I don’t remember ever seeing a real blue bird, but I had painted one. It was a plastic model, one of several I bought or was given as a gift. I was in the seventh or eighth grade and got up at 5:30 in the mornings in order to have half an hour of peace to myself. I had been getting up at 6:00, then I discovered an educational class on TV. I was amazed. This was something really interesting. It was a college class, but I didn’t mind that. The subject was ancient Greece and Rome, times and places that fascinated me. I had begun getting up earlier than I needed to get ready for school, so that I could have time for myself. When I discovered that class, the time for myself was gone, so I got up even earlier, that was 5:30.
Why would a seventh grade boy feel any reason to get up before he needed to get ready for school? Because, from the time I was two, my mother had put me to work. My first job was to give my baby sister her bottle. More and more was added to that, as two more children were born and I was pressed into involuntary child care. The summer I was thirteen, I was put in charge of my two younger brothers, meals for us and our father, the large garden, (we canned 150 quarts of green beans on weekends when Mom came home, and ate as much during the week) the chickens and eggs, plus assorted cats and dogs. It was the most pleasant summer of my life. My mother’s younger sister had spent great effort in talking my mother into going with her to summer school so I could have a break. No one knew I was desperately looking for ways to kill myself.
When that summer session was over, my father put me on a tractor to farm with him. That changed my life drastically! Now, instead of spending my evenings cooking and cleaning up the kitchen, and the weekends doing laundry, I spent that time on a tractor working in the fields. At least, I was alone in the fields and my father didn’t yell or scream at me when we were together. He was amazingly calm when I broke pieces of farm equipment, which even baffled myself. He was my good parent. He was killed when I was sixteen.
By my early thirties I had graduated from college, begun teaching, married, fathered two children, and built a house full time while my family lived in it (I had finished one room at a time). I had a room upstairs for an office. The first winter there, looking down from my upstairs window, I noticed bright bits of color flitting quickly around near the ground. I had to watch for a while to determine what I was seeing. The sight was certainly not normal in my experience. I don’t remember now, forty years later, how many there were, but a tiny flock of blue birds had taken refuge in some bushes near the house. I don’t remember if there was snow on the ground, but the colors of the birds stood out brightly. I had gone to my office to write, but found the birds more enchanting. I’d never seen live bluebirds before, though I knew they lived in the area, but in summer – not winter! I wrote a poem about them and gave it the same title as this piece.