Celebrate the Lessons

How would you celebrate a milestone birthday?

My dad will celebrate a milestone birthday this week.

“Celebrate” applied loosely here.

  • he’s not nuts about birthdays
  • his idea of a fun vacation might be going to his niece’s house to help her with post-hurricane repairs (a recent discussion), which means his idea of “celebrate” is a little skewed.

I knew I couldn’t pull off a second surprise 80th birthday party in a single year, so our idea of celebrating his 80th was a family gathering at my cousin’s new home in Charleston, close to the coast. A few days of fishing, beaches, kayaks, and paddle boards, evenings on her porch sharing the catch of the day and the joy and melancholy of new and old stories.

Hurricanes and celebrations

Florence  stirred up the fishing and kayaking waters but didn’t damage my cousin’s house (see previous note about his idea of fun vacations). So we postponed the trip. How to celebrate now?

It’s no big deal. Really, just the thought that counts.

But darn it. I want to do something special!

My Chicago daughter reroutes her flight from South Carolina to Louisiana. All three children under a single roof along with my folks: that’s special.

The celebration isn’t an inshore fishing excursion on the east coast, but we nom and yum over steelhead trout and baked vegetables, laugh and sing over the flattened white-chocolate strawberry cake, and celebrate one of the most intimate, joyful family gatherings in years.

As delicious and heartwarming as our meal is, that isn’t the only highlight of the day, maybe not even the brightest for dad.

As my Baton Rouge daughter and I arrive earlier that day, Wayne, mom and dad’s farmhand, is coming up the hill on the tractor. He flags us down.

You don’t have any water!!

Water, Wells, and Lessons

For my house on the farm just down the hill from mom and dad, no water also means no AC. A water crisis wasn’t how I had hoped to celebrate dad’s birthday.

A water crisis with any other folks might indeed be a crisis, but today, there is zero panic and 100% can-do.

I’m not sure what dad had planned to do that day before his birthday meal but he never moans or groans about this disruption. On the contrary, I think he enjoys the opportunity to share and teach us a few rural-life lessons.Celebrate the Lessons

  • The water comes from the well.
  • The well feeds from the aquafer below the property.
  • The well is about 150 feet deep.

150 feet!! Wow!

Yeah. That line goes all the way down.


  • When the pump dies, we pull 150-feet of hose and electrical wire up through the well to repair or replace it.

Celebrate the LessonsAnd that’s the pump?


And this . . .

That’s the holding tank.

We don’t have a water tower. We have a blue tank in the gazebo, camouflaged under a “table.” But not today.

But where’s the well.Celebrate the Lessons

Down that hole.

That was a lot of digging! How did you do it?

Wayne, getting good giggles from our city questions, chimes in with dad to explain derricks, augers, aquafers, and sand as we snap photos with our phones. We have so much to learn.

Pipe clamps secure the heavy pump on the end of the hose.

Can’t let the pump slip off the hose and into the well. Then you’d have to call the well guy to fish it out, and that’s the last thing you’d want to do.

Celebrate the LessonsBlack tape to secure the wires snugly around the pump and pipes.

So they don’t snag on the way down or on the way back up next time.

Next time? Next time we celebrate another birthday or have a family gathering?

Everything wears out eventually.

But today, we fix it.

“We” applied loosely here.

  • Most of the “we” watch dad and Wayne work in synchrony to fix it.
  • Most of the “we” would have panicked, would need to call the well guy, but would need to make a lot of phone calls and google searches to even know that there is a well guy.

All of the “we” gather in the rain (did I mention the series of small thunderstorms?), the less informed of us helping in tiny ways, learning lots, and warming dad’s heart as we give him audience.

He’s 80 today. We have so much to learn from him still. I’m glad we gathered, I’m glad we listened, I’m glad we celebrate another year with him.

Happy Birthday, Papa Nick!! Thanks for letting us celebrate with you! Thanks for the lessons.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.


Life Lessons from Pets

We learn life lessons from pets.

Responsibility, unconditional love, training and discipline, scheduling, … The list is endless.

This week one of my cockatiels gave me a lesson in pushing myself around a curve I avoid.


Annie (Anastasia), a white-face pearl cockatiel

I’ll begin my explanation with a confession.

I’m a little lily-livered.

I say “a little” because I do manage blood and injury when I’m the only adult. Something kicks in and I just do what needs to be done. But, if there’s an adultier adult in the room where injury or blood is introduced, I run to fetch. I will fetch anything for that other adult!

  • “Towels? Coming right up!”
  • “Peroxide? I’ll be right back with some.”
  • “What?  No, that’s OK. I don’t need to look. I trust you. Can I get you something?”

Death is pretty much the same story. I manage when I have to. For example, I was home alone when Delilah (one of our cats) brought in a rabbit before the battle was complete. She finished him off, up and down the stairs and through most of the house. At first, I locked myself in my room, banged on the door, and screamed at Delilah: “Stop it!!!” I knew I was being ridiculous, so I came out, collected rabbit bits (they were gifts after all), and began the impossible task of cleaning blood from the wall and carpet.

In most cases, however, I keep my distance from dead.

  • Dead rat at the front door? I tell Steven: “Honey! Meaux left a gift for you”
  • Animal injured or dead on the road? I’ll wait in the car while the other adult checks on it.
  • Funerals? I’ll visit the open casket and linger to reminisce and pray, but I never, ever touch.

Blood, injury, and death don’t have to be real or realistic. I own the “walking” in show title The Walking Dead. During every gory scene, that is, during 90% of the show. I jump out of my seat and, walking frantically around the kitchen and TV room, I ask: “What’s happening now?”

Cockatiel pair

Annie with her mate Dorian: She loved millet and the baby bird formula we would prepare for her chicks.

Back to this week’s lesson

On Wednesday morning, Steven noticed that Annie, our mama bird, didn’t look well. She was on a perch but leaning against the cage. Birds decline quickly when they’re sick or dying. Annie was at least 10, but for all we knew, she was 20 years old.

My inner battle began. “What if she dies while you’re gone!?”

“It’ll be OK. Just keep an eye on her,” Steven said as he left for work.

And just like that, I was the only adult in the house. Please, please get better. 

I checked on Annie after five minutes. She had changed perches. Maybe that was a good sign. Ten minutes later, another perch, and higher. “Maybe you should take her out of the cage,” Steven had said. Annie looked wobbly, and I knew I should.

Our cage is tall and the fall is far. Annie was on the top perch when I reached in for her. She was too light, droopy. I knew this was the end. After five peaceful hours, some time outside for fresh air and birdsong, but mostly inside cuddled against my chest, Annie slipped away quietly. I am grateful Steven encouraged me to take her out of the cage. I feel some solace for having made Annie comfortable during her last hours, for saving her from an unnecessary fall.

Isn’t that all we want to do for our loved ones, pets and human, who go before us? Save them from an unnecessarily far fall? Offer a bit of cuddle, sunshine, and comfort in the end?

I don’t fear death or dying, but I am a little lily-livered about watching it. Thanks to Annie, I’m a little less lily-livered now. I’m grateful for Annie’s lesson. I’m grateful she helped me move past my ridiculousness. This week a cockatiel taught me to be in a room with death without jumping out of my seat and pacing frantically.

Thank you, Annie. May the air be ever bright and gentle under your wings.

Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016