A Fable To Share With Your Grandchildren
Granddad’s Place – Chapter 3
This is a series of modern-day fables about the natural world, set in the context of the relationship between a granddad and his grandson. These fables are delightful reading tools to share with your grandchildren. You can read together online, share (email) to them and or print out and read together. However, you choose to do it will help fortify the child’s literacy skills and help build your grandparent/grandchild bond.
By David George
Mock Around the Clock
Jeremy rode back and forth on his rocking horse, tweaking its furry ear to activate electronic neighs and sounds of galloping hooves. Its long mane reached to the stirrups where Jeremy’s stocking feet urged the steed on.
Granddad lay on the soft carpet of Jeremy’s room. Toys of varied shapes and colors stuffed every corner. Such a rich environment Oma created, worthy of the smart youngster. The bedroom was small, but that only added to the sense of toyish clutter. A three-year-old’s playtime heaven.
Outside, November drew a drizzly, cold landscape. The shrubs bordering Jeremy’s windows sagged with dampness. Brown leaves covered the front lawn, with more fluttering down in the wet wind that shivered the maples and oaks.
Inside, warm and close with humidity, the air from the heater vent puffed Jeremy’s hair as he rocked. He looked up from his stead to follow Granddad’s frown.
“I have an idea, Daddad,” Jeremy said. He jumped off and raced to the low window sill, nearly tripping on the scattered toys. Jeremy pointed outside with his chubby index finger. “See, Daddad?” he said. “Bird.”
Granddad lifted himself off the floor to take a closer look see. In the middle of the lawn a lone stellar’s blue jay, with his black crown of feathers and royal blue body, poked its beak among the leaves. Jays feasted on worms that were forced to the surface by rain.
“Yes, I see the jaybird, Big Guy,” Granddad said. “Look how he turns his head sideways so he can see the worms.”
“No, Daddad,” Jeremy insisted. He pointed further to the left toward the concrete driveway, his eyes round with excitement. “BIRDS!”
Granddad spied a dozen or so wild turkeys lurching their way across the driveway toward the lawn. Mostly brown, with streaks of orange and black, these introduced birds had spread like wildfire through California’s hills, becoming regular visitors to Granddad’s place. The turkeys appeared more like their dinosaur ancestors than garden birds. Each step forward was accompanied by a head and neck thrust, as if strings pulled each body part in unison. They stood taller than his grandson. The round males displayed bright orange throat flaps, while the hens were brown and smaller. Some now pecked at the lawn.
“What’er they eating?” Jeremy asked. He looked back and forth from the nearby females to the big males further out.
“Well,” Granddad said, “it looks like they’re finding seeds that fell out of our bird feeders. Turkeys get hungry this time of year because most of their natural foods are gone. In the spring and summer months, seeds and bugs are everywhere. Wild oat seed, ticks, spiders. Not so in November after it turns cold.”
Jeremy’s nose pressed against the glass, his breath flaring a haze of steam. The turkeys work their way to the far edge of the lawn then to a gravel path beyond. Granddad sat on the side of the bed next to the window while Jeremy fidgeted. The little tyke had a boredom attack coming on.
“Hey,” Granddad said, “Speaking of birds, have I ever told you the story about my mockingbird war?”
“A bird war? Nope.” Jeremy turned away from the greyness outside and sat next to Granddad.
‘’Let me see…where to start,” Granddad said.
“This was quite a few years ago. An early June morning as I recall, following an unusual rainstorm the day before. I had been kept awake all night long by a mockingbird singing outside my window. You know they are called mocking birds because they imitate the songs of all the other birds around them. Well, after two solid weeks of it, I was ready to mash his bird bones to mush.”
Jeremy looked up at Granddad’s face.
“Uh hum. And what an appetite that bird had. That bird’s taste for every ripe fruit and vegetable Oma and I grew in our little orchard caused major damage. From May through October, he and his mate would clean our fruit trees to the bone, leaving only peach pits and cherry stones attached to the twigs, dangling like odd Christmas bulbs.”
Jeremy laughed. He loved Christmas. His eyes lit up when he heard the magic word, most likely imagining holiday lights and gifts.
