My Dad was a storyteller. In the evening he would light up his pipe, sit in the swing and hold court telling stories to anyone who would listen.
We had a lawn swing (two benches facing each other in a frame connected by a wood platform); it would hold four to six people. The neighborhood kids either liked Dad’s stories or the swing or both so they would gather on the swing with him. I always felt like an outsider because I would get motion sickness on the swing and had to lie in the grass beside the swing.
I didn’t realize that I had inherited Dad’s storytelling gene until my own kids were small. They went to a school called Kenilworth which was near our home and close to downtown where I worked. When I would come home at night my wife would fill me in on the kids’ day at school, and I would try to find ways to work that information into our discussions at dinnertime.
One night I came up with the idea of a mystical bird which came to my office and pecked on the window, and when I opened it the bird came inside. The bird could talk and told me of being at Kenilworth and of watching the kids play, and it also told me a lot of things they were doing. The kids were fascinated and actually asked me a lot of questions about the bird.
I realized that I had opened a Pandora's box when one night at dinner the girls were excited because they thought they had seen “the bird” hanging around the school. Maybe it was time for me to “fess up.”
About the same time, the kids told us at dinner that on the way home from school they stopped regularly at Best Cleaners, which was on the way home, and got suckers. The owner of Best Cleaners was Don Grundy, a good friend of mine. I immediately decided they and their friends were taking advantage of him and of our friendship; I told them that they should stop it.
The next week at the Kiwanis meeting Don confronted me and asked me what I was doing, as he had asked the kids why they had stopped coming in, and they told him I had said to stop. He explained to me that he looked forward to their coming in and that the suckers were a small price to pay. Also, some of the kids’ parents were not customers, so it was good PR for him. In short, I should stay out of his business.
By this time I realized that it was good for the kids to have a safe haven, a “Mr. Friendly,” on their way home. I was properly chastised, order was restored, and the kids resumed stopping at Best Cleaners to greet Don and claim their reward. To the best of my knowledge, they continued to stop at Best Cleaners until they stopped walking to Kenilworth sometime later. Besides, they had “the bird” to look out for them.
When I was writing this, I asked one of my daughters of her memories and she indicated that even into high school and college a common explanation of how they knew something was that, “a little bird told me.” I do know that when I looked up her Ph.D. thesis on some esoteric area of laser physics I actually checked and “a little bird” was not referenced as a source. Nor for that matter was I.
I still think of those stories when I drive downtown, but now I know that the kids remember the “little bird” fondly, as well as Don Grundy.