Meet Sam. He's been my companion for the past twenty-one years. Sam is a grey cheek parakeet, though he looks like a tiny parrot. Up until very recently, he was a healthy, plump little bird, feisty and extremely vocal. Spoiled rotten is the phrase most often used to describe him. But as I've already stated, Sam is twenty-one years old. For his subspecies, that's very old. The average lifespan of a grey cheek is fifteen years. Up to fifteen years. In bird years, Sam is a real geezer. He should be on Willard Scott's birthday list.
The years have slowly begun to catch up with my little buddy. Arthritis has made it difficult for him to use his feet. When he climbs, which he still insists upon doing at times, he relies mostly on his hookbill. He used to dunk his donuts (actually, they're Honey Nut Cheerios), holding one in his claw to dunk and eat. He can no longer do that, unable to balance on just one foot. Today, he's started sitting on the perch on his food dish for long periods of time. He sleeps off and on with his head in the seed. If that weren't so sad, it would be funny.
At his advanced age, all we can do for him is make him as comfortable as possible.
I will never forget the first time I saw him. I went to the pet shop to buy a parrot for my dad. He'd seen a large Amazon there and had talked about how he'd like to have it--but Dad was not one to plunk down a few hundred dollars for a bird, no matter how much he liked it. So I was going to surprise him. It would be an early Father's Day gift.
When Mom and I got to the pet shop, we discovered the bird Dad wanted had already been sold. We were disappointed, but we didn't go home empty-handed. There were two grey cheeks in one of the cages--they caught my eye because the grey cheek is very similar to the canary-winged parakeet--or Bee Bee Parrot, as they're commonly known. As a teen, I'd had a Bee Bee I dearly loved, also named Sam.
One of the two birds immediately came forward as I approached, bold, curious, acting almost as if he knew me. He could whistle--wolf whistle, that is. I assume he picked that up from guys hanging around the store. He was still a baby, barely six months old. And I was hooked. I told the salesperson I wanted to buy him. As she reached into the cage to get him, he dodged her and flew...straight to the checkout. I guess he was in a hurry to go home.
It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
At first, he was my baby. No one else could even touch him. But as he grew older, he also became attached to Collin. Some days, when his health issues are weighing heavily on him, when he doesn't make a sound otherwise, he'll chatter his head off when Collin comes home.
He still wants to eat when we eat. When we sit down to dinner, no matter how badly he's feeling, he'll go to his dish and start chowing down. He still likes to watch Paulie on DVD. And he still likes to take a nap, nestled on my shoulder while I work on the computer. Still, I know his time with us grows short. And I wonder how I'm ever going to say goodbye to someone who's been such an important part of my life for so long.
My once plump little bird is now just a handful of feathers...or that's how he feels, anyway.
Death bites. I've had to bury too many loved ones, human and otherwise. As a Christian, I know there's a life after this one, and I hope to see all of them there...but it's still so hard to say goodbye, even for a little while.
For more information on Grey Cheeks, check out the Avian Web