The two bits that follow, “Tits” and “Flicker,” are shortened versions of stories published a while back in different parts of this website. They’re here now because when I wrote them I described time spent with my dad. And, well, it’s Father’s Day.
I’m ten years old, and my dad and I are driving to a White Sox game. I’m happy. Going to see baseball, get hot dogs, hang out with my dad.
As we’re waiting for a light I see a Tufted Titmouse in a tree. Never saw one ‘til then. I say, “Hey, a titmouse.”
My dad thinks all birds are called birds. Maybe some are called chickens or turkeys, and I guess he’d know an eagle, but he doesn’t get into it more than that.
“A what mouse?”
I’d recently been forced to study birds in school so I knew this was a Tufted Titmouse. No big deal.
But it was the beginning of my being teased about birds.
Titmouse. My dad laughed a good belly laugh.
“We saw a titmouse today,” he’d tell friends.
Whenever I went hiking in the woods after that, I’d get: “Going to look for some tit-mice?”
This embarrassed me. I knew what tits were, the kind guys talked about in schoolyards. The kind I really wanted to see. But that wasn’t a family subject.
I guess my dad’s amusement over my knowledge of bird names contributed to my being a little defensive about bird watching.
This might be why I like to point out that it’s a two-fisted sport.
In any case, I’m glad I could make my dad laugh, and wish I still could.
My dad had signed us up for a nature hike led by a bossy guy in a ranger outfit.
I was ten, and looking for arrowheads. But I noticed an interesting bird in the underbrush.
It flew to a tall tree ahead of us on the trail. There was white on its back, a red dot on its head. And gold flashes under its wings.
I thought I knew what it was. We’d been studying birds in school that year.
I said to our guide, “What bird has yellow wings?”
This annoyed him. I was a punk looking for arrowheads. He sighed, “No bird.” And resumed lecturing to the adults.
I said, “What if it’s under the wings.”
“Son, no bird has yellow under the wings.”
Under my breath, I said to my dad, “Flicker.”
My dad, who would later tease me for life because I once identified a titmouse, looked at me, eyebrows raised.
He said, “What’d you call that guy?”
Eventually, we neared the tall tree. As the bird moved, yellow feathers under its wings became obvious.
Our guide noticed. He stopped the group and pointed, “Okay, everybody, up here we have something interesting…” As though he’d discovered it for us.
“Flicker,” I whispered to my dad again.
My dad gave me a look.
“Yellow-shafted,” I added.