Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
My daughter Hillery and her husband Bruce own Western Hardware Antiques in Leadville, restored and lived in a classic Victorian a block away and just finished building a very modern house in the woods east of town.
Childless by design, they had a couple of aged dogs, now gone, followed by a yellow parakeet named Tweetie, upon whom they doted. When Tweetie died they missed her a lot but, on the other hand, weren’t ready to take on the responsibility and potential grief of another pet.
Then along came Wallace, a white-bellied caique (ky-EEK) parrot owned by a friend of Hillery’s sister Skye. The friend adored the parrot but didn’t have the time to devote to it. You’d think that a bird would be a lot easier to take care of than a dog, but apparently not.
Bruce and Hillery met the bird and agonized over the decision. These small parrots can live 40 or 50 years, meaning a lifetime commitment, but the little guy won their hearts and Wallace moved in and took over.
Hillery’s dad’s name is Wallace Burton Lum and they named him Wallace Birdie. A bird’s sex can only be determined by a DNA blood test and they had never known for sure whether Tweetie was a boy or a girl, though they referred to her as female. With Wallace, they had the DNA test done which confirmed that Wallace was a male.
Wallace was thought to be three or four year’s old when they got him (there had been several owners), so he is now eight or nine. People tease me about spoiling my dachshunds, Nicky and Freddie, but Wallace lives like a little king. He has several cages, filled with toys and a smorgasbord of tempting delicacies (two favorites are wine corks and chicken bones). Hillery made him a little sleeping pouch and a carrying case which she hangs in front of her while Wallace views the world through a sturdy screen. He has his own room in their RV.
Wallace doesn’t speak, but he can imitate sounds such as the ring of their telephone and has special noises for anger, alarm, contentment, anticipation, hunger and anxiety to which Hillery and Bruce are as attuned as the parents of a first-born child.
There is the wake-up ritual. Wallace emerges yawning from his sleeping pouch and perches dutifully over his personal toilet, dines on berries, biscuits or a scrambled egg and hops up on Bruce’s shoulder for his morning shower, a real shower, in the tub. Then he lies on his back while Hillery dries him with the hair dryer, Wallace loving every minute of the warmth and attention, even letting her clip his talons and file his beak.
They keep checking on him during the day or bring him with them to the store and if they should go out of town for more than half a day, Wallace has a baby-sitter. He snuggles with them in the bed, watches TV with them and loves to dive around in Hillery’s long hair.
When it’s bedtime for Wallace, it’s everybody’s bedtime. I don’t remember if they sing lullabies to him (I confess I sing to my puppies), but it is a prolonged ritual of tucking him into his pouch and turning off the lights in a special order while conversationally tweeting back and forth making goodnight noises until the last light is turned off and the kitchen door closed. And stays closed until wake-up time, so everyone knows to lay in their snacks ahead of time. You get the picture.
Hillery reported that Wallace seemed very unhinged by the move into the new house in the woods. New quarters, new vistas, Other Animals seen through the many windows. The other day they noticed that his tummy was bloated and his feathers were mussed, so Bruce took him to the pet clinic in Denver.
Lo! Wallace was pregnant! Wallace was with egg! Bruce and Hillery were midwives – grandparents-to-be of a sterile egg.
That very night Wallace went into labor, peeping and complaining while Bruce and Hillery cooed and reassured her and wrung their hands, too, I imagine. At 11 that night Wallace, who had managed to miraculously effect a sex change, laid her egg. Mother and egg are doing well, I am happy to report.
It remains to be seen whether he will start liking this motherhood role and keep laying eggs until everyone goes mad, or go back to being his old Wallace self.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.