“I was worried about those mockingbirds,” Granddad continued. “The harvest season was right around the corner. I had to put my plan of attack into action to rid our fruit trees of those pests. So, I put on my jeans and knee-high muck boots, then pulled my floppy hat over my head. My protection against a bird-poop attack.”
Jeremy laughed again. Stories with poop were high comedy to the little guy.
“Outside, I followed the sound of the bird’s continuous mocking. I spotted the thief squatting on the lip of Oma’s water-plant pot on the far side of our lawn. Then in front of my eyes, the bird plucked out one of my prized tadpoles as if bobbing for apples at the county fair.”
“Ah-yee! I ran toward the feathered demon, my arms flailing. Here, let me show you.”
Granddad stood up and wagged his arms over his head while he screeched, Ah-yee, ah-yee, ah-yee. Jeremy laughed and laughed.
“Yes,” Granddad laughed, “this was not a good start. The mockingbird flew over to perch on a tree limb, then he burst into song. Tadpoles for breakfast seemed to his liking.”
“Grrross,” Jeremy said. “The bird ate baby froggies?”
“Yes, he did,” Granddad answered. “I launched a handful of gravel his way. Sure enough, that disturbed his singing. He squawked and flew straight down the hill to my fruit trees. I couldn’t help but grin. Then I leaned over the water planter to count how many tadpoles remained. One, or two maybe? Yikes.”
Jeremy coasted to the far side of his room to scoop up his Aquaman toy. He made whooshing sounds while he glided Aquaman back for a safe landing on Granddad’s sleeve.
“I’m sure it was my frayed nerves,” Granddad continued, “or lack of sleep those nights. But I snapped. I retrieved my new paintball gun from the workshop. It fired plastic blobs of paint instead of bullets. These paintballs would splash some color into that grey bird’s life. I shoved the pistol into my back pocket and jogged down the garden steps, two at a time, toward my orchard.
I stepped inside its gates and gasped at the destruction. How could these mockers have pulled the sweet, ripe cherries right through the bird netting? How did they squeeze those big bird bodies through the tiniest nylon gap to peck holes in every peach? Our summer harvest, on the way to ruin.”
“Oh,” Jeremy said, “that can’t be good.” He shook his head from side to side and scowled, looking much older than his age. Granddad smiled.
“You’re right,” he said, “A flash of white and black caught my eye and I spotted the well-fed beast. He flew to a bush outside the fencing. The bird settled close enough for a decent shot. I squeezed off a couple of rounds, grazing the branch to his side. He squawked and rose straight into the air above me, then whirled in a circle, filling the sky with his continuous mocking. I heard a splat. White crud covered the toes of my boots. The little snot had fired back.”
“Poop again,” he said.
“Yes,” Granddad said. “All over my boots. I held the trigger down and aimed the paintball stream around and up and down, but he flew too fast. All I did was splatter blue paint onto the few remaining pieces of fruit. How was I going to explain blue peaches to Oma?”
“The devil bird flew back to its branch unharmed. I must have looked like a crazy man, but I didn’t care anymore. I raced out the gate toward the bush where the bird rested his feathers. But the steep, muddy slope gave way and I tumbled butt first into muck.”
“Oh, Daddad,” Jeremy said, his eyes moist with laughter. He climbed into the middle of the bed and jumped, trampoline-style.
“Wet, slimy mud splattered into my nose and eyes,” Granddad said. “Every inch of my clothing oozed with ick. I lay there thinking about my predicament until I spotted big, brown wood ticks working their way up my leg. That was it. I swiped the ticks off and scrambled on all fours back up the slope.”
“I’d lost my new paintball gun, Big Guy, but at least I didn’t break any bones. Mr. Mockingbird sat on the orchard fence rail, eying me. The funny human had been replaced by something blacker and more dangerous looking.”
Jeremy collapsed in a heap on the bed next to Granddad, smiling. His pink cheeks puffed air and his hair dripped from the exercise.
