My mom was a gentle little bird. Small in stature but looming large in spirit, she was like a smart and delicate wren; the way she would appear as if she was not intently observing me engaged in mischief, her manner of nibbling at small portions of food, her stashing away of tiny essentials in her purse – a safety pin, a Q-tip, a piece of gum – which she would produce at a moment’s need, how she would alternately flit about in quick movements then perch silently away from the chaos of an energetic household.
One day when I was in middle school, my mom and I came home to find a bird trapped in our basement. The two of us engaged in a joyful pursuit of the bird, attempting to guide it gently up the stairs and out an opened back door, which my mother handled expertly with aplomb and a superb grace, beaming from her petite face over our loving feat.
My mom was quiet, non-judgemental and kind, possessive of a peaceful wisdom that only another old soul can recognize. She could see the hidden talents and abilities in all of her seven children and encouraged us to grow into ourselves in our own time. My special interest as a kid was books. I still recall resting snugly in my mom’s lap at age four while she taught me how to read. As a child, we would walk hand in hand to the bookmobile every Tuesday night in the summers to pick up an exciting collection of books.
A big event for the two of us during the school year was the annual book fair at my elementary school, where one year she bought me the hardcover of Roald Dahl’s, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, a real treasure. With both my parents on teacher’s salaries, we didn’t always get everything we wanted but my mom spared no expense when it came to books for her youngest child. Recognizing my passion for the printed page, it was the one thing she knew she would always do for me. In high school, under the Christmas tree one year, I excitedly unwrapped, “The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes”, an impressive tome that surely cost her a pretty penny.
My mom saved me on more than one occasion from fates I couldn’t have known, as though watching carefully from a nest on high. When I thought I wanted to go to a college in Florida sight unseen, she flew with me to make the move. Upon arrival, I just knew it wasn’t right. And she knew it, too. Sitting across from me at a local diner that day, she sensed my unhappiness as I left my sandwich untouched and forked coleslaw around my plate. She simply said, “I don’t think this is where you’re supposed to be” and waited for my reaction. I burst into tears. She placed her tiny hand on mine and said, “Tomorrow morning, we will just get on a plane and fly back home together. You can figure out the rest later.”
The day after my mom, who we lovingly called “Mernie” – short for Marian, passed away a few years ago, a little bird appeared on my front porch. Now, we have lots of birds around – they flit about in the garden and surrounding area but never have we had one alight on our porch proper into our more personal space. Out of the blue, this little bird made her presence known daily during that whole month of June, hopping around on the porch just outside our front door. One morning, when the front door was open and I was sitting at the table in my dining room, she hopped into the foyer and looked around. I stood up sort of surprised and she looked at me, cocked her head, hopped back out and flew away. After a few visits I began to know, “This is my mom”. I just knew it as much as I knew the sun would rise and set. It made perfect sense to me that my mom would manifest as a bird after death to connect with me, comfort me.
As the visitations continued, I got to know this bird’s chirp. It was my cue to peek at her through the curtain, watch her on the porch or quietly open up the door to see if she would come in for a visit. One afternoon, I was sitting at the dining room table with the front door open as she announced her arrival. Slowly, she hopped into the foyer but this time continued on into the living room. In the far corner of the apartment, I had set up an altar to my mom with photos of her throughout her life since her childhood on a farm in upstate New York, her favorite coffee cup, her wedding ring, a cryptic handwritten note to me that I found in a book in my mom’s dresser drawer, a spool of thread, a shiny penny. That little bird hopped a straight line over to the altar, stopped and stared at it as though taking an inventory of the items, then crooked her little head to look over at me. She stared at me for another moment before turning around to hop back out the door!
She continued to visit regularly for a month and then simply disappeared. Transcended to another place, perhaps. A few months later, she reappeared one last time. The week began with my husband learning about a major reorganization of staff in his office and my sudden dental issue that needed immediate attention. The morning of my appointment, I was anxious and worried about a potentially sizable out-of-pocket expense in the midst of my husband’s unknown future with his post at the university. And whether our finances and overall situation would be ok. My dentist told me it was just a “sprain” that would resolve itself, no need for any action.
As I was leaving the dentist, my husband called to tell me his job was safe, just a reclassification was all that would happen. I got on my bike and rode back home cheerfully relieved. When I rolled up in front of our stoop, there she was on the porch as if waiting for me. My Mernie bird. I stood still and watched her hopping around on the porch; I whispered, “Mernie, is that you? What is your message to me? Are you just saying hello?” Just then, she hopped up into the folded hands of our big Buddha next to the front door, happily chirping for about 30 seconds before flying off across the sky to a place beyond the trees. I believe her answer to me was, “I’m right here. Don’t ever lose faith.”
Rest in Birdland Peace
Marian Ruth Kelly Corbin (Mernie)
Dec. 7, 1920 – June 5, 2015