Here’s a story I once heard about a colorful character somewhere in the great state of Missouri. It was told to me for the truth. The fellow who told me the story had been a lawyer near Kansas City. He was coming out of the courthouse one bright afternoon, he said, when he saw a family across the way: a four- or five-year-old daughter, a mother, and a father whose hair was styled in a feechie-ish manner—short in the front but cascading in the back down below the scoop of his white tank top. Also, he had a parrot on his shoulder.
The father nudged the little girl and pointed up at the upper floor of the courthouse. “Baby,” he said, “wave hello to Granddaddy.” The little girl waved enthusiastically, and the onlooking lawyer looked up to see a wizened old hand reaching through the bars of the upstairs cell window to wave back. “A touching scene of filial devotion,” I think was how the lawyer described it.
The errand of mercy complete, the little girl looked up at her father and sweetly asked, “Diddy, can you take me to McDonald’s to get some french fries?”
“I sure can, darling,” the father answered. Then he pointed at the parrot on his shoulder. “Just let me swing by and take Freebird home first.”
Before I heard that story, it had never occurred to me to want a parrot. Now I want one just so I can name him Freebird.
Bonus parrot-related anecdote: A friend of mine has a parrot named Mr. Quito. (To my friend’s chagrin, Mr. Quito turned out to be a she-parrot—a fact that came to light when Mr. Quito was several years old.) When my friend moved to a new house, he locked Mr. Quito in the closet below the stairs so that s/he would be out of the movers’ way and wouldn’t be stressed out at the sight of the house being in such disarray (who knew parrots were so particular?). But Mr. Quito was a little stressed out in spite of it all. He spent much of the day repeating, “Let me out of here! Rrrawk! Let me out of here!” It was discomfiting to the movers, who gave each other concerned looks every time they walked past the stairs. Finally, unable to stand the cruelty of it any longer, one of the movers leaned down and called through the keyhole, “It’s all right, Grandma—we’ll be out of here in a little while. I’m sure he’ll let you out then.”
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.