When my husband was growing up, his family had a series of songbirds, canaries and parakeets, each of whom was named Pookie. So it seemed only natural that the green-and-yellow parakeet we acquired would be dubbed Pookie as well.
Pookie didn’t strike me as a very exciting pet. He didn’t sing, he didn’t talk, he didn’t do much of anything. That is, except when my mother-in-law, Bubbie, would visit. Having nurtured the entire Pookie dynasty, Bubbie knew ways of talking to birds that were foreign to me. Her voice assumed a certain inflection, she would give Pookie her undivided attention, and five minutes later, he was singing and chirping away.
“Why don’t you keep Pookie?” we asked.
“I don’t want a bird,” she replied. “Too much trouble, too much responsibility. No way.”
One day, our cat made a leap for Pookie’s cage. Although the bird miraculously escaped, its near-fatal adventure inspired us. We would be visiting friends, we told Bubbie. Could she keep Pookie overnight until we returned and could rehang the cage?
Bubbie sensed a plot, but reluctantly agreed. “Okay,” she said, “but pick him up the second you get home.” We delivered the bird to her apartment. She was so busy talking to Pookie, she didn’t notice when we left. We called the next morning to schedule the pick up. “Let’s negotiate,” she said. “Pookie stays here.”
So began the friendship of Pookie and Bubbie. Certainly, the relationship was good for Pookie; he chirped and sang constantly, played with toys and occasionally even talked. But it was clear that Pookie gave more than he received. According to my mother-in-law, he was “the smartest bird” that ever lived. He made her laugh. He provided company. He was a friend, and perhaps most important, Pookie needed her.
Like many people of her generation, my mother-in-law had a hard life. She began working as a young girl and cared for brothers and sisters. As a married woman, she and her husband operated a small restaurant and lived above it in a tiny apartment in which they raised their family and several generations of Pookies. A good listener, Bubbie’s counsel was sought by friends and family. She was needed; she played a vital role in many lives.
At 85, however, my mother-in-law was a widow and no longer worked. Her children and grandchildren were grown and self-sufficient. Few people depended on her for nurturing or advice. Instead, she depended on others. Pookie made a difference in her life. Each morning, she got up to change Pookie’s water, replenish his food, adjust his toys, and of course, talk to him. Twice monthly, she went to Petco to buy supplies. She cleaned Pookie’s cage. In short, Pookie depended on Bubbie.
Then, Bubbie fell and broke her hip. Someone had to care for Pookie until Bubbie returned from rehab. Our daughter bravely volunteered. Two days later, she called and said, “Pookie is lying at the bottom of the cage with his feet in the air.” There was a collective groan. Caring for Pookie was motivation for Bubbie to get well. His death would make her sad, and we were certain she would refuse to get another bird.
I am the first to admit that I am not a bird person. To me, a bird is a bird. So I took the still-warm Pookie in his crate and headed to our local Petco. The manager saw me, crate and dead bird in hand, and assumed I was there to complain. “You don’t understand,” I explained, and told him the whole saga: how important Pookie was to Bubbie, how she had broken her hip and the bird had died, how caring for Pookie was the reason Bubbie needed to get well, and how we needed a bird that looked just like Pookie.
We searched the parakeet cage, which housed dozens of birds, but none of them looked remotely like Pookie. “How much time do we have before she gets out of rehab?” asked the manager. “About a month,” I said. “I have seven stores in my territory,” he continued. “I will check every one for a parakeet that looks like Pookie.” Using his cell phone to capture Pookie’s coloring, he gave me his phone number, work schedule and email address. I left the store astonished, grateful and committed to shopping at Petco for the rest of my life.
I called the manager two weeks later. He had been to four stores with no luck. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I still have three stores to go.” Meanwhile, Bubbie was making great progress in rehab. “I saw Pookie the other day,” my son told his grandmother. “He misses you terribly and is not like himself. In fact, he’s like a whole new bird.”
A month after entering rehab, with almost no advance warning, Bubbie was discharged. Panicked, I called Petco and asked for the manager. “He’s on vacation for two weeks,” I was informed. “Oh no,” I groaned. “He was getting me a bird.” “Are you looking for Pookie Novack?” the clerk asked. I rushed to the store. In the back was a very thin, very quiet, but definitely Pookie-ish parakeet. “Thank you God,” I said, and the new Pookie and I went home.
The next day, Bubbie returned to her apartment. Leaning on her walker, she smiled as she settled into her recliner. She looked at her small sitting room, her family pictures, and at her bird. “Pookie,” she said, “I am so glad to see you.” We had passed the first test!
We called the next day. “How is Pookie?” we asked. “He’s a little thin,” she replied. “He must have been traumatized by the change. But he’s coming around. He hasn’t stopped singing.”
As the months passed, it became clear we had pulled off the switch of the century. We were grateful to everyone who helped in our conspiracy of love, but especially to the employees of Petco, who understood the power of pets in the lives of older adults and the importance of being needed.
My mother-in-law read the New York Times Book Review, did crossword puzzles and was addicted to her computer. Not too much got past her. “Do you think she doesn’t know it’s a different bird?” friends asked. “If she does,” I replied, “she doesn’t care; she is busy loving this bird.”
“It’s the weirdest thing,” Bubbie said one day. “Pookie plays with toys he never played with before.” No doubt about it; Pookie was one happy bird.
Bubbie passed away five years ago, in her sleep, with a crossword puzzle on her lap. We found Pookie a new home, but he died within a few days. We think he is sitting on Bubbie’s shoulder.
Happy Holidays from your friends at Moving Solutions!