Our Sparrow

In 1996, my family fell in love with a sparrow.

We had just moved to Kansas, hoping to get a fresh start on life, when the bird dropped in through our chimney. For hours, it kicked and squeaked, until my mom unscrewed the chimney vent to let it out.

Peep, peep, peep…

The sparrow, no bigger than two fingers, was covered in soot. We encouraged it to fly, but it couldn’t. So on a whim my parents decided to nurture it back to health.

Now, if you know Koreans, you know why this is odd: We either fry birds, boil birds or scare birds away from our crops. We don’t keep them, much less take care of them. But that’s what my parents decided to do. Even today, I don’t understand why. Maybe they wanted to make me and my brother happy. Or maybe they identified with the bird. But whatever the reason, we kept the sparrow and we loved it. I even named it:

“Birdy.”

I know, awesome name.

Anyway, Mom went to Walmart to get a cage, while the rest of us made an impromptu nest out of tissue paper. We put Birdy in the nest and tried to feed it bread; it was too scared to eat.

After a few days, Birdy felt comfortable enough to jump around its cage and make a mess of the bird seeds and water — so much so that, one day, Mom decided Birdy was too dirty.

“We have to give it a shower,” she said.

Mom pulled on her yellow rubber gloves and held the bird lightly in her fingers. She reached under the kitchen faucet and gently ran water through Birdy’s wings. I’ll never forget the way my mom’s hands so gently held the bird, and how the bird calmly let her wash its wings.

Peep, peep…

Soon thereafter, we noticed Birdy was restlessly peeping all the time.

“It’s a wild bird. It needs exercise,” Mom said.

So we tied a string to its leg, like a leash, and let it fly around our house. At one point, it chased my brother around the house, and terrified him so much that he hid in the laundry room the rest of the day. Best. Day. Ever.

But on Thanksgiving Day, my parents decided it was time Birdy was free. So we released it in our backyard. After initial hesitation, Birdy flew away.

Almost immediately, I realized the things we did with that bird were ridiculous. We bathed and leashed a freaking sparrow!

But over the years, when I think about Birdy, that’s not what I think about. Instead, I remember my dad delicately creating a nest out of tissues in a Nike shoebox; I remember my mom trying to get our whole family to work together to catch a bird flying around our house with a string tied to its foot; and I remember my brother and I trying to feed wheat Chex to the bird, since we all know it’s the worst type of Chex cereal.

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