It seemed too unlikely a shidduch to succeed. He’d grown up in Denver, Colorado, and I’m from the Bronx. True, there’s more to a good marriage than having a geographical location in common, but lifestyle and attitudes are definitely shaped by where a person grows up.
Allow me to explain. My husband grew up loving the great outdoors. He had grass and trees and a backyard. He could see the Rockies in the distance. He loved all animals, large and small. I, on the other hand, was afraid of the outdoors. Going outdoors was dangerous, especially after dark. I didn’t see mountains from my window, only other apartment buildings. Jogging was unheard of in my neck of the woods. The only fish I ever saw were in the store where my grandmother ordered whitefish and pike from the fishmonger to make gefilte fish. I never owned any pets except for a parakeet that went by the original name of Pretty Bird.
But Hashem had His plan, and the girl from the urban jungle married the Denver Boy Scout. I clearly did not share my husband’s love for animals when we first got married. I discovered early on that we diverged in approach even when it came to bugs. In my husband’s worldview, you captured any bugs that got into the house and put them outside. Why kill them? I, on the other hand, strongly believed in squishing them as quickly as possible. When we had children, my husband’s love of the natural world was passed on to them. On road trips he would point out every animal and bird along the way like a tour guide. To him, each creature was as exciting as the Grand Canyon or the Palace at Versailles. “Oh, look!” he’d say with unbridled enthusiasm. “There are cows (or horses or sheep).” He never tired of spotting animals in the fields.
He loved pointing out red cardinals and blue jays or explaining how hawks hover in the air looking for prey. When we went on trips to the zoo I couldn’t tell who enjoyed it more, the kids or my Denver-born husband. We took hikes in the woods, and he would point out the various animal footprints hidden to the untrained eye. I always hoped that we wouldn’t encounter the creatures they belonged to!Nowadays, with all of our children out of the house, I am his sole audience. I just smile.
Truthfully, cows don’t do anything for me, if you know what I mean. With time, though, I guess something must have rubbed off on me because when our kids asked for a pet I relented. However, I drew the line at a dog or any other fourlegged creature, bunnies included, that needed to be walked or taken to a vet. Thus began a steady parade of small living things over the years. There were the two hamsters, Sammy and Farfel (We thought they looked Jewish). Then we had turtles that just kept on growing. Every time we increased the size of the tank they grew right along with it, so we always had to buy bigger and bigger tanks. When I finally wanted to get rid of them, I wound up paying—yes, paying—a pet store to take them off my hands. The tree frogs lived in a terrarium with some lizards that could only eat live crickets. The male members of the family would get them from the pet store and feed them to the little reptiles. Sometimes the crickets would get loose. When that happened I was not happy. One morning I noticed a lizard tail sticking out of the mouth of one of the tree frogs! It reminded me of “Chad Gadya.” That time I was really not happy! Our next pets were birds. Someone who knew we were the neighborhood animal lovers gave us a pair of parakeets (or budgies, as they are also known) that they didn’t want anymore.
We were told that they were a male and female. The kids hoped we would have a budgie family one day but, alas, that did not happen. In time, both birds passed on to the next world. After the second one died my husband dutifully buried her (I think it was the “her”) in our backyard. That day when I came home from work I found four-year-old Naftoli (now a father of three) digging with his little shovel. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was looking for “Shira,”the budgie. It broke my heart but I was determined not to get a replacement. By then I’d had more than my fill of pets. Naftoli was also the one who found a snake and wanted to keep it at home. This was not even in the realm of consideration. My kindly neighbor told him he could keep it in her garage. Naftoli visited “his” snake until we insisted that he let it go back to its mother in the grass.
So it came as no surprise that my husband was thrilled when we moved to Monsey. He could see the Catskill Mountains from our street, and while not as majestic as the Rockies, it was better than no mountains at all. He was elated when a deer walked onto our property. When the deer enjoyed our newly-planted hostas for lunch, he just bought deer repellent to keep it away from the plants. When the deer’s buddies chewed on our bushes, he put up a fence.
Wild turkeys made their appearance, as did rabbits and groundhogs. Nothing could make him happier; he was in his element. One spring, a mother robin built her nest on top of a column supporting the overhang in front of our house. We watched in wonder as she painstakingly gathered twigs, bits and pieces of discarded newspaper, tissues and other materials to weave her nest. Then we waited.
One day we saw one little bird head pop up, then another and another. Three little robins. Robins are not terribly pretty as babies. They have oversized googly eyes, spindly necks and no feathers. But we watched in fascination as the mom repeatedly flew off and came back to drop worms into their little open mouths. Around the same time we happened to have a family simchah. My married daughters were with us for Shabbos. Since they had inherited their father’s love of nature, we excitedly showed them and the grandchildren the robin’s nest.
That Shabbos, though, something strange happened. The mother robin disappeared and was nowhere to be seen. The baby birds were literally crying to be fed. Even I, the hardened, Bronx-bred parent, felt sorry for those baby birds. Where was their mother? Why didn’t she come and feed them? The hours ticked by and still no sight of her. My oldest daughter couldn’t bear the tension anymore. She climbed up and gave the birds a few drops of water from an eye dropper. We later found out that was the wrong thing to do but she was frantic. On Motzaei Shabbos my second daughter started to make phone calls to the ASPCA, wildlife services or any other agency she could think of.
She finally reached an animal hospital that said they would take the baby birds. She was instructed to make a batch of scrambled eggs and drop bits of that into their sad little beaks from a tweezer. Water, she was informed, was not good for them. Who knew? The girls gently took down the nest and placed it in a cardboard box covered by a towel.
One daughter sat in the backseat holding the box carefully on her lap while her sister drove. Every time a baby bird peeped, it received a tiny omelet. The birds were deposited with some tree-hugger types who promised to nurse them until they were ready to fly off on their own. With this mission accomplished and the birds in good hands we breathed a sigh of relief.My husband could rightfully take credit for my girls’ sensitivity to tzaar baalei chayim. I was just glad that there weren’t any more motherless birds around. It was really painful to watch.
A few springs have passed since then. My husband still takes the bugs outside while I still kill them. Robins and other birds, including honking Canadian geese, often fly overhead. The deer and the groundhogs share our property. I must admit that over the years I have developed a deeper appreciation for Hashem’s creatures than when I lived back in the Bronx.
Every year, when the robins make their reappearance on our lawn, I wonder what ever happened to that mother bird. Why did she suddenly abandon the nest? Was she killed? While we will never know, I am left with a sense of awe at how Mother Robin knew on exactly whose doorstep to leave her babies!