“Don’t take that!” he barks.
The waiter tries to keep his cool, but his eyes are wide; eyebrows raised into his hairline.
“It’s for the birds.” Dad brings it down a notch in tone, but the intensity is ever present. He reaches across the table, snatching the bread crusts from the plate with his calloused paws. He piles the discards into a napkin, pushes his way out the booth, and to the front door of the restaurant. He’s in a mood so we all hold our breath until he is safely out the door without kicking it or muttering to a passerby. No broken glass; no innocents harmed. We can go. We find him tossing his crusts into the parking lot, softly encouraging a meal, “Here you go. No waste. Here you go.” Crows eye him from above. I decide they are thankful and forgive the rudeness of this particular ritual, which happens at every meal, at any place-–home or restaurant.
He has gone hungry. He knows the bellyache. If he can give, he does.
“This is for the birds.” she murmurs.
She sits at a desk surrounded by scraps of paper, official forms, and discarded sandwich crumbs. In front of her is a long yellow Formica counter hijacked from an old diner, with smelly old timers hunkered down at every stool. Each one wants something. Grubby hands clutch greasy unrecognizable hunks of metal. She is learning. A carburetor here, an alternator there, a brake drum, a rear differential. She writes it all down as if taking a lunch order, hoping to gather enough information. It’s a desperate crowd today. No one is working on an old hobby car-–a vintage Mustang or Belair they hope to pass down to a child or grandchild. No, this is the hard scrabble, the “I’ve got to move from point A to point B today, and I don’t have much scratch to pay for this and I don’t have time to deal with a woman who doesn’t know anything about cars” crowd. They snarl. She didn’t ask for this. This wasn’t part of the plan. She heads out the back door, chest tight, looking for a shop lackey who can decipher the metal gibberish. Out of sight from the old timers, mom sighs violently. “This is for the birds.”
She has known disappointment. How it simmers and reduces in the pan leaving syrupy, concentrated fear mixed with resentment.
I look up. They are everywhere. Little hoppy birds, crows perched on power lines, and scrub jays heading to nests. Our elegant grove of Doug Firs home to hundreds. They sweep down from the sky in between storms, gathering up worms, tiny insects, and pieces of this and that to take back to their cozy nests. They are my guage for knowing when temperamental weather will roll in. I step out of my back door delighted by their weightlessness and ingenuity. They have a way of appearing in unlikely places and telling me stories about the now. “Pay attention” they say. Engage in the mischief (thank you, Crow). There’s power in unity (thank you Mr and Mrs Mallard). You never need to go hungry (thank you, Robin). You are a wonder, miss (thank you, Ana Hummingbird). Use it all, my love. Use it all. (thank you, dear Owl, my trustyfriend of the ages).
I tip my head toward the sky. Smiling for all that has been lost and then found. My offering.
This is for the birds.
Painting by Janel Pahl