Boys and Water

Part 4

Birds in a birdbath

The Birdbath

I was sitting at my bedroom window looking out on the side lawn. In the middle of the lawn was a birdbath. I enjoyed watching the birds at the bath. Sometimes they perched on the edge and drank. Other times they got into the water and fluffed their feathers as they bathed.

Occasionally a larger bird, a crow or blue jay, arrived and tried to shoo the smaller birds out of the water. Often, they were successful, but sometimes the smaller birds ganged up on the crow or blue jay and chased it off.

I kept a list of all the birds I saw, adding to it each time I saw a new one. This particular day a bird I’d never seen before came to the birdbath. It was a bigger bird, and I could tell from its shape that it was a dove, but it certainly wasn’t a mourning dove or a common pigeon, which were the only doves I had seen before.

I did a search on my laptop, finding sites that listed and illustrated different doves. I decided that the new one was an Inca dove. It’s prettier than the mourning doves I thought, as I added it to my list. It was spring and I hoped there might be a pair of them to watch in the summer.

Mother came into the room and looked at my list. “Oh, a new one,” she remarked.

I nodded.

“Is it there now?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“Well, if you see it again, ring your bell so I can come and see it too.”

I nodded.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

I made a motion towards my mouth, and in a moment, Mother returned with a glass of water.

“Anything else?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“Well, I’ll be in the kitchen. Ring the bell if you need me.”

I nodded and went back to watching out the window.


When I was six, my father caught a dangerous virus and was dead within a week.

Soon, I also began to exhibit symptoms. Mother rushed me to the hospital, where I remained for over three months. For part of that time, I was intubated and in an induced coma.

After my fever went down, the doctors brought me out of the coma, but quickly learned that I couldn’t talk. I was dumb. Not stupid dumb; silent dumb.

As I made progress towards recovery, the doctors also learned that I couldn’t move my legs and couldn’t walk.

The doctors as well as the physical and occupational therapists did all they could for me, and then Mother brought me home. She could help me get from place to place as I learned to use my wheelchair. Every day she bathed me. At first I was embarrassed by my nakedness, but I quickly got over that.

Before I became ill, I was in first grade during the day while both my parents worked. When I came home from the hospital after Father died, Mother quit her job to care for me full time.

Fortunately, she had inherited our house from her grandparents, and Father had the foresight to buy some really good life insurance, so Mother didn’t need to work.


I could read, and at first Mother home-schooled me as well as she could. I spent every day on lessons, but my attention was always at least partly on the birdbath. I loved the birds and thought I might become an ornithologist. I envied them their freedom, but I also savored their apparent joy at being alive.

Mother put up two hummingbird feeders, and I quickly got to know the birds, mostly ruby-throated hummingbirds, that came to the feeder. I was amazed at the way they hovered, their wings going so rapidly I could see nothing but a blur.

One night, I had a dream. In the dream I was sitting alone in a huge birdbath. The birds came, flocking to the bath, drinking and bathing as they always did. Some landed on my shoulders, others on my head. I listened to the birds chirping, and I laughed with joy. The dream occasionally reoccurred for years.

As I advanced in school, I began taking online lessons using my laptop and was able to move from grade to grade as though I had been in a classroom. Watching the birds day after day and year after year, I became determined to be an ornithologist, and I began to sketch the birds I saw. Some of my online teachers grew interested in me, and I told them about the birdbath and sent them some sketches. They were very supportive and encouraged me to continue with my goal.

My problem was how to study birds which didn’t come to my birdbath.

My mother, God bless her, took me in the van to ponds and streams and even the ocean where I could see birds. She helped me in and out of the van so I could get as close to the water as possible.

One day as I was wheeling towards a stream bank, I lost control of the chair and began to roll into the water. No harm was done, and from then on, when conditions were right, I intentionally wheeled into the water so I could be with the birds. While I couldn’t feel the water on my feet and legs, I could reach down and enjoy the flow of the water on my arms and hands. I delighted in being in it.

