Tipi: You Have No Idea

Tipi: You Have No Idea

 

An Excerpt:

A true source of delight in our life at this time was our pet pigeon Tipi (pronounced tee-pee).  I have to tell you about him because he was a real character.  As I mentioned, in front of our little pioneer house were two enormous palm trees.  Nobody had taken care of them for a long time before we got there and there were a lot of dead fronds at the top.  After Edmund painted the front of the house and planted the flowerbeds, he decided it was time to do something about the palm trees.  He hired a couple of guys to remove the dead brush.  It was a great idea because it made the house and garden look so much tidier.

Pigeons had built a nest in the fronds, however, and when the men were up on the ladder pulling out the dead brush, the nest, with two baby pigeons inside, fell to the ground.  One of the chicks was killed instantly, but the second survived and seemed to be okay.  It was still featherless and completely helpless.  The girls started to cry.  Edmund and I didn't know what to do.  There was no nest to put the chick back into.  We thought of perching the chick on the roof, hoping the mother would return to rescue it, but getting it up there would have been too dangerous.

Edmund and Abi with Tipi (ca. 1954)

Edmund and Abi with Tipi (ca. 1954)

Desperate to pacify the children, I found a small basket, lined with the clean soft rags, and put the chick inside.  The bird remained motionless for the longest time.  We couldn't tell if it was asleep or in shock.  Solemnly, we buried its sibling in the empty lot next door.  Edmund left for work and, by the end of the day, exhausted by the drama, the children and I went to bed.  The girls were hoping that either the mother pigeon would back to retrieve her baby, or the chick would "grow up" in the night and fly away.  I was sure that by morning it would be dead, which would have been the end of it and the best solution, really.  I comforted myself knowing that we had done our best to give it a warm and comfortable bed.

But when we peered under the towel the next morning, the bird was very much alive.  And hungry!  What to do?  Could we feed it?  I had no idea or previous experience with baby pigeons, but I knew I had to give it food.  I softened up a piece of bread with water and stuffed it into the chick's beak.  To our astonishment, it gulped it down and craned its scrawny neck for more.  It ate the whole piece of bread without hesitating, as if having soggy clumps of bread shoved down its throat were the most natural thing in the world.

Terry, Abi, Edmund, myself, and Chris 

Terry, Abi, Edmund, myself, and Chris 

"Okay," I said to the girls, "now we have to make him drink some water."  I tried to drip water into his beak with my finger, but it didn't work; the water went everywhere except into his mouth, and we had to dry him off for fear he would catch cold.  Frustrated, I took the glass of water and held it out t him.  To our amazement, again he stretched out his long neck, plunked his beak into the glass, and guzzled like a parched child at the water fountain.  The girls couldn't believe it, and neither could I.  The bird was so alert and obviously able to eat and drink.  It was a foregone conclusion that we would have to keep him to continue taking care of him.  Overjoyed, the girls skipped off to school, leaving me to contend with now two infants--little baby Abi and new baby Tipi.

Don't ask me why we thought he was a boy, we just did; or why we called him Tipi.  It seemed like a good name.  In the beginning, I was nervous, but soon began to appreciate the challenge.  I prepared different treats for him.  I'd boil a potato, mash it up, and mix it with bran, or I'd feed him cooked buckwheat oats.  I'd sometimes mix in a little sand to help his digestion.  He ate and grew and soon sprouted feathers and began to look more like a real bird.

It was not long before our friends and neighbors were showing almost as much interest in Tipi's progress as they were in Abi's.  "Abi is walking and speaking a few words," I would boast, "and Tipi is walking, too, and has grown three new feathers!  He can't fly yet, but he likes to hop out of his basket and strut around the porch."

With Tipi (ca. 1954)

With Tipi (ca. 1954)

Tipi ignored the cat and dog, and they left him alone.  Baby Abi didn't bother him either; it was quite natural for the two of them to be out in the back yard together, doing their own separate thing.  Since I was Tipi's primary caregiver, this silly bird thought I was his mother.  When he was hungry, he would come after me and poke his beak between my fingers looking for food.  He stayed on the back porch most of the time, or walked around our little fenced-in yard pecking for grubs in the dirt.  When he got too big for the basket, we made him a perch on the back porch from an upside-down mop head.  Edmund hung it on a nail in one of the corners, and I spread newspapers underneath the catch the poop.  Tipi loved his special perch and spent most of his time there.  But we also took him into the house for short periods, or had him on the front porch with us.  He was happiest when he was in our company.

