Prince – 1991

 Every summer my wife’s family has a big reunion.  It usually happens around the fourth of July.  I think it has a lot to do with usually perfect conditions for sunbathing, swimming, water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, volleyball, badminton, fishing, running, fireworks watching, trips up the Mississippi to the sand banks and an influx of old friends.

This summer was particularly busy.  We had two ski boats going and someone figured we went through 125 gallons of gas. The grandkids are getting bigger now and it’s not just the adults who slalom behind the big boats.

The reunion is a time of recreation, relaxation, and in many ways nurturance, both emotionally and certainly there is no lack of food.  This year however, the care took a different turn.

Dad has a big Martin house on a pole 20 feet in the air.  Each summer as we sit down by the lake, these chattering acrobats, swoop and screech above us, consuming vast quantities of dragon and fish flies.   Always it seems one or two fledglings stray out onto the balconies of the lofty chalet and tumble to the ground.  Usually they die, but this year members of the family took on the challenge of caring for one little naked nestling.

Of course the little fella had to have a name – somehow purple got mentioned – someone free-associated purple with the movie “Purple Rain”, and all of a sudden “Prince” had a handle

Feeding prince became a family project.  The kids went and found grasshoppers and other bugs.  Someone went to a local bait store and bought some worms and since dad became a Spam fan in Italy during the Second World War, “Prince” even dined on that! The bird had a robust appetite and sometimes his eyes were bigger than his stomach.  Reluctant grasshoppers backed out of his mouth, as well as the nightcrawlers.  A syringe full of water shot into his mouth made things slide down easier.  The Spam – can you blame him – gave way to tiny pieces of hamburger.

People left and the care of the flightless orphan fell to mom and dad.  In the morning as dad came to the kitchen and started making coffee, the sound of his voice elicited plaintive chirps from the cardboard box on the counter.

Prince grew feathers and dad tried to introduce him to his previous bunkmates.  The other birds weren’t too sure about him and ignored him.

Flight training began in earnest as August and a planned trip out of town approached.  Sometimes Prince looked like his namesake – “cool moves” and glitz.  Other times his landings were a mess; feathers, leaves and grass clippings everywhere. 

One day Prince was ready, left and landed in a nearby tree.  Both mom and dad called to him and he’d twitter back.  At lunch dad was sitting on the deck and Prince dropped by for a visit.  Landing on dad’s shoe, he hopped to his outstretched hand and promptly fell asleep in the noonday sun. 

Mid-August came and the Purple Martins were leaving.  Prince left too.  One day he returned for a visit, sitting on the deck railing chirping away before joining his buddies.

The fall migration is a powerful pull and I’m sure Prince is miles south of here. Mom calls to him even now, in the hope he may still be hanging around.  He’ll return – getting what he needs – next summer – just like the rest of us.

Author: Doug Lewandowski

I have walked a varied path. I was a Christian Brother, an English teacher/counselor and Licensed Psychologist. I have a twice monthly column in the Duluth News Tribune and have had a story published in the Nemadji Review and placed third in this year’s Jade Ring contest of the Wisconsin Writer’s Association. I was a commentator for KCRB, Minnesota Public Radio in the 90s. I transplanted to Duluth to be closer to grandchildren.

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