Hi Ben

During my walk through the cemetery this afternoon I noticed rabbits tucked here and there, watched countless squirrels skitter across gravestones, and heard two blue jays bicker with a crow as it picked something from an old paper bag. Acres in size, this cemetery is full of wildlife from backyard birds to a family of foxes living in a back corner where brush is piled. Once I walk into the cemetery all traffic noises are gone, no sirens blare, and I forget I’m only four miles from downtown D.C. Watching a pair of cardinals in the shrubs by the gate, I sat down at a bench beside one of the gravestones.

I knew from other walks in the cemetery that if I sat on this bench long enough, the family of chipmunks living under the granite base of the tombstone next to it would soon get the nerve to come out. I’m not sure how many live below since there is a constant flow out of the hole, in the hole, back out, two of them now, no wait three, all gone, no here they come again. Once I had four in sight as they scrambled over each other like kittens, paused, then dashed back under the granite, tails in the air. All of these animals today reminded me of the many, many times as a kid that we took in abandoned animals brought to us by well-meaning people.

Our house was always full of animals. Not just the cats and dogs we had, but baby birds, baby rabbits, and even a lizard with three legs someone brought in case we could help it. I currently live in a third floor condo so a pet of any kind is almost out of the question, but something as simple as an afternoon watching rabbits, foxes, and chipmunks can sometimes fill the void.

As a chipmunk bounded from the hole and headed towards a crepe myrtle, a plump robin landed beside me on the back of the bench. I instantly thought of Ben, the name Mama gave to a baby robin someone brought to our house years ago. Mama was usually pretty exasperated by the number of animals I kept, but for some reason she took over caring for Ben the instant he showed up in the bottom of a shoe box. He was just a chunky, fuzzy blob the day he arrived, but in no time Mama had him fat and feathered.

We had a huge screened porch where Mama kept Ben, so he was able to fly as he grew. Ben was satisfied to stay on the screened porch and land on the arms of neighbors who came to visit. People would always ask Mama, “Doesn’t he go to the bathroom on you?”

“Ben would never do that.” Mama always said.

As weeks passed and summer went by, Ben became an adult and began acting interested in other robins in the yard. Mama worried about it, but not wanting to hold him back, she decided she would let him go out to see what he would do.

He flew away.

In an hour he was back. Mama tapped on a can, something she’d done each time she’d fed him, and he flew back to the screened porch. He spent the night there but the next day the pattern repeated: Free to fly in the yard all day, sit on the gutter over the back door which was now favorite spot, then back to the screened porch at night. After a few days of this, Ben no longer returned to the screened porch at night but still spent a lot of time on the gutter over the back door.

“He’s going to sit up there and go to the bathroom on you.” Daddy would say to Mama as he laughed.

“Ben would never do that.” she maintained.

Mama would tap on the can, Ben would fly from the gutter to the porch railing to be fed, then off to the yard somewhere to socialize with his own kind. This new pattern continued for a few more days then we stopped seeing Ben waiting on the gutter. As weeks went by we saw the occasional robin on the gutter, or one in the yard that didn’t seem particularly afraid, but robins never really do. As fall and then winter came the robins disappeared and we wondered if Ben had adjusted well enough to leave with them. We hoped he could survive.

We thought about Ben often during the winter.  As spring came, the more robins that showed up the more we talked about him. One late spring morning I went outside to see a robin on the gutter above the back door. It didn’t fly away. I called Mama who hurried and started talking to the bird. It cocked its head at her but made no effort to move. She stepped inside, grabbed a can from the recycling bin, and came back. As she tapped the can the robin cocked its head again. When Mama tapped a second time, the robin flew down from the gutter to sit on the railing.

“Hi Ben.” Mama said. The robin sat still as she talked. “Hi Ben.” she said again. The robin cocked its head once more and actually hopped along the railing towards Mama. It sat still, staring at her. Then, in a flutter of wings it flew away over the pine trees and was gone. If it was Ben, we never saw him again that we know of. Mama still talks about Ben to this day.

As I sat on that bench in the cemetery remembering Ben and the many, many animals we took care of for short periods of time, I felt a little wistful. There’s a feeling we animal lovers get from having them around, the interaction, the bonding, and the comedy they can provide. There was a feeling of melancholy that came over me remembering Mama’s success with Ben and how I really do think that was him who came back for a visit the next spring.

Feeling full of nostalgia, I turned to the plump robin still sitting on the bench beside me.

“Hi Ben.” I said.

The robin cocked its head at me and just before flying off, it unceremoniously went to the bathroom down the back of the bench.

Ben would never have done that.

Stuart M. Perkins

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43 Comments

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43 responses to “Hi Ben

  1. you live near me;i’m not there now, but rosslyn.

  2. Oh Right, that’s only about a mile or so from me, but Columbia Gardens is just across Arlington Blvd.

  3. pi314chron

    Stu, you have a positive genius for beautiful prose and a mastery of “tone” that leaves me speechless. Bravo for yet another masterpiece! Without my having to search your site, do you have a published book I can purchase? Would LOVE to give it a good home in Texas! -R-

  4. Now I’m the speechless one! If I had written a book I would gladly send you one for that nice comment alone. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but not until a good friend convinced me to start this blog last month has anyone ever really read any of it! Thank you again…

  5. Sig

    A book is of course what is needed. We’ll all just sit here patiently and wait until you pull one together.

  6. Lovely – I know just what you mean – I’m travelling at the moment and miss my zoo of animals back home. This morning two cats from near by came to visit as I was sat in the sun, the braver one deciding to stroll over my lap top to sit on my knee – It made me chuckle so much – completely miss my cats, but hadn’t realised till now!! Reminds me how much you can get from having animals around you – whether wild or bog standard domestic!!!

  7. Oh My God Stuart, that was amazing. I always wanted to be like that. Have a house full of unwanted and strays but was never allowed to. You can tell from your writings you have a great love of animals and your family. Your stories are filled with emotion. You don’t need to be psychic to feel that. You really are an incredible writer. Have you ever thought ot writing stories to sell on Kindles and such? My friend does. Your story was beautiful as always. You write about such emotional things. It really lets us look into your soul. I love Robins. We don’t get them in New Zealand but we get them here in the UK. One came into our house once and sat on my husbands head, twice. We have a Robin in our yard, my boys call him Mr Robinson and now every time I see him I shall think of your Ben. Your Mama is a beautiful beautiful soul. And clearly she passed it on to you.

  8. thank you Stuart, it was sweet and moving.
    you’re lucky to have a mother like her. I have an entire population of birds waking me up in the morning cause they want to be fed. mostly sparrows, starlings, a few robins and great tits.
    much better than the alarm clock, even though they call much earlier.
    hugs,
    chiara

  9. Ellen

    I have a feeling Stuart did not say verbatim, “That bird is going to use the bathroom on you.” I can pretty much imagine exactly what he said. 🙂 I love your blog. You are a most talented cousin! 🙂 Eleanor L

  10. Stuart, This would make a lovely Reader’s Digest story.

  11. That was such a lovely story, I had a chuckle at the end. Thank you for sharing you lifted my day.

  12. I agree with this others, you should look at publishing on one level or another. Reader’s Digest would be perfect! Thank you for sharing your most descriptive stories, I truly enjoy them!

  13. Wait, did you all really have recycling back then? 🙂 Love this, as always!

    • Oh yes, and they were sticklers for it and still are. But back then it was only aluminum and newspaper they saved and it wasn’t picked up weekly. Once they had a pile of both, Daddy would haul it all to someplace in downtown Richmond, near the river, I remember.

  14. The “Ben” story is absolutely heart warming. I’ve never been able to nurse a little bird back to health, but not for lack of trying. This story is written in a magnificent manner. Keep on writing, please.

  15. Charming with a touch of sadness– you really should submit this somewhere for print publication!

  16. I loved this story. We rescued wildlife in our family too. We had an orphaned raccoon who climbed up our screen door more than once to do his business.Once they do it in one place they continue to return to that place, so we had to take him to the woods. Wouldn’t you know he returned the next day to repeat his performance. That earned him a very long ride in the car.
    .

  17. Patty Mejia Burke

    Aww, I loved your story about Ben. I could just see a mom, tapping on a can, and talking with a robin! We had “adopted” a squirrel that would climb up our legs for cookies. He never bit us or did anything gross (like Ben, he had manners!) and occasionally I think about him…nature is incredible, isn’t it?

  18. Diane

    Continue remembering and writing….it makes us all feel better. Diane

  19. Wow, Stuart, what a great post… made me reminisce about my own younger days in the backyard with Grammie, feeding bits of peanut butter-slathered bread to our resident raccoon. I love how urban our cities are, yet we can always find a spot of wilderness in which to daydream. =)

  20. Stuart, I love your stories. They need to be read aloud to my family some time. Thanks for the like on my post today. That poem written by a good friend attracted a lot of visits to my site. I visited all of them this evening, but yours is the only one I definitely want to follow. Happy writing!

  21. That’s just a great story, thanks for sharing it.

  22. rjjs8878

    Great story!

  23. Heart warming. It left me feeling warm. Thank you.

  24. Reminds me of the time we tried to raise some baby squirrels; although I don’t think we had such a happy ending!

  25. That definitely found a home in my animal loving heart. I was constantly bringing in stray and hurt animals. I could picture that whole story in my head; it was well written. What a strange coincidence that your cemetery looks an awful lot like the one I grew up by and your screened in porch is the same as my Aunts, complete with matching furniture. 😉

  26. A super wonderful story that I could very much relate to and loved. Thank you so much for sharing this. Hugs

  27. I don’t know you (obviously), but I was so touched to read this post because I had the beginning of a similar experience.

    About a month ago, I found a baby robin (in process of attaining his feathers) while I was mowing the lawn. It was such a neat experience, we named him Freddie. It started from taking him inside only to have my dad tell me it was illegal, ha!

    Then, taking Freddie and the box outside a top my car so that my cats would stay away. I fed him worms and blueberries all the while searching for its mother. Finally, my sister spotted the worried parents and we contained our cats inside and sat him and his box in the grass below the tree where we found him.

    I was tearing up as I saw the parents feed their lost young one three to four times in his little box. We didn’t know what to do so I sat Freddie back where I found him, but he was still in the open and would be cat food in less than 15 minutes if he didn’t move.

    My sister and her boyfriend decided to put him in a small box in the tree so he was elevated, but the next morning when I checked the box I noticed some large bugs and ants… and that he had died.

    It wasn’t so sad because we only knew him for a day, but still he consumed our thoughts and actions for most of that single day! I was comforted knowing that truly only the Lord numbers and knows the amount of our days and each aspect and animal of his creation.

    Thanks for sharing your little story. It was amusing!

  28. Thanks for the story Stuart. I grew up on a farm. In addition to the domesticated animals, there were lots of wild ones too. The biggest one I recall was a fawn whitetail deer.

    I’ve been writing about some of my childhood experiences with animals on my blog. You and your commenters might enjoy them. mytemenosdotme.wordpress.com

    There is something about gentle, tender animal stories that is good for the soul. Your story was good for mine and I am grateful.

  29. Have enjoyed our early morning visit. You’re doing a fine job, Stewart M. Look forward to reading you again in the blogisphere.

  30. That was absolutely a beautiful piece of writing. I enjoyed it so much. Thank you.

  31. I enjoyed your story. I’ve been volunteering for about six weeks with my daughter at a wildlife rehab center and the animals are wonderful. I fed a baby hummingbird last week. He was so tiny — I really hope he makes it. So many of them don’t, and I always wonder about the fate of those who do get released. I haven’t decided if I’m going to continue once my daughter quits for the school year. It’s rewarding, but it’s hard work and not the most fun way to spend Saturday night. And these animals DO poop on you. 🙂

  32. I really like your humorous spins to your stories.

  33. tellthetruth1

    Thumbs up to all who suggested a book. This site is perfectly good enough and I agree. Lovely writing again, Stu.

  34. Such a lovely write.
    You really are a force to reckon with.

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