At first the birds were shy and didn’t approach me, so I decided to keep returning to the same spot with some birdseed which I threw in the air. The birds quickly learned I was the source of food and began to flock around me.

There were swallows and terns, sparrows and cardinals, a few ducks, cormorants, and seagulls of various kinds, as well as many other birds I’d never seen before. I sketched them all. When I didn’t know what a bird was, I looked it up on my laptop. A few times I saw ospreys flying overhead although they never came down to me. I read about ospreys and decided they were looking for fish.

I continued to study until I finally received a diploma high school diploma.


I never became a true ornithologist because I couldn’t do the lab lessons on my computer, but I did become an ornithologist’s assistant at a nearby zoo. It had a huge cage several storeys high with all sorts of birds in it. There was a flowing stream and waterfall as well as a pond. When I rode my chair through the door of the cage in the morning, birds flew down and lit on my chair, my arms, my head, and my legs and feet as I fed them. I was truly living my dream.

I watched them in the artificial trees and in the water. I loved the birds and enjoyed showing them to the children who visited the zoo. Someone had set up a large screen so I could put up my sketches or text from my computer. I used the screen to talk with the children. They were always very accepting of me, and they quickly adapted to conversing with what I wrote on the screen.

Once when I was nineteen, a reporter from the local newspaper interviewed me. I wrote on my laptop for her all about my first birdbath, about watching and studying the birds on streams and ponds and the ocean. Most important, I told her about how the birds always brought me happiness.

She wrote an article about “The Bird Boy,” and it became viral on the internet. People came to see me and my birds. Although I had no way to talk with them, I didn’t need to. All I did was point out different birds and type the names on the screen.

I know there were people who felt sorry for me because I was handicapped, but I wasn’t unhappy. Perhaps my dream was never totally realized, but I was content with my birds. They filled my life with joy.


Boy pitching a baseball

Blessed Relief

Back in the late 40s, before there was a TV in every living room, before there were radar weather forecasts, before there was Little League, there was baseball, and boys all over the country played it in hayfields, in sandlots, in town parks, even in city streets.

Our town recreation department ran baseball leagues for all boys in the town who wished to play. My league for 12-year-olds had six teams. The games were for seven innings. Of course, being from the same town and often the same schools, we knew most of the boys on the other teams, so a friendly rivalry grew over the summer.

The Rec Department provided team shirts for all the players. It also provided bats, balls, and bases. We provided our own trousers, sneakers, and our ball gloves. It was hot that summer, so at first, some of us tried to play in shorts, but we soon discovered that sliding into second base while wearing shorts could be downright painful, especially as we weren’t playing on highly manicured infields and there were stones as well as dirt in the baselines. Soon we all switched to long pants.

That summer was the hottest on record. There was a drought which resulted in homeowners not being able to water their lawns every day. Crops which weren’t irrigated shriveled as the dry weeks passed.

For us boys the drought was a blessing at first because we could play baseball every day, but as time went on the grass in the fields dried up and by the end of the summer we were playing on hard-packed dirt and standing in blazing sunlight.

There was no such thing as bottled water in those days. We each brought a thermos of ice water to the games.

As the summer wore on, parents, mostly mothers, came to the games and sat under umbrellas or in what shade there was provided by dying trees. They too brought thermoses of iced drinks, but I doubt if they were filled with water.

Our team was a good one, and we won the majority of our games. By midsummer, we had ditched our shirts and had become sunburned or tanned, depending on our complexions. Some mothers of those with sunburns dabbed their boys’ shoulders with ointment. Sunburns of course could be painful, but many of us just toughed our way through the pain and the peeling, giving no thought to the cancers which might one day develop, and by August we had all become varying shades of deep brown.

During the summer, records were kept of wins and losses, and we knew that just before school began, there would be playoffs among the top four teams in each league.

