James A. Mallory and Jeanie Silletti
James A. Mallory is a freelance writer and editor who relocated to Hilton Head Island in 2015. He is a retired newspaper executive with 30 years of management, editing and writing experience. He retired from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as Senior Managing Editor/VP News. He writes fiction and non-fiction and is currently shopping a detective mystery centered in his hometown of Detroit.
Searching for Birdies and Eagles (an excerpt)
The stranger is perched on the splintered, dark gray bridge railing. Its glossy black wings spread out like Batman’s cape. Its thin neck elongates, and the sharp tannish-orange beak points skyward.
I’ve never seen a bird like this before. I pause from my golf game to study it. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a similar bird, head bobbing up and down as it moves under the bridge that spans the lagoon. I burn the images in my mind. I will continue my research at home.
Google takes me to the website of the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society. A gallery of bird photos reveals that I had encountered an anhinga—a snakebird or water turkey or American darter—a common species on the island. Birds are bit players in my hometown of Detroit; they are center stage on the island. I learn that more than two hundred bird types call Hilton Head home.
I also discover a new way to enjoy golf.
Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” I’ve used more profane descriptions of my game. Not any more. The curiosity piqued by my first sighting of the snakebird now provide me with a way to make sure that my hours on the fairways are never times of frustration. I even downloaded the Audubon app on my phone, just in case I need to do quick research.
I now recognize the red tail hawk’s shriek and the squawking of the crows, warning that an adversary is nearby. The aerial theatrics of the warring birds are a thing of marvel, as are the other ways birds look out for each other.
Consider the four snakebirds that I see circling clockwise above a slow floating alligator. The birds switch to a counter-clockwise pattern and swoop ever closer to the water. Are they plotting revenge for the death of a fellow anhinga—the one that a golfer saw the day before caught in the crushing grip of an alligator?
“Searching for Birdies and Eagles” © James A. Mallory (2017) from Ebb & Flow
Jeanie Silletti is a retired community college faculty member who taught classes in cultural anthropology in Ohio prior to her 2015 move to Hilton Head. Her background also includes twelve years of European residence (Spain, England and Italy) and international teaching experiences. Today, she continues her interest in education in Savannah where she is an art docent with the Telfair Museum. Jeanie enjoys writing, especially vignettes about growing up in a large, Irish family of ten.
Our tired and rusted Hudson sedan was abruptly traded for a new, 1959 Volkswagen bus, an extraordinary purchase for an oversized family of undersized income. All of our belongings were second hand, so family discussions about buying a brand new car excited each of us. As the eldest daughter and one grown used to voicing an opinion, I eagerly suggested we buy a sleek, wood-paneled Ford station wagon much like my friends’ parents drove. My recommendation was promptly ignored.
The next day I returned home from school, to a large navy VW bus with an unfinished interior blatantly parked in front of our house. Outraged, my Irish temperament flared, and my teenage tears flowed. Patiently my kind father tried to reassure me that while station wagons were fine for some families, we needed more capacity. He reasoned that this VW with its three bench seats and raised rear luggage shelf would be perfect for the ten of us. I argued in vain that he should also have thought about appearances . . . station wagons were what “normal” families drove. I felt singