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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Home On The Range

At 7:30 last night, we rolled into town. First sight off of the highway was our neighbor Jim in his pickup truck. His arm was waving crazy like out of his window, only, not his driver's-side window. That means, while Jim was driving, he was reaching over the passenger seat to say "Welcome home neighbors!" Yes, I believe Jim will run someone over someday.

The first stoplight into town we saw Toni and Paulie. They were a sight for sore eyes. They own and run our local Italian restaurant. We will be seeing more of them really soon. I've had enough redneck and soul food to clog all of my arteries. Both of them waved and smiled and we did too.

Mr. Lane and I looked at each other and said at the same time, "Nothing like being home."

The kids were giddy to say the least. During the last three hours of the ride home, we experienced more noise than the last 11 days combined. The kids talked, argued, smacked each other, fought over space in the back seat, and called out repeatedly to me and Mr. Lane to make the other stop touching them. I was thankful that behavior was not present for the whole trip. Someone would have been left on the side of the road somewhere. And yes, "Are we there yet?" was blurted 25 times within that last 3ish hours from home. (24 of those times may have been by me.)

We dropped the trailer in a parking lot a few miles from home and headed for our last stretch of busy road, and wouldn't you know it, we caught a fucking train. With the caboose in sight, a second train came from the opposite direction. "What the fuck?!" Mr. Lane and I said. The kids whined as if we were never going to make it back home. I was beginning to wonder myself and my brain started singing "So Close" by Hall and Oats. Nothing like coming home to sit and watch trains go by.

Finally we were puling into our driveway but kids were coming out of the woodwork to welcome Lane 1 and Lane 2 home. Right behind the truck was Jim pulling in and within five minutes, Old Man Ripple was pulling up to the house to talk farming with Mr. Lane.

Ignoring the tall grass, the grownup guys and yard full of kids, I hopped out of the truck and trucked my ass into the house. Guido (The Killer Cat From Hell) was hiding behind the couch crying, "Hello! Helllooo. Helllooo?" (See "Hello Kitty" for more information about the talking, 17-year-old cat.) I reached back there and said, "Hello Guido!" He purred and came to me. I picked him up, and held him for a few minutes. My black t-shirt covered in white cat hair, I headed to check on the rest of the animals. It felt good to be home.

Patches is an indoor-outdoor variety cat. She also greeted us in the yard. We had a neighbor keeping watch, feeding and watering the cats and birds and getting our mail. We should have asked them to mow too.

I went into Lane 2's bedroom to check on Lemonhead and Chopper (cockatiels). All was well. I said, "Hello pretty birds." and rather than them saying "pretty bird" four hundred times in a row back to me, like usual, they lifted their tail feathers and shit. It was like synchronized shitting. What do you suppose that means? I don't think they missed me.

With Guido following my every step, I went into Lane 1's room to check on Picasso (parakeet) and he was dead. I was shocked to say the least. Guido is our old man animal and if any of the pets was to die while we were away, I would have expected it to have been him. My heart just sank. I wanted to be mad at the neighbors who were keeping an eye on things but all I felt was crushed thinking about Lane 1 and how much he loved that little bird.

I don't know why he died, he was only about 7-years-old. His birthday would have been the same as Lane 1's, June 26th. Growing up I had parakeets too but none ever lived beyond four years. I've heard of them living up to 30 years and never really understood why I always seemed to get the short-life variety ones.

A few years ago, Picasso looked like he was on his last wing. Lane 1 and I talked about when it's his time to go and my son seemed to really understand but I still couldn't think of how to tell the poor kid. I quickly grabbed some paper towels to wrap him with before Lane 1 came into the house. I really didn't want to tell him.

Lane 1 got Picasso when he was in second grade, nearly six years ago. He was about a year old and was really wild then. After spending a lot of time with him, Lane 1 managed to train Picasso. Sure the kid walked away with many bite marks (some bleeding) at first, but it paid off in the long run. Picasso learned to hop right onto any finger that came near his belly. He learned to give kisses and stopped biting. Lane 1 loved his bird so much, he took him to show-and-tell every year at school. He also gave him a shower every couple of weeks, drying him with the hairdryer. Whenever he played with his toy cars, trucks and tractors, he would set Picasso on them as if he were driving. Lane 1 even named the bird. He said Picasso was a good name for him because he was "bright, colorful and manificent" (magnificent), which I thought was pretty cool for a 7-year-old to come up with.

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Look at the top of Lane 1's Goofy hat and you'll see Picasso.

I wrapped and bagged the bird and took him and his cage out of the room and set them in the garage. My mind raced for the right words, only to find out, there weren't any. I called the neighbor who was watching our animals and she was devastated. She offered to come break the news to the boy and offered to get him a new bird, even the same colors, she said. Once I told her how attached he was, she felt even worse, realizing, there's no replacing a pet. I told her I would tell him the bad news and said I was only calling to see how everything else went.

Thankfully, no other bad stuff went down while we were away.

When I called Lane 1 into the house, he knew something was wrong. Maybe it was the look on my face or my tone but he thought of Guido and asked if he was okay.

"Guido is fine honey. Picasso didn't make it." I hugged him.

He sobbed and headed to his room.

"Mom. Where is he? Where's his stuff?"

"You really don't want to see him like that."

"Did a cat get him or was it 'cuz he was just old?"

"I think he might have just been old. Maybe he got sick. Honey, I really don't know. I put him and his cage in the garage but don't go looking at him. We'll bury him in the yard in a couple of minutes, okay?"

Still in tears he agreed.

I started unpacking bags, throwing laundry in, washed out the humming bird feeders from the yard, filled all of the birdfeeders (all 10 of them) and started to think, Lane 1 has hundreds of birds. I smiled at that thought but still ached for him.

As I headed back into the house, Lane 1 was coming with a shovel in hand.

"Buddy, I'll do that. You go play with your friends."

"No Mom. I need to."

"Son, it's okay, I'll do it. Please let me." I reached for the shovel and he walked away from me.

He dug fast and with more emotion than any little boy should feel. I stood silently at his side. When the hole was sufficient, he asked me to go get Picasso and he went to get his sister and dad. We gathered around the grave. I handed Lane 1 his feathered friend. Wrapped in paper towels and a Ziploc Baggie, Lane 1 zoomed Picasso through the air one last time just like he was playing with an airplane. His voice cracked as he said, "Fly home buddy." and he placed him gently into the grave. Mr. Lane and I offered to cover the hole but he ignored us and began finishing off the burial. He bowed his head for a few seconds and then walked away.

It was a bittersweet homecoming. There is so much more to tell about our homecoming itself, I could go on for 20 pages. I think I'll spare you fine folks. Three pages is plenty for now. I only have two hours left of battery on my laptop, which I will have to use sparingly. My power cord went out again, which is just one more lovely thing that happened right after we got home.

Thanks for sticking around during our travels. There are many more road warrior stories coming soon to a blog near you.