I was raised in the tropics. My first blast of winter air was memorable; almost frightening. During my first year of medical school in St. Louis we had a mild fall. A couple of times I had complained to my roommate about the cool days. He laughed at me.
“This is nothing,” he said.
I went to Puerto Rico for Christmas vacation. On the day I came back I stepped outside the Lambert airport terminal to catch a cab. I almost fell over backwards. Everything seemed to be frozen. My nose began to run. I had left my winter coat at the dorm. I seriously felt that I could die if I had to wait for more than a few minutes.
After this rude introduction to old man Winter I made an effort to schedule vacation time during January. I figured that breaking up the winter months would make the cold spell seem shorter. And so it has been. Early January we used to pack the kids for a week’s stay in Puerto Rico. These days we go by ourselves.
Before I continue the story I have to take you back to Christmas. A nice holiday. Not my favorite. I’m very much for the family time and an occasional carol. I’m not so much into the presents (in fact, we no longer give each other anything at this time). I think we should help the less fortunate; we should have a nice dinner with friends, and call it quits at that.
Unfortunately the children’s school sees Christmas as a fund raising opportunity. In this particular year they sold wreaths. The kind that you hang on your front door. There’s always green in these things; usually some form of ornament and color in the periphery.
We were told that some student’s mom had spent so long making these things; that they were of great quality; that there was no way we could find a better wreath anywhere.
But what if we don’t want a wreath? My children are Jewish; I felt pressure that I thought was a bit out of line.
“Buy the stupid wreath,” says my wife.
She hung it on the front door. The Jewish kids liked it. Nobody got hurt. Score one for my wife, the mistress of compromise.
On the day that we were supposed to leave for Puerto Rico the cab came for us at 4AM. Yes; I like to be at the airport early. My children have not learned this habit from me; they cut it as close as they possibly can. Let me make my case: I have never missed a flight. Stuff goes wrong. Leave early.
It was freezing outside. I saw the cab’s lights approach. I hollered at the kids, for the umpteenth time, that they had to be ready NOW. Four grumpy sleepy sour faced children walked to the door. I opened the door. In flew the bird that had sought shelter in our wreath. Thrilled to death, no doubt, to be able to get away from the cold.
I hollered. The kids screamed. My wife was in the kitchen getting some snacks ready.
“What’s going on?” she says. At which time the bird swoops by her head.
“Oh my God!”
We devise a plan of action. The kids stay in the cab. We had high ceilings at our house. We could not reach the top even with a broom. We leave the front door and the garage door open. We run around like two crazy people; she carrying a broom; me wielding a mop, trying to gently coax the bird to fly towards the door.
By now the creature has realized that he/she is not welcome in this place. It wants out; of course it doesn’t know which way to go. Seeing two angry humans coming at it with long sticks does not help the bird’s composure.
Now I’m grateful that I asked the cab to come early. But I realize that this spare time will soon go to waste. I get a bit energetic with my mop waving. The bird gets nicked; flies up; runs into the ceiling; leaves a blood stain where it hit.
“He’s bleeding,” says my wife.
He shouldn’t have come in here in the first place. He stays outside, we feed him. This is our place.
“I feel bad.”
And I feel late. You want to leave him in here for the holidays?
Besides, it wasn’t my idea to buy the stupid wreath.
Now I did it. That’s two penalty minutes against me. She will collect those later on.
At long last, through some form of divine intervention, we manage to guide the bird into the garage. We immediately close the door that leads into the kitchen, but only after we open the overhead door that leads outside. I sense victory.
Bags are collected. All we have to do is close the overhead garage door. My wife heads out the front door with the last of the baggage.
“Go look in the garage. Make sure that he’s gone.”
I open the garage door.
I’m screaming. A huge owl with a five foot wing span is standing there, looking straight at me.
“What’s wrong?” She comes running to me.
There’s this big ___ ___ owl in our garage.
“What about the bird?”
You go out there and look for it. This owl looks like it can take me on with its feet tied together. I’m not going out there.
She walks to the garage door with great determination. She opens the door a slit, then some more. The owl is gone. So is the bird.
“She ate the bird,” she says. “I feel bad. She must have smelled the blood.”
I come very close to saying how happy I am that both birds are no longer part of our lives. I think better; it’s not a good time to start off our trip on a sour note. And I already have two penalty minutes against me.
I know. I feel bad too.
I hug her. But only for a second. The cab is waiting, and we have no more time to spare.
It was a nice trip. The wreath mysteriously disappeared soon after we got back from vacation. We did not buy a new one the next year. We gave some money to the school instead.