Every child of the ’50s remembers being totally freaked out by the frightening behavior of the birds in Alfred Hitchcock’s eponymous movie. While I did eventually calm down enough to buy my kids parakeets, it was only because they wanted pets, and my spouse wouldn’t agree to anything furry. The avian nature of this tale is much more benign, and certainly far more inspiring.
It’s common knowledge that animals are supernaturally sensitive to the vibes that humans emit and know who their friends are at a glance. Personally, I find this easy to believe, since I have had the pleasure of escorting classic city people, terrified of animals, through dog-infested neighborhoods and seen that the dogs will always come to check out and snarl at the fearful while ignoring me.
My mother exhibits abilities that, if not supernatural, are certainly not completely natural. While she both dislikes and fears animals, she is a strong believer in being kind to them, going to lengths to feed them. While she refused to stay on the first floor in my country home in Tannersville, NY, because of her fear of rural wildlife, she still insisted on putting out stale bread for the birds.
This was her custom when she lived in Minnesota and California. And when she moved to Israel, she continued it, too.
My parents were lucky enough to snag a beautiful penthouse apartment in the Bayit V’gan area of Jerusalem, with a huge terrace overlooking the city. Another, smaller, balcony was designated by my mom as a bird feeder.
Jerusalem is blessed with an abundance of small birds in addition to the ubiquitous pigeons. Daily, Mom would toss out whatever crumbs were left over for the pleasure of the birds. Thanks to the availability of the large balcony, the family overlooked the mess the birds left on “their” porch, which was otherwise unused. While her children all knew about mom’s hobby, it was rarely discussed, especially since we were all living in the United States. We considered it just a nice harmless quirk of hers and rarely thought about it.
Some years after their move to Israel, we in New York got a call from Dad that mom had been taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital for an emergency gall bladder problem.
While she was already out of critical condition, I still figured that visiting her was a good excuse to travel over there and that my father could probably use some moral support.
I arrived in Israel early in the morning the day after the surgery. I went directly from the airport to the hospital, an attractive modern building, more or less like any hospital in any Western country. Mom was in a room with two other women, in the bed farthest from the door. The far wall, beyond her bed, was covered by a huge, medium-blue pleated curtain.
Did you ever notice the uncomfortable chairs plastic seats on a metal frame that must be made only for hospitals, because you never see them anywhere else? There was one next to mom’s bed, and I sat there with my back to the curtained wall. There was an odd ticking noise coming from somewhere, but it wasn’t very loud, so I just ignored it.
After a short time, mom awoke, and her smile at seeing me made the whole trip worthwhile.
I stayed for about two hours, about as long as I could stand the poor support the plastic chair offered. It was only when I had been standing up for a while that I realized that the large curtain concealed a huge window and that the odd ticking noise was coming from outside. Out of curiosity, I lifted the curtain to see the source of the noise.
Sitting on the window ledge and pecking on the glass for attention were several dozen birds. When I drew back the curtain to show them to mom, they sat quietly.
Mom claimed that they had come to visit her, intuiting that they hadn’t been fed that day. I was skeptical, of course, for many reasons, among them the obvious fact that we had not told the birds which room Mom was in and that, in any case, room numbers are not marked on the outside windows.
Until a nurse came in and Mom showed her the birds. She was astounded and claimed that this was a first and that birds had never been spotted there before.
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