. Nothing could make it better.

Nightfall came. Dad answered his phone the following day, wind muffling the speaker as he walked the neighborhoods with hundreds of flyers flapping in the wind. It was March with freezing temperatures mixed with high winds and unpredictable weather. He knocked on every door, slipped flyers in mailboxes and posted them on telephone poles. No one had seen Mr. Pickles. Each inquiry was met with a curiosity of the devotion this man shared with his missing friend.  Every hour that passed, the possibility of recovering Mr. Pickles got smaller and smaller. Then Dad knocked on the final door of the day. A woman answered. She had not seen Mr. Pickles but would keep on eye out for him. She then offered Dad one shredded thread of hope. She suggested he visit the animal control center.


The pilot had one last place to search for his friend, and that place was in fact, behind the airport. He called the center. They had two cockatiels. The odds were a million to one. The center was 10 miles away.

Dad walked into the shelter, and there he was, Mr. Pickles, sitting in the corner of a steel cage. Dad whistled, Mr. Pickles whistled. Mr. Pickles began to manically pace the cage like a drunken sailor, his head bobbing and weaving. His friend had found him. His solo was over.

The phone rang. It was Dad. Mr. Pickles chirped in the background, morphing with my father’s voice. Mr. Pickles was home.


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Reader Comments (1)

What a wonderful ending to what might have been a very bad aviation incident! Glad Mr Pickles is home and safe with a fellow pilot. BRAVO!

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill Leeds

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