Toddler Tales: Walter the Pigeon
This morning, I bring you the sad tale of woe that is Walter the Pigeon. Stolen from my eldest daughter’s toddlerdom, I feel like I am confessing on Simon Mayo’s Drivetime 🙂
One Friday morning I was off as usual with Grace who was around 3 years old. Back then, both my husband and I worked compressed hours to fit childcare around Grace. We both worked full-time hours in 4 days and I had Fridays off with her and husband had Mondays. The remaining 3 days were spent in an excellent nursery in Liverpool (I worked nearby). During that particular Friday we noticed that a pigeon had landed in our garden. It didn’t seem to be outwardly injured, but as the day progressed it became clear that it was unable to fly.
I know what people say about pigeons and I am not in disagreement, they are rather filthy birds that don’t seem to add much to society, apart from a lot of bird poo in pretty places. However, I am a soft soul and I have always wanted to pass on a love of animals to my children (please note that this doesn’t extend to mosquitoes and cockroaches). Grace seemed quite taken with the pigeon and during the day she spent a fair bit of time watching him from the patio doors. We named him Walter and he seemed quite content to waddle around our lawn.
Mark came home from work and we told him all about Walter. He was bemused at my adoption of the bird, but to be fair the three year old was very excited about the bird living in our garden. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have named him, it does start to develop a personal connection. At the time we had two cats Meggy and Molly, they were total softies, although had been known to have a penchant for hunting. However, they were quite happy to chill out on the patio with Walter. Perhaps they didn’t realise he was a bird, perhaps he didn’t smell tasty, either way a bond was developed.
Grace got up on the Saturday morning and her first words were ‘ I want to see Walter’. We took her down and sure enough Walter was still there, still plump, still vermin of the flying variety. She spent most of that day playing, but still talking a lot about Walter and watching him from the dining room. Likewise the cats continued to chill out on the patio like old friends and all was well in the world.
Until Sunday morning. As usual we brought Grace downstairs at some ungodly hour only known to young clubbers and night-shift workers. We settled in the living room for our habitual cup of tea (me and husband, Grace was on milk), played, watched a bit of telly and so on. It was only when I went into the kitchen to pull up the blinds that the devastation hit me. The lawn in front of the window was covered in white and grey. My heart dropped, I knew instantly what had happened and it wasn’t pretty. I ran back into the lounge and whispered to husband that Walter was no more and to keep Grace captive in the living room whilst I cleaned up the crime scene.
I have to admit I did feel like Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction. Whoever had done the deadly deed had made a right mess. I knew it wasn’t our cats as they had been in all night and the catflap was locked due to a vicious cat in the neighbourhood. Without going into too much detail it appeared that his head had been totally pecked and the rest of him was missing. There was nothing but a trail of feathers and a pecked head to prove he had ever existed on this planet. I cleared it all up quickly and washed my hands about 7,000 times.
Grace asked if she could go out to see Walter and I said the first thing I could think of ‘Oh darling, I think Walter must have got better. He’s flown away to go back to his family.’ Quite possibly the first of many embellished stories that are told to young children, I contented myself with shielding her from the harsh truth. She seemed accepting of this and told her it was a really good thing that he had felt better enough to fly away. In the following days she would still ask about Walter and then she saw a pigeon in our garden. ‘Walter’ she cried happily. Ok, so I couldn’t help myself ‘Ah, he must have come back to say hello.’ Luckily three year olds are not great at ornithology and Grace wouldn’t have been able to pick Walter out from a pigeon ID parade even if she’d tried.
Over the years every pigeon we saw became Walter, he became a mythical pigeon with the gift of longevity. Never had a pigeon been so central in anyone’s life (the fact is the blasted birds seem to be everywhere). You could guarantee that if we did see a pigeon, it would always resurrect the story of Walter and some pondering about whether it could be him or indeed one of his 95 million relatives.
Seven years we kept up that charade, seven years. Grace mentioned him recently in a ‘Do you remember when’ nostalgia session. It only seemed fair to tell her the truth. As I broke the news gently to her ‘Walter was pecked to death, they only left his head and his feathers on the patio, we told you a story because we didn’t want to upset you’ , I saw a tear slip softly down her cheek. Er no, I didn’t, she just looked us both in the eyes and laughed. That’s kids for you.
RIP Walter – may you have been reunited with your head and be cheerfully plopping everywhere in heaven.