Monday, October 12, 2015

Arnie, the Darling Starling

I've never met a starling and from what most people tell me I should be happy about it. This book (by Margarete Sigl Corbo and Diane Marie Barras and illustrated by Leslie Morrill) caught my eye while I was searching for information on the fall migration of birds. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, this story brings together people, an endearing baby bird, and three cats. Since there are so many stories recently of dogs who are best friends with elephants and cats that snuggle with owls I knew I had to give this book a chance. It's a true story that is certain to charm and entertain.

Margarete, a live-alone grandmother set out one morning to weed her daisy patch. Before she pulled one weed, she found a tiny baby bird nestled beneath a daisy. She returned the baby to his nest in her rafters three times but each time he jumped out and landed at her feet with a thud. So she brought him inside and made him a nest of a cardboard box. She pondered what to feed him and decided he needed grain, protein, and fruit so she opened a can of creamed corn, minced a piece of raw steak, and poured orange juice into a dish. 

Margarete and Arnie

"Despite the fact that he must certainly be starving, he seemed more interested in making friends with the cats than in the feast I was offering." (Pg.9)

He ate finally, Margarete dropping one piece of meat and corn into his mouth at a time and then doling out drops of orange juice from an eyedropper. He ate and drank and ate and drank, blinked once then tucked his head into his shoulders, and fell asleep. He would live, but Margarete was determined to return him to the wild as soon as possible. 

When the bird was three months old he shouted his name, "Arnold!" That was his first sound. He'd never let out so much of a peep or a chirp, but he could talk.

"I had planned to set him free all along. I'd sheltered and nourished him with that goal in mind. Taught him to fly. Taught him to perch. Taught him to love, I think. And now, it seemed, taught him to talk. I imagined him flying from branch to branch, seeking the companionship of his own kind, calling after them, 'Arnold, Arnold, Arnold.' He'd be a freak, a certain misfit now. Some wild bird he'd turned out to be. Wild birds simply did not talk." (Pg. 51)

"Arnold had woven himself into my little family until he'd become the fabric of our daily lives. I should have realized that when the cats began to ignore him; they only ignored what they accepted as belonging among us. Trusting cats and humans as he did, he'd never survive in the wild. Besides, I had fallen in love with him. Despite all my resolve." (Pg. 52)

That's about when Arnold became, Arnie the Darling Starling. Arnie is full of life, laughter, and love. The book is completely irresistible and heartwarming for anyone who even remotely likes animals and birds. 

If you think I've told too much of the story, I haven't. This story delves deeper than an old woman making a pet of one of the most despised and unwelcome immigrants to the United States. Yes, it's about relationships, but it's also about history, ecology, and to my surprise--gun control. In chapter nine, Margarete remembers the day her husband came home from the Korean War. They had a dog then named Rex.

"Rex had a nose that would have made any bloodhound drool with envy. When my husband returned from the Korean War on a troop ship, Hanna (her daughter), Rex, and I went together to meet him. Thousands of men poured off the ships that day, and countless families were there waiting for them. The returning soldiers were one vast, khaki-colored sea topped by bobbing infantry caps. 'We'll never find him,' I said to Hanna. 'Yes we will,' she replied. 'Rex, find Daddy. Find Daddy and bring him here, Rexie.' The dog was off by a shot before I could say anything. 'Hanna, he was less than a year old when your father left for Korea,' I reminded her gently. 'That was two years ago. He'll never find Frank.' 'Yes he will, Mumma,' she stated adamantly. Less than ten minutes later Rex raced up to us, his tail wagging mightily, his paws dancing, his teeth clenched firmly about an infantry cap. And before I knew what was happening, I was locked in an embrace of my grinning, hatless husband. 'I see Rex hasn't forgotten any of his old tricks,' Frank said. 'He always welcomed me home by stealing my hat.'

"Rex died with a .22 bullet in his heart. It was the first bullet fired from the barrel of a rifle our twelve-year-old paper boy had receiver for his birthday. The boy had loved Rex, but no one had bothered to teach him enough about guns before turning him loose with one."

Arnie was so popular in the 80s that Margarete and Diane wrote a sequel, Arnie & a House Full of Company. It's next on my reading list. 

This isn't Arnie, but I think he probably sounded like this:

Okay, here's a little something extra--a little show and tell, well, mostly show, about unlikely animal friends. So much for "wild animals"!

Christian the Lion is a wonderful story about the relationship between tow men and their pet lion. Their overwhelmingly emotional reunion a year after that returned him to the wild in Africa is a YouTube video I have watched at least a zillion times...and cried every time! I hope you'll watch it (just click the blue link above).

1 comment:

  1. OMG! This morning I found a young Starling in my yard. I felt so bad for it. He appeared to have a broken neck. Loved the pictures and the Christian and the Lion story.