Little Downed Bird

I strolled through their magnificent home pausing in each room as Marvin and Joanne Lewis told me fascinating stories associated with objects featured in their home's eclectic decor. Their house reminded me of my parents-in-law's stylish home in Chattanooga—it had a museum-like quality showcasing a fine collection of interesting, intriguing pieces. Like a sponge, I absorbed the stories.

 Joanne Lewis wrote a keepsake story about a little, wooden bird figurine. "Downed Bird" starts on page 114 of Project Keepsake.

Joanne Lewis wrote a keepsake story about a little, wooden bird figurine. "Downed Bird" starts on page 114 of Project Keepsake.

"Do you want to see my little bird?" Joanne asked.

I nodded.

She floated over to a shelf and retrieved the wooden figurine with the grace and fluidity of a prima ballerina. She handed it to me with a flourish.

The little chicken possessed a whimsical quality that brought a smile to my face, and I understood immediately why Joanne had fallen under its spell.

She placed it back in its spot atop a glass rabbit mold, and we both stopped and admired it for a few seconds.

I love to be around interesting, intelligent, thoughtful, generous people, and the Lewis' certainly fall into this group. They appreciated my quest to collect keepsake stories, and both—yes, both—contributed to the story collection. I've pasted Joanne's keepsake story below. Perhaps tomorrow, I will post Marvin's story.

Joanne's story, titled, "Downed Bird," starts on page 114.

It peeked up at me from its hiding place in the dirt and grass stubble. I bent over and picked up the little wooden object—a piece of dropped debris—a remnant of our local historical society’s rummage sale. It was a dried-out, wounded, hand-carved chicken about four inches tall.

Like a human face, one side looked better than the other. The left side of the little bird was missing one eye like a pirate. It had also lost a piece of its tail and had multiple gouges bitten out of its body as if it had been pecked by a rival. The right side was dirty and dry but completely unharmed.

I asked if I could purchase it.

“You want to buy that?” the woman asked with a tone inferring she thought my request was foolish or crazy.

“Yes, how much?”

“Just take it,” the woman said. “It has no value. We were going to throw it away, so no payment is necessary.”

I carried it home—my mind set on reviving the little bird. I washed it, dried it, and rubbed it with multiple doses of lemon oil. I polished it as if it was a precious gemstone. With each stroke, the dull brown surface soaked-in the oil revealing rich, beautiful wood grains. Soon, a dark chocolate color appeared.

My desire to know the history of the little object was strong, but even stronger was my desire to save the bird and have it start a new life with me among my most treasured possessions. And as I continued to breathe life into the little figurine, my affection for it grew.

Old objects fascinate me in that they have histories. Their histories often start before our beginnings and possibly go on well beyond our ends. In essence, they outlive us.

When we collect things—a cup, a book, a wooden chicken— we rescue them from oblivion, which to me is a stronger motivator to collect than the mere desire to own the pieces I buy. The fulfillment is not in the act of purchasing an item, but in the salvation.

The feeling I am preserving a piece of the past fills me with great pleasure and satisfaction. Maybe I am looking for the echoes of a refinement that existed in earlier times that have languished in today’s world—a sentiment I believe all generations have felt about the world in which they lived.

I turned the little brown bird upside down to record the date and place our history together began. I wrote, “Crown Gardens and Archives 10-31-09,” on the underside of its base, turned it upright, then carefully placed it on a shelf on top of a vintage, glass rabbit mold. This arrangement gave the two animals the whimsical appearance of two circus animals performing an act. The placement made me smile that day. Indeed, I smile every time I look at the little chicken—my heart growing fonder and fonder. It is a favorite of mine now.

I’ll never know why the little brown bird spoke to me that day in October. I’ll never understand why I selected the tattered figurine that had been so callously discarded in the grass— deemed worthless and destined for a landfill. And perhaps there is nothing to understand.

Maybe the answer is a simple one—that the encounter with the bird was no more than the chance meeting of two friends, and like friends, one does not belong to the other, but with each other.

Did I save the little bird, or did the little bird save me? I wonder sometimes, as I smile up at it riding the glass rabbit like a cowboy. Perhaps we saved each other.
— Joanne Lewis, from Project Keepsake

From the moment that I read Joanne's first draft, I felt that her story was about transformations. I love the way she describes the little bird's metamorphosis.

Joanne is a Mary Washington College graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in history. She taught fifth grade, sixth grade and high school history. She is Chairman of the Board of Dalton, Georgia's Blunt House, a property of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, and chairman of the City of Dalton's Historic Preservation Commission. She is a collector of stray dogs and cats, linens, china, silver, decorative objects and art. 

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To read other stories about keepsakes and the memories they hold, please purchase a copy of Project Keepsake. It's on sale now with no shipping and handling charges. And by the way, it's a great Christmas gift for a loved one, especially when paired with a keepsake.

As always, please share your keepsake story with me. Everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell.