When I was a youngster, my folks took me to a speech pathologist. She recommended that my parents get a talking bird and name the bird something that would help me with certain sounds. They bought a parakeet and named it Tiny Tim. (The other choices based on my articulation problems were to call it either “spaghetti” or “tetracycline.”)
It wasn’t until I was a little older that I learned that Charles Dickens had a character named Tiny Tim. I figured that must have been because his kid also had trouble saying certain words correctly. (The long-haired ukulele-playing falsetto also named Tiny Tim, who appeared on Johnny Carson, did not come along until much later.)
Our parakeet, Tiny Tim, was a good talker. He would respond to what we said. He was also smart. A family friend came to the house, walked up to the cage and said to the bird, “Merry Christmas!” Tiny Tim chose to be politically correct and he responded, “Happy Holiday.”
We realized that he became especially talkative right before every Thanksgiving when he would notice what happened to that other bird, who clearly never said a word.
Of course, we knew that Tiny Tim was smart. One of my friends said, “That bird is a lot smarter than you are.” I asked him how he figured that. He said, “Well, Tiny Tim can talk and fly!” He had a valid point.
The bird also learned to call the dog to dinner, no matter what time of day it was. Understandably, the dog became neurotic.
The only time we needed to “untrain” Tiny Tim was after my dad hit his thumb with a hammer. The bird learned to say several new words which my mother did not appreciate.
I was usually the first one up in the morning and Tiny Tim would indicate to me that he needed more water or more birdseed. I understood what he wanted and responded accordingly. No doubt, my folks realized that Tiny Tim could teach me as well. They began to give it a lot of thought to having the bird check my homework.
(On a tangent: if you get flowers from planting flower seeds, how come when I planted bird seeds, no birds appeared?)
I was jealous of my neighbor’s parakeet, which his family had taught to recite the catch phrase for a local rock and roll radio station. My neighbor won a cash prize. I spoke to my dad about it and he still insisted that we would only play classical music on our radio. Trust me, parakeets cannot learn the “1812 Overture” or the aria from “Carmen.” Besides, no one would pay you if they could.
We could let Tiny Tim out of his cage and let him fly around. He often would land on someone’s head. Obviously, he thought of my grandfather’s head as a “clean restroom.”
Once Tiny Tim got out and we couldn’t find him; we looked throughout the house for him. Fortunately, the front door was closed. I opened my cat’s mouth to see if he was in there. (Who said you cannot learn things from watching Warner Brothers’ cartoons?) We found Tiny Tim in the clothes closet. For some reason, after that episode, the dry cleaners regularly gave Tiny Tim treats.
As do so many pets, Tiny Tim came to his natural end of life. I asked my dad what happened. My father sat me down and quietly said that Tiny Tim went to heaven to be with God. That puzzled me. I asked my dad, “What would God want with a dead bird?”