In late August, the playoffs began. They were organized as most playoffs were, with the number one team playing the number four team, while the two- and three-seeded teams played each other. The playoffs were a best two-out-of-three. When the winners and losers were determined in the semifinals, the two losing teams played each other for third and fourth place, while the two winners played for the championship.

My team finished the season in second place and wound up playing the third-place team. In the first game, they beat us, 12-9. Vowing revenge, we returned the next day and beat them 14-11.

You may wonder why they were such high-scoring games. One answer was that there was nobody to teach us how to pitch, or field, or run bases. Sometimes older boys would coach, but they weren’t much better. Another reason was that the dirt and dead clumps of grass made fielding the balls cleanly a test of nerves and endurance, as the batted ball almost never rolled in a straight line.

For our last semifinal game, our best pitcher was to start. The game was at 1 PM, and the temperature was over 100°. In fact, it was the hottest day on record in our town. Parents brought buckets of water to pour over us between innings.

By end of the sixth inning, the score was tied 8-8. Our opponents batted first in the seventh and scored three runs on a homer with two on base.

At the middle of the inning, before we came to bat, we ran in and doused ourselves with water and tried to sit in the shade.

Our first batter was hit by a pitch. (That was not uncommon, but nobody really pitched hard enough to hurt anyone. Of course, batting helmets hadn’t been invented yet.) Our second batter hit a double to the outfield. Our third batter was also hit by a pitch, loading the bases.

It was my turn at bat. I swung at two pitches and missed. On the third pitch, I hit a popup to the centerfielder. He was a good player, and I knew we had probably lost the game. But as the fielder looked up into the sun, he suddenly began to wobble and then he fell to the ground, passed out. Before another outfielder could get to the ball, the three runners ahead of me had scored and I raced home just ahead of the throw. We had won the game.

Of course we were concerned about the boy who fainted, but with a liberal application of water, he soon revived and was none the worse for the experience.

The finals of the playoffs began the next day. For the second day in a row, the temperature was over 100°. The only good thing was that our game didn’t begin until five o’clock, by which time the sun was lower and not so much in our eyes.

We won the first game in a squeaker, 9-8. The next day was just as hot, and we lost badly, 13 to 6.

On the final day, there were many spectators watching. Fathers took time off from work to attend the game. Brothers and sisters all came.

It was 103°, once again inching over 100° for the fourth day in a row.

The early innings were close. By the end of the sixth inning, we were tied. In the seventh inning, each team scored four runs, and we went into extra innings.

At that time, nobody noticed that clouds had begun to block the sun. The weather forecast had simply called for “more of the same”.

Suddenly, in the middle of the top half of the eighth inning, the clouds opened up. The rain didn’t start with a few drops; it began as a deluge. At first we just stood on the field enjoying the downpour. Our parents tried to call us in, but we were having none of it. One of our players, Bobby Tyler, began removing his trousers and his shoes and socks. We all followed suit and were soon romping in the rain in only our underwear. You need to remember that this was in the late 40s, and boys were usually bashful about nakedness. Well, we weren’t naked, but we were the next thing to it. It didn’t matter to us that some of us had erections. Nobody said anything. We just stripped.

Siblings who had been watching the game joined us, and the field was full of boys and girls bouncing up and down, waving their arms. Some of us joined hands and danced around, drenched and laughing. A long line of boys and girls formed and began to move around the field, trying to ‘crack the whip’ as we did in skating.

It was glorious. Our parents had long since given up trying to corral us. We danced and laughed and hugged and pounded each other on the back.

With the rain, the temperature began to drop, and at last we started to feel cold. What a wonderful feeling after all that heat!

There was a loud clap of thunder, and as if on command, we gathered our clothes and went to our cars. Before we got into them, we all had final hugs. Of course, we were all soaking as we sat on the back seats of our cars, but nobody seemed to mind. We had had a day which would live in our memories for ever.

So, what about the finals of the playoffs? None of us cared anymore. We never cared about the end of the game, agreeing that what happened had been a fitting end to the season.