“Maybe,” Granddad paused. “I thought maybe I could use my muddy disguise to drive him away. I ran into the orchard, flapping my muddy arms about. ‘Bloo-ey,’ I screamed. ‘Bloo-ey, bloo-ey, bloo-ey!’”
Jeremy screamed in laughter. He clapped his cheeks with his hands.
“I hopped around on one foot and then the other, all the while flapping my arms in the air. Mud flew everywhere. I slipped of course, and landed hard on my butt again. I had a large bruise the next morning.”
Jeremy laughed. He liked butt parts in stories, too.
“But my mud dance did the trick,” Granddad said. “The bird retreated to the farthest fence post. He squawked and weaved side to side but did not fly away. It‘s as if he was trying to draw attention towards him – and away from what?”
Granddad paused for effect.
“Dunno, Daddad,” Jeremy’s eyes were wide and unfocused.
“I didn’t either,” Granddad said. “So, I turned around to look. Behind me was a thorny blackberry bush. Long, almost-ripe berries covered the vines. The mocker squawked behind me, so I was on to something. My hands plunged into its sharp thorns. I separated the oval leaves and pushed aside two canes. Pain from the thorns wouldn’t stop me. I opened a gap wide enough to stick my nose inside. And what do you think I found?”
“A…a birdy nest?” Jeremy guessed.
“That’s right,” Granddad said. “Two points for Jeremy. I found that mockingbird’s nest hidden in the thickest part. The mama bird sat on the nest. She squawked then burst past my face to join her mate on the fence rail. She left behind four perfectly-shaped eggs, baby blue with specks of brown. Each no bigger than my thumbnail. Easy enough to squish.”
“Ew, Daddad,” Jeremy said. His face scrunched up. “Don’t squish them.”
“I was angry enough,” Granddad said. “This mocker’s tadpole and fruit-eating family deserved to meet a nasty end. I shoved my hand through the thorns toward the nest.”
“But something stopped me that day, Jeremy. Maybe it was Mother Nature herself, or more likely the soft mewing from the little mama bird behind me. I pulled my head back into the daylight and turned toward the fence. She whimpered at me, as if pleading for the lives of her unborn chicks. I looked at my bleeding hands. Had I really sunk that low?”
Jeremy nodded his head up and down.
“No, I hadn’t,” Granddad said. “I couldn’t destroy their peace the way they had ruined mine. I left those two hungry birds and their little eggs in the orchard and lugged my sorry self back up the hill to Oma. She nearly fainted at the sight of me.”
Jeremy sat curled into Granddad’s side, staring out the window. He sucked on his fist, then pulled it out with a pop and pointed to the window again.
The turkeys had returned to the front lawn. They scratched like barnyard chickens, their long claws pulling up clumps of grass. One turkey jumped up into the decorative fountain, drank a sip of water, then pooped a green turkey turd into the water. Ugh. Jeremy squealed.
“You gonna get your paintballs, Daddad?”
“No,” Granddad laughed, “I don’t fuss about the turkeys or the mockingbirds or any of the other creatures that live around here anymore. I learned something new about myself that day in the orchard. Something I have to say I liked.”
“You know, I learned that we should all try to get along on this big, round world the best we can, right? Even if the creatures are midnight-screeching, tadpole-eating devil-birds, or turkeys that dig up your lawn and poop in your fountain. This planet is their home, too. They belong here at Granddad’s place as much as you and Oma and me.”
About the Author
Residence: Lafayette, California
Married with two grown children, one grandson.
David George has written several dozen short stories and poems exploring the ironies he experienced during his 30-year high-tech business career and his encounters with the wildlife of rural California. His non-fiction has been published in local newspapers and periodicals and has won several writing awards, including First Place in the Jack London Writing Contest. David has participated in writing critique groups for over ten years, actively contributing his perspectives and suggestions to aspiring and published writers. Visit his writer’s group Find David’s blog here:
David is currently completing two longer works, a novel based on his Irish ancestral roots, The Lord of Larkin Street”, set in Ireland and 1950’s San Francisco, and “Granddad’s Place – An Anthology of Modern Day Fables about the Natural World”, set within a framework of adventures exploring nature with his grandson.