Following a Fathers’ Day weekend wedding tour I stopped by a store to buy an Electrolite drink. Yes, they taste foul, but nothing hydrates my throat as well after a lot of storytelling. While gulping I gamboled into a courtyard I had not been in before.
The courtyard was not especially pretty or interesting and as I sat on the steps of a stairwell I wondered why I was even there. It was then I noticed the tiles on the rise of each step featured cardinals, the red song bird.
As a young boy I recall doing my homework on the living room floor, as my parents, Phyllis and John, assumed their Sunday afternoon positions of relaxing in their newly acquired Lazy-Boy recliners. In all fairness, they were often stuck in said position since neither one possessed the abdominal muscles required to propel the recliner forward and allowing their escape.
Out of the blue, my father announced to my mother, that if he went first he would come back to visit her as a cardinal. Not the Pope wanna-bees, but the small, red songbird that is omnipresent in most central Pennsylvania trees. “How odd” I thought. “If I was coming back from the great beyond as a bird, I’d go for a penguin or an ostrich. Something you could have no doubt was, in fact, me since penguins don’t usually hang around central Pennsylvania.”
When my father did pass, my mother continued on for nearly two decades. Each day I’d talk to her to see how her day had been. Often she had a personal dilemma where she’d have to choose between two options and she couldn’t decide. The choices could be of great importance, or very trivial (like should she train a fat cat to jump on her Lazy-Boy to help propel her out?) With each decision, a cardinal would fly across her sight line. Instantly, the correct decision would be obvious to my mother since my father’s bird brained advice was spotted.
In all those years I never once had any idea what she chose based on the council of her winged advisor. However, having learned to not subject myself to the wrath of Phyllis and my father’s avian stand-in, I would simply would say “Of course, Mom! That was great advice from Dad. What happened after that?”
One day when I was back in Pennsylvania driving along with my mother and sister, Kitty. My mother launched into a story about how the cardinal had solved her dilemma that morning.
Inexplicitly, my sister, Kitty, asked “What’s with the cardinal?”
I slammed my head against the steering wheel several times before exclaiming “Where have you been the last 15 years?” You live walking distance from Mom!
Then I explained the correlation between the scarlet songbird, our father, and life’s decisions
Kitty was quiet for a long moment before announcing “You know, I haven’t seen a cardinal in years.”
“Well, you know, Kitty” I said in true little brother fashion. “Our Dad never really liked you.”
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin