When my husband was a young teen, his parents moved from an old rural farmhouse outside of Newark, Delaware, to a home near Price’s Corner, Delaware. That newer home became the pride of the neighborhood after my future father-in-law spent untold time and money perfecting it. He put in an asphalt drive, built a garage and workshop, erected a white fence with six-inch pickets all the way around the spacious property, and planted numerous shrubs, trees and flower beds. After redoing the interior of the home, including putting in a new kitchen, and furnishing each room with lovely fixtures and accessories, he thought the job was complete. His wife thought otherwise! The basement of the house had been partially finished out with interior walls and ceilings, but it remained a dank and ugly place with a huge coal-fired heater. Before long, it too had undergone a complete transformation. A full concrete floor was poured, a new oil furnace was installed, and the basement was transformed into a three-room space, with each room being fully panelled in pine planking.
One of those three rooms soon became a bird room. A fly-away bird venture began with just a single pet parakeet. Soon there was another. Then that young man’s mother got a couple of breeder pairs of the lively and prolific little birds. Soon, my future in-laws began coming home with the back of their pick-up truck filled with a dozen or so breeding pairs of birds in cages. They began building bird cages in the basement bird room. There were properly-equipped breeding cages, nest boxes, and large flight cages where male and female birds were separated, and where young birds would mature until they could be sold. Most of the birds were sold to the local Woolworth’s 5 and 10-cent store. Before anyone took much notice, more than 200 birds called that place home, and the bird room had taken over the entire basement! Visitors in the house would exclaim, “How in the world can you stand all that racket?” My husband told me later that the family became so accustomed to the birds that they didn’t even notice the noise. What he noticed, though, was the dust, flying feathers, thrown birdseed and bird manure. His job, you see, was to care for the birds – feed them, water them, wash their water and feeding bowls, clean and put new paper in the cage bottoms, check the nest boxes, and sweep the floors. Yes, he noticed the birds!
There were usually a couple of birds that would have gotten out each day. He would have to catch them, and unless he, Jim, recognized them, would have to check their leg bands and the card file to determine which cages they belonged in. Putting a bird in a wrong cage could result in a bird being killed by an irate inmate. For some time, the number of escaping birds increased until every day he’d have to catch upward of a dozen birds. Jim and his mother started watching to find out what was going on. They quickly ascertained that there was one bird in particular who persistently escaped, but his cage door was always closed. They named the bird Einstein when they realized that the little feathered escape artist would open the door of his cage, step outside, and then drop the door behind himself. Not being content with just being out of his cage, he would then go around and let other birds out of their cages. Clothespins firmly fastened on the doors were no match for that “cagey” little fiend. He would just pop the pins off and keep on opening doors. As this continued, the time Jim spent catching birds kept increasing too. One day he got home from school and found 25 or 30 birds winging their happy way throughout the room. Einstein had opened one of the big flight cages. Additionally, Einstein was a successful teacher, and many of the other birds soon learned to open their own cages. The only solution was to wire the doors of each cage shut. Having to unwire and rewire every door on every cage really took a lot of Jim’s time each day. Einstein probably had a few other names by the time Jim’s daily bird-related chores were finally done. A few years afterward, when Jim and I got married, he wanted to get me a pet as a wedding present. I had always wanted a parakeet. And what did he give me – why, a cat of course!