Her pet macaw had escaped and she was worried, but her fervent prayer was heard.
- Posted on Jun 28, 2014
The couple passing me on the street did a double take. So did the lady sitting on her front porch. I gave her a smile and a wave. In the hazy summer sun, maybe they thought they were seeing things.
But then my traveling companion greeted them, her loud, singsongy voice cutting through the briny ocean air and echoing among the overhangs of the Queen Anne-style houses. “Hello, Macalaina, hiyyyyy. Twee-hoo!”
No doubt the green miniature Hahn’s macaw perched on my shoulder was an odd sight in Ocean Grove, a quaint town about halfway down the Jersey Shore, not far from where I live.
Founded by a Methodist minister in the nineteenth century, it’s known for its Victorian beach houses and the colorful tents that surround the main church, called the Great Auditorium. The streets are lined with antique shops, art galleries, homey restaurants.
In the summer, Methodist worshippers from around the country come for the annual “camp meeting.”
I’m Jewish, so no camp meeting for me, but I love taking the short drive to Ocean Grove to get an ice cream sundae at Nagle’s, photograph the charming architecture (a hobby of mine) and enjoy the sea breezes. Ever since I adopted Macalaina, she’s joined me.
I’d been surprised by Macalaina too, when I first saw her at the pet store. I lived alone and was looking for an affectionate friend to keep me company. I was a little unsure when the saleswoman suggested the hand-raised, three-month-old parrot.
Undeterred, she let Macalaina out of her cage. The bird stepped right onto my finger, walked up my arm, hopped onto my head and nuzzled my hair!
“These birds really bond with their owners,” the saleswoman explained. “Once they get comfortable, they’ll perch on you and won’t leave your side, even outdoors.” Unless, of course, she added, something spooked them.
I was sold. Macalaina became my best friend. For the last two months, we’d gone everywhere together. In crowds, she’d nest atop my head, reveling in her role as alpha bird. On long walks, I sang to her softly and reminded her that I’d keep her safe, no matter what.
Sometimes she got scared and took off, but she always circled back. I even took her to my tax preparer–“If I mess up your taxes,” he told me, “it’s because that bird on your head distracted me!”
Now I stopped to snap a photograph of a particularly stunning Victorian. Adjusting the camera’s focus, I felt Macalaina’s tiny talons grip my shoulder.
Honk, honk! A car horn blared. I almost jumped out of my sandals. Macalaina flew off...disappearing into the trees.
“Macalaina!” I called. “Macalaina!” No sign of her.
The woman I’d waved to left her porch. “Did you lose your bird?” No, no, I couldn’t have...but I didn’t see her anywhere. Not in the trees, not on a rooftop, not in the sky.
People came out to help look. Someone spotted her on the eave of a three-story house, near an attic window. I begged the owners to let me in. By the time I got to the attic, Macalaina had flitted to a tree. “Macalaina,” I called, sweetly. “It’s okay, Momma’s here.” I sang. I whistled. Nothing worked.
Finally I got my car and parked it beneath the tree, waiting for Macalaina to fly down. It started to get dark. I’m not leaving. I can’t. I slept in my car that night.
At 5:00 a.m., I started the car and drove home. I filled Macalaina’s food dish with sunflower seeds–her favorite–and rushed back, just in time to see a green flash emerge from the branches above. I parked and got out.
There she was, perched on a balcony railing. I shook the seeds. They made a sound like a maraca. She cried out, “Hello, Macalaina, hiyyyyy. Twee-hoo!” Still too scared to fly down, though.
The owners weren’t home, so I called the police. “You’ve lost a what?” the dispatcher asked. “You want us to do what?” Eventually, two squad cars pulled up. But the cops could only offer their sympathies. Macalaina flew over the house and vanished.
“Maybe you should put up posters,” one officer said halfheartedly while his radio squawked with a more urgent summons.
At a copy shop I made 100 posters, with my phone number and photos of Macalaina. “LOST PARROT. Miniature macaw; green, red under wings. Says, ‘Hello, Macalaina.’ Please call if you spot or capture her. Hungry and tired. Eats fruits and seeds. I love her. Thank you!”
Friends helped me tack them to every telephone pole in town. I was growing more frantic by the minute.
I got some calls, but by day’s end, still no Macalaina. Dark clouds boiled up over the horizon. How would she survive a thunderstorm?
I looked up at the steeple of the Great Auditorium, silhouetted against the darkening sky. Maybe it was the hopelessness of that moment, but I felt stirred to offer a prayer. Please, God, if you can bring back Macalaina, I promise to take care of her the rest of her life.
The next morning I returned to Ocean Grove with my friend Lillian. We brought a long-handled fishing net and walked the wet streets. The day dragged, my heart breaking a little more with every passing hour. “Come on,” Lillian said. “Let’s grab dinner at Nagle’s. We’ll split a sundae for dessert.”
I barely touched dinner. Or the sundae. “You know, Lillian, it’s going to take a miracle to get Macalaina back,” I said, fighting tears.
We were paying the bill when my cell phone chirped. I hit “answer.”
“Is this the person who lost her bird?” a woman’s voice said. “We’ve got Macalaina.”
Got? Not spotted, or heard...but got? We ran to her cottage, a purple rental a block away. Perched on the shoulder of an older woman was my bedraggled Macalaina! I still had her dish. She hopped into my hand, pecking hungrily at the seeds.
“Thank you! Thank you!” It was all I could think to say. “How?” I finally asked.
“I live in California, and just arrived in town with my kids and my grandkids for the camp meeting,” the woman said. “We had a barbeque in the yard, and this bird flew down and landed on a shrub. I wondered what a miniature Hahn’s macaw was doing at the Jersey Shore.”
That’s when, the woman explained, her six-year-old granddaughter shouted, “That’s the parrot from the poster!” She’d just learned to read, and was practicing earlier by reading the lost-bird posters I’d tacked up.
“I memorized the phone number,” the girl said proudly. She’d recited it as her grandmother dialed.
I was so elated to be reunited with Macalaina, it took me a minute to realize the obvious. “Wait,” I said. “How did you know exactly what kind of parrot she was?”
The woman smiled. “I’m a bird rescuer,” she said. “That’s what I do for a living.”
The next day was Sunday. I attended services in the Great Auditorium, to thank the community that had helped me search for Macalaina. After all, we all pray to the same God. One that cares for even the tiniest of creatures, and who never takes his eyes off us.
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