As a fledgling, Tipi made no sounds and then, out of the blue, he uttered a distinctly pigeon-like "groo-hoo, groo-hoo."  It was such a surprise, almost like a child sputtering "dada" for the first time.  We couldn't believe it.  He could coo like a pigeon!  Now all we had to do was teach him how to fly.  We started tossing him in the air and catching him.  He would flap his wings clumsily, but couldn't stay aloft.  He seemed to enjoy the exercise, though, and got better and better with practice.  We continued the flying lessons for the longest time, wondering if he would ever catch on.  Then one day when we were throwing him in the air, he spread his wings, flapped furiously, and flew away, landing on our next-door neighbor's roof.

The children (ca. 1953)

The children (ca. 1953)

Horrified, the girls and I gazed up at him, helpless to know what to do.  We called to him--Tipi! Tipi! Tipi!--but he ignored us.  He ignored me, his mother!  He strutted back and forth, groo-hoo-ing loudly, cocking his head this way and that, clearlvy very interested in the view from up there.  A quarter of an hour later, after sustained efforts to coax him down, he hopped into the air and flew back to my outstretched arm.  I wasted no time hustling him back to his perch on the porch.

Now that he could fly, what next?  Would he fly away?  It was unthinkable.  After all the effort I had put into raising him, I was horrified at the prospect of losing him.  I had become too attached to him.  Sure, he was supposed to belong to the children, but Tipi was more like a fourth child to me.

Patiently, Edmund listened to me pour out my heart and, being a reasonable man, he said, "Honey, Tipi is a bird.  He's a big bird--a pigeon--that you can't keep locked up in a cage like a parakeet.  Pigeons are free birds, and Tipi is one of them.  He has to be free.  You have to let him go.  If he is fond of us, he'll come back.  You'll see.  Don't worry."

Terry and Tipi Reading (ca. 1954)

Terry and Tipi Reading (ca. 1954)

What Edmund said was reassuring.  Resigned, I opened the porch door.  If Tipi wanted to leave, well, I wasn't going to be the one to stop him.  He flew right out and disappeared.  For a day and a night he didn't come back.  I held back tears to conceal my grief.  I kept the porch door open all day until we went to bed.  I had convinced myself that he was never coming back, that he was either lost, had joined a flock of pigeons, or had found a girlfriend.  When I went outside on the second morning, though, there he was in the backyard, pecking at the dirt as if nothing had changed.  I called to him, and he flew right onto my outstretched hand.  He snuggled up against my cheek and seemed happy to see me.  I was on top of the world.

There was no denying it, though, something had changed.  Tipi was a free agent, now, going wherever he pleased.  We kept the back porch door open, so he could fly in and out.  He still sat on his mop a lot, or kept us company on the porch.  For short periods, he was allowed in the living room too.  We had a cheap, plastic wardrobe in one corner, and I used to spread newspapers on top so Tipi could perch there without bothering anyone.  He liked to hang out, just watching what was going on.  He never flew around the room and flew to us only when we called to him.  Once landed on your shoulder, he would fluff up his feathers, snuggling into your cheek, and "groohoo, groohoo" into your ear.

Family Portrait (ca. 1956)

Family Portrait (ca. 1956)

I loved to show Tipi off to our friends.  I wanted them to see how smart and well trained he was.  They were never as enchanted with him as I thought they should be.  They probably thought I was weird to keep a pigeon in the house as a family pet.  For his part, Tipi seemed to think he was human, like us.  It was the only way to explain why he had so little to do with the other pigeons in the neighborhood.  A flock of wild pigeons sometimes hung out in the empty lot next door.  I used to save up scraps of potatoes and bread crusts to feed them.  I could entice them to get very close to me, almost to my hand, but when I was feeding them, Tipi never joined in.  He would perch on my shoulder, staring down at them as if they were imposters.  No, Tipi was spoiled.  He preferred to eat his own special food--nuts, barley, and buckwheat--from his own special plate in the house and to drink water from his designated wine glass.

Like any bird, Tipi loved to fly; but when he was around people, he didn't fly, he walked.  When CHris and Terry took Rex for a walk, Tipi would strut along the ground with them.  What a sight it was: two cute girls with pigtails being tugged along by a leashed and boisterous beagle-mutt and a plucky pigeon zigzagging between their feet.  Tipi also had a special friend in the neighborhood, an older Russian lady, who always stopped to talk with me when I was out in the yard.  She adored Tipi and would prattle away at him in Russian.  He responded by letting her stroke his feathers and escorting her back to her apartment down the block.

Edmund and Tipi resting on the porch (ca. 1954)

Edmund and Tipi resting on the porch (ca. 1954)

Tipi seemed to know when Edmund was coming home from work in the morning.  He would settle on the bench at the bus stop across the street and wait for Edmund to show up.  When the bus arrived and Edmund stepped out onto the curb, Tipi would fly right to him, and Edmund would show up at home with Tipi standing on his head or shoulder.

Tipi always wanted attention from anyone who would give it to him.  When Edmund was resting on the old sofa on the porch, Tipi would be out there, too, marching back and forth on Edmund's shoulder, or circling round and round on his head.  Or, when the girls were sitting quietly reading, Tipi would hop into their lap and try to squeeze between them and the book to get their attention.  Tipi was not such a bad watchdog either, always letting us know with a loud "groo-hoo" when someone was at the front door.

Tipi's greatest pleasure, though, was taking a bath.  I would set a fresh basin of water for him in the yard every day.  He would hop in, splash around for a bit, and settle quietly in the water until he was thoroughly waterlogged.  When he was ready, he would hop out, fluff up his feathers, and then he would do the strangest thing.  He would lie down on one side and extend the free wing into the air, as if pointing at the sun with his wing.  He would stay frozen like this for five minutes or so before rolling onto the other side and pointing at the sun with his other wing.

Tipi eventually laid two eggs on his mop perch and refused to get off.  Tipi wasn't a he; he was a she!  Pigeons are not known for being good nest builders, and our Tipi never learned how to build a bad one; the mop was good enough for her.  Since she wasn't interested in socializing with the pigeons next door, her eggs were never fertilized, but instinct told her to sit on them, just the same.  I would throw the eggs out after a few weeks when she was in the yard feeding, and it did not seem to upset her.  We were convinced she was the most amazing pigeon in all the world.

We continued in our little family circle without complaint.  There were always happy times provided by the pride and joy Edmund and I shared in the achievements of our children at school, or the satisfaction we gained from the improvements we could make to the house.  The future was looking up.  Edmund had a permanent job with health benefits.  It was work he could handle.  He was paid better than before and, with the extra $40 a month coming from Arthur, we were able to put money into savings.  Terry and Chris were totally adjusted to life in America and, regardless of how humble our little house on Hoover Street was, we enjoyed living there because we had it to ourselves.


This is an excerpt from You Have No Idea  

 
Born on a small farm in rural Poland, Barbara Mueller Walling left home at the outbreak of World War II, fleeing to German-occupied Warsaw to evade Nazi conscription into forced labor in the Third Reich.  She was 17.  Working as a waitress in a chic German restaurant, she fell in love with its owner, Edmund Mueller, who was 28 years her senior.  The war had rendered Edmund--a Pole of German descent--precariously neither Pole, nor German.  This afforded him opportunities to rescue, among others, two of Barbara's siblings from German persecution and to relocate his family to Vienna, Austria to escape slaughter in the Warsaw Uprising.  It also, however, rendered him vulnerable to false arrests by the Gestapo and the opposing Allied Forces.  Stripped of wealth and possessions, the family emigrated to the U.S. in 1951 with the clothes on their backs and their suitcases packed with bed linens.  They settled in Los Angeles, where Barbara and Edmund struggled to rebuild a decent life for their children.  This is a highly personal account--yet classic American story--of the couple's survival as war refugees and emigres to the land of hope and opportunity.

Previous to this chapter Barbara recounts her tough start in Los Angeles and the trials they faced. After many difficult months in a rented apartment they were able to move into a house - a "dilapidated" little thing they made livable with lots of work and plenty of scrubbing. And here they began to make a home. They welcomed a son, made friends with neighbors who had also lived through the trials of the war back in Europe, and began acquiring pets for the children. Including the much-loved Tipi. 

You Have No Idea can be purchased on Amazon


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