Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sarah and the robins

This morning while I was out on my walk, a saw a small group of robins rustling through the dead leaves on the woods' floor.  While I'm still hoping for One BIG Snow, I guess the robins, like the worm I saw last week, and the daffodils that are out already, are convinced that Spring is here.  But the robins made me think of Sarah.  While I lived in Ireland, working on my master's degree, I took care of Sarah, who was in her early nineties.  I have all sorts of memories of Sarah... the stories she told me of sailing the whole Atlantic Ocean to New Jersey with her mother and twin sister when she was only six years old (they eventually returned to Ireland because her mother was so homesick), how she met her husband, Michael, how her son would bring home all sorts of stray animals, especially dogs (even dogs that belonged to other people), even a box of crabs he collected from the beach and hid behind the toilet, unbeknownst to Sarah (and so she almost had a heart attack when she was using the loo one day and heard the crabs scratching around in their box), and the rose garden in her backyard, where she and her women friends would gather and have tea and say the rosary surrounded by flowers.  On warm days, I would help Sarah down her front steps and she would sit with her eyes closed with the sun on her face while I weeded and watered the small beds in front of her house. But there were many more days of cold and rain that we spent inside.  I would make up Sarah's bed, wash her sweaters in the kitchen sink, or iron, or do other little chores, and she usually sat in a chair by the big window in her kitchen, which looked out into her backyard.  There was a huge red fox that kept sneaking there to dig a hole, and Sarah would call me over quickly to see it when it came.  One day when she felt strong enough, she latched onto my arm and leaned on her cane, and we slowly made our way over the lawn to the hole.  Very carefully, she bent over as far as she could to see it, and gasped when she realized how deep and big it was.  It was a very cold year, even for Ireland, and Sarah told me that she thought the weather was changing, that when she was young, it had been hot in the summers, that she used to go out in nothing but plain cotton dresses and be plenty warm.  That year I was still wearing corduroys and wool sweaters and socks in July.  Sarah craved warmth, not only because it helped with her arthritis, but also because she loved spring... and she especially loved robins.

Our American Robins are really thrushes, and as you can see even with a quick glance, aren't very closely related to the European Robins that Sarah liked so much.   Their biggest similarity is the color of the feathers on their chests.  Irish robins don't migrate, but stay the whole year round.  However, their song changes in early spring as they begin looking for a mate, and Sarah predicted the coming of Spring by listening for their mating song.  I remember several times in late, late winter, while I was making her dinner (or 'tea' as the Irish say) in the dusky kitchen, she would shush me and tell me to be still, her big blue eyes magnified by her glasses lenses, her chin jutted forward expectantly, and whisper, 'A robin!' and she would smile one of the happiest smiles I've ever seen when we'd hear the beautiful warble through the kitchen window.
American Robin, image copied from Wikipedia

European Robin, image copied from Wikipedia

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