RITE OF PASSAGE: And then there was Buster
I hate birds. I apologize to all you bird lovers. I don’t know whether I really hate birds or if they just make me extremely uncomfortable.
My first introduction to birds took place on my grandparents’ farm. My grandparents sold eggs, and I used to go with my grandmother to collect them from the nests. Prying an egg away from a hen seemed like one of the cruelest acts on the farm. Many of those mama hens put up a good fight.
My second involvement with birds took place whenever my grandmother wanted a fryer for dinner. I watched her wring the chickens’ necks and saw them flop around the barnyard until they died. A bird is a bird. And then there was . . . Buster.
Our son, Caleb, wanted a bird. Against my better judgment, we journeyed to the pet store. All birds look the same to me, but Caleb studied them as though he could tell a vast difference between each one. Finally he found the perfect bird, and we brought it home. And then there was . . . Buster.
Caleb spent many hours training his bird. He stood in one room, whistled, and Buster dropped whatever it is that birds do, flew to him from another room and landed on his shoulder. When I use the word “fly” and “Buster” in the same sentence, I must explain. Most birds are graceful when they fly. Their wings make them look like poetry in motion as they glide through the air. I love to watch hummingbirds flying outside the picture window of our living room. They seem to stop in mid-air, hovering gently over a flower to drink the sweet nectar. And then there was . . . Buster.
Buster didn’t glide or hover gently over anything. When Caleb whistled, Buster took off like a Scud missile intent on its target. This might have been all right except that Buster always did something unique between point A and point B. For some reason known only to God and Buster, he buzzed my head, took his tiny wings and flipped air into my ear, intent on scaring me to death. Don’t tell me birds are dumb. Buster knew exactly what he was doing. Sometimes, he buzzed my head for the fun of it and landed on a windowsill, looked me straight in the eye and smirked. Most birds don’t smirk. And then there was . . . Buster.
Sometimes, Buster thought my ducking motions were hysterical. He sat on the windowsill bobbing his head up and down as if he were laughing, an even cheesier smirk on his little bird face. After the hundredth time Buster scared and mocked me, I made a rule that when Dad was home Buster stayed in his cage. Pets don’t usually intimidate me. And then there was . . . Buster.
One day we were painting our house when Caleb told me Buster didn’t look too good. Sure enough, my nemesis was leaning on the side of his cage as if he had been on a three-day drunk. We called the veterinarian and explained the situation. He said we should move Buster next door because the paint fumes were probably affecting him. The next morning, Caleb checked on Buster before school. He was still sick. When Caleb returned home in the afternoon, he immediately ran to the neighbor’s house to check on Buster. As he reached into the cage to stroke him, Buster fell to the floor, dead.
Several people were waiting to see me when Caleb called with the sad news. “Dad, Buster died. Can you come home? We need a pastoral visit.”
Being a pastor’s child, he knew when someone died, the family called, and I dropped everything to visit them. My son needed me. I left the people waiting in my office. I rushed home to find Caleb shooting basketball and fighting off tears. He asked if I would like to visit the deceased. He took me inside the house where Buster lay in state on the dinning room table. He was covered with a tea towel, his spindly legs poking upward.
“Dad, could you do a Christian funeral for Buster?”
The Lord reminded me of Genesis 1:21, “And God made the birds and He saw that they were good.” I asked Caleb to write something on the shoebox we used to bury Buster. He wrote: “Here lies Buster Moore, who gave me great joy.”
I couldn’t have found a more significant epitaph for bird or man. I hope one day my heavenly Father can write on my box, “Here lies Walker Moore, who gave Me great joy.”