Brooklyn Boro

Our Cardinal: Crazier than a Loon

April 30, 2021 William A. Gralnick
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I love cardinals, feisty, feathered birds that they are. They look stunning, as do the males, and they sing beautifully. My mother was somewhat of a bird nut. She too loved cardinals and for all the years we lived at Walldorf Court there was in the front garden a red cardinal on a stick announcing you had found #12. My mother was so entranced by bird songs that for her birthday, her first with me away as a college student, I bought her from the store at the Shenandoah National Park, an LP filled with the songs of the park’s birds. Turned out it was a bridge too far, or a birdsong too far but I’ve always felt it’s the thought that counts. Anyway, in a tree in our backyard we had a cardinal that did it’s darnedest to abolish every good feeling I had for his brethren. He was the crazy cardinal of Waldorf court.

All of this came to mind last week when the Brooklyn Eagle ran right next to my column their series, “The Birds of Brooklyn.” This week the bird was a cardinal, the picture showing this bright red, self-assured, compaction of feathers, chest predictable puffed out. He sure was not the Crazy Cardinal of Waldorf Court but he sure brought back its memory.

My mom was fond of bemoaning her fate of having two sons. To get even with God, she was determined that her boys would learn every chore her daughters would have learned had she been blessed with daughters, or at least one. If you’re interested in how I almost became Wilhelmina, check out My brother, five years my senior and I, washed dishes and later on loaded the dishwasher. We were not intimidated by the vacuum cleaner or the broom in the garage. At times we served dinner; at other times we cleared the dishes and such from the table. We knew how to properly greet people at the front door and see that out being sure they left with the same coat they came in with. Enough said.

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Oftentimes dishes were a team event with my brother or me bringing them in whilst the other rinsed them off and filing them in the dishwasher. My mother or father hooked the machine up to the sink water having learned from a few floods that neither my brother nor I had the hand of doing that.

Nor were these scenes absent of Tomfoolery. One example. I had an arm full of pots and pans, gingerly making their way to the sink in my shaking arms. My brother snuck up behind me and planted his right and left index fingers into the right and left sides of my rib cage. Did you know that pots and pans can fly? Did you know that they made a tremendous racket when they hit the floor? Did you know that no such pranks would get us out of doing our chores? Now the scene is set for the Crazy Cardinal.

It was my turn at the sink. Usually, the venetian blind was up. I liked looking into our modest but neat and well-planted back yard. As I looked up from the dishes and out into the garden I noticed a blur coming right at me. I don’t know how fast birds fly, but it’s fast. Before I knew it, this lunatic hit the window full force at my eye’s level, scared me half to death. He knocked himself stupid and fell straight down onto the porch. By the time we got the door unlocked and open he was up and staggering around like a fighter who had survived an 8 count. As soon as he became aware of us he had the presence of mind to take off.

Now you’d figure, in spite of the long-lived expression for a dumb child being bird-brained, that the cardinal would have figured it out. There is no opening there. If you try to fly through it, somebody is going to have to produce some aspirin. Not so. Bird brain has meaning. The next night it was my brother’s turn at the sink and don’t you know this kamikaze cardinal does it again, hits the window with force enough to make it rattle. Again we run for the door. Again, Slapsy Maxie is staggering around like Tweety Bird after he’d be swatted by Sylvester. And again, he pulled it together in time enough to take off.

We are kind people. We don’t want this bird to harm itself. We figure maybe it is the reflection from the window. Maybe the bird sees himself but in his head sees a rival and goes into attack mode. We closed the blinds—tightly. A few days passed and we had begun to relax at the sink. Bird brain had caught on.

Then BANG! As God is my witness it was amazing that the window didn’t crack. We had an additional safety thought. What if we opened the window from the bottom and dropped the blind to cover its top half. We passed on that. What would happen if dopey actually flew right into the window? Then what? We’d have this mad, red-feathered conquistador flying around our house, a house that had mucho ventanas (many windows). My father opined that maybe there was a nest and maybe if we moved it… So, we went hunting. We found no sign of a nest but our fly-bird turned into a dive-bomber and seemed intent on putting holes in our heads. We retreated to the relative safety of indoors.

What we didn’t think of was that Mother Nature has her own ways of dealing with things. All we needed was patience and the hope that the glass would maintain its strength. Summer turned to Fall; Fall turned to Winter. The bird wasn’t so stupid after all. It went south for the winter and it never returned or while it was away it met up with a few feathered friends who explained the physics involved in trying to fly through a window. Never again was that heart-stopping BANG! Heard.

And so goes the story of the Crazy Cardinal of Waldorf Court that was crazier than a Loon.

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