Saturday, May 22, 2010

Blinky McGinnis

My brother Steve can't believe I remember Blinky's phone number. Indeed it was Blinky's number--I even checked it with my father before he died and he verified it. My father remembered such things because he worked as a telephone installer his entire working career. Not only do I remember Blinky's number but I have a photo of Blinky with my brother Steve and me taken the day of my First Communion. Look carefully over my right shoulder and you'll see Blinky in his cage beside the TV. This is a story that Texas Monthly published last year. I swear every word of it is true.

Blinky McGinnis

Blinky was a feisty blue free-range parakeet, the only child of Mary and Mac McGinnis. Mary and Mac were our next-door neighbors on Apache Street. We called them Aunt Mary and Uncle Mac because over the years they became like family to us. I suppose that would make Blinky an unofficial cousin. In one old family photo my brother Steve and I, dressed in our Easter finery, posed beside Blinky’s cage. Blinky was the kid next-door.

Mary and Mac doted on Blinky. When they called him, he would fly to them, land on their shoulders, and give them little affectionate parakeet pecks on the cheek. I swear I’m not making this up. Mac was a chemist whose pants were always hiked up too high and Mary was a soft-spoken, elegant stay-at-home mom to Blinky. Mary spent her days talking to Blinky and keeping an immaculate house. Perhaps it was time consuming to clean up after a bird whose cage door was kept open so he could fly around the house at will. Or perhaps Blinky was potty trained. All the other parakeets in the neighborhood, including my own parakeet Chiffon, envied Blinky. Sadly, my own parakeet was quite ordinary—otherwise I might be writing about Chiffon instead of Blinky.

Blinky was renowned for his extensive vocabulary. I used to swear that he knew what I was saying and would answer questions with the correct answer. Mary and Mac had taught him to say many things, including the usual parakeet things like “pretty boy” and “hello there” but his favorite thing to say was his name and his phone number— “I’m Blinky McGinnis. Hemlock 4-3288.”

One fateful day, Mary went out the basement door to water her tomato plants and Blinky soared out the door, gone from sight in an instant. Mary and Mac were frantic. Mac scoured the neighborhood with binoculars, calling, “Blinky, Blinky, come home.”

Every day Mary drove miles into the city to the Franciscan monastery to say novenas, pleading to God for Blinky to return. Weeks passed and Mary and Mac became more despondent, wondering how long Blinky could survive in the wild, fearing the worst.

One day, before cold weather set in, they got a call from a woman, asking if they had lost a blue parakeet. Seems the woman was working in her yard, several miles from the McGinnis household, when a parakeet landed on her shoulder and said, “I’m Blinky McGinnis. Hemlock 4-3288.” Their prayers were answered—their beloved Blinky came home.

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