Do Angels Wear Tennis Shoes?
Crackers was a good bird. Well, maybe not the best bird. Cockatoos sometimes aren’t. They’re loud, destructive, and can be very emotional; sometimes about the strangest things.
About 15 years ago, my wife and I picked up a Moluccan cockatoo. We named him Loki. He came to his forever home as a young bird straight from a local pet store. My wife had experience with cockatoos in Australia, loved them, and had to convince me to go along with bringing one home. Well, maybe “convinced” isn’t strong enough. More like “beat me into submission” using subtle phrases such as “Well, I’m getting him!” and when the price came up, “You know, it’s my money…”
That being said, my wife is a good bird too…mostly.
Loki was and still is sweet, loveable, and mischievous, but seemed sometimes lonely even though his cage and perch were in the very center of our daily activity room. When my wife noticed that a couple had an Umbrella cockatoo for sale, she convinced me to adopt a 7-year-old ball of feathered fury named Crackers to befriend him. Yeah, hated the name, but you can’t trick a parrot out of it. At that age, it’s theirs.
Crackers seemed to have some behavioral ticks when she arrived. She didn’t seem used to toys and was not the most stable of birds; developing something called “bumblefoot” from her previous cage, which was cheap and poorly constructed. We replaced it, gave her a lot of toys, and spent a ton of time acclimating her to the environment, and she quickly became a member of the family and for the next 14 years had been Loki’s best friend (mostly), preening him each day, helping him talk, and showing him how to get into trouble he hadn’t even thought of yet.
It was obvious that Crackers was intelligent. I mean, like really intelligent. She was like a feathery combination of McGuyver and Houdini with a touch of stand-up comic mixed with wrecking ball. Oh, and could she talk… It was fascinating that when interested in the food we had, she said “Want some?” When she wanted to go outside, she would actually ask, in context, “Go outside?” Once, after returning from a short vacation, we found that our bird-sitter had left the TV on. I was greeted by Crackers with an “I love you” shortly followed by “You choice of credit!” She would tease the cats with a throaty “Meowww..” as they passed by.
It amused me to no end that she would greet me by name, tell me that she loved me, but then call out to my wife “Hey, brat!” I would jokingly console my wife, and Crackers would chuckle and say, “Crackers is a GOOD bird…”
I’ve always described Crackers as a preschooler who would just never leave for college.
There was a dark side too. Because of her previous handling, Crackers seemed to be deathly afraid of doors. Because she was unsteady, she would often lunge with her beak while being carried- no matter how carefully- to or from the cage. This could (and sometimes did) cause serious bites; resulting in more than one open wound on a hand, arm or chest. When she got excited, it was very difficult to be around her for fear of a random bite. None of it would be intentional, but it was also unpredictable. Destructive too. If you’ve ever owned a large parrot, you know that no matter how many toys they have, if they see something more interesting than a toy, they’ll tear it to pieces.
And, oh, she hated tennis shoes. Or maybe it was that she loved them with just a bit too much enthusiasm? It didn’t matter what brand (we tried them all). She so despised them, that entering her cage area with them on was seen as a license to jump from the cage and charge like a bull toward a matador. This was somewhat funny but also terrifying because, if you’ve never seen a large parrot run, you will inevitably underestimate their ground speed; meaning that you either need to be lightning quick or invest in steel-toed kicks. Anything in between risked a toe.
But Crackers was a good bird, even if she was a bit troubled. Loki loved her. We loved her so terribly much.
Crackers died two days ago. It took monumental effort for me to type that last sentence. We don’t know exactly when or why; only that we found her on top of the cage with Loki standing diligently above her. He wouldn’t move from his perch until we took her away. My wife found her, which adds another layer of terrible onto things and both of us have been entirely shaken by her passing. We know there’s nothing we could have done, but knowing that is different from feeling that; which is something I’m sure only time will make sense of.
Parrots can live to be 40 to 70 years old. My hope was that she would approach that, but nature has its own plan. I am extremely thankful that we were able to give her a good home and that she gave us so many memories; things that I would have never experienced had it not been for my wife’s forethought to bring someone so unique and special into our home.
Today we laid Crackers to rest. Loki was there too. He said goodbye and we think he understands. With her, we sent along her favorite food, two of her best toys, and my wife’s left Reebok. I would be very surprised if that Reebok survives her trip to the afterlife.
We know that if there is a parrot heaven, she’s looking down at us right now, chuckling away. She’s likely outside calling out hello’s to passers-by, dancing to her own personal music playlist, and I can virtually hear her call each angel she meets a brat.
But they’ll be ok with that up there in her new, and last, forever home. Because they know that Crackers is a good bird. I just hope that they wear loafers or wingtips. If not, they may quickly forget exactly how good a bird she really is.
Beloved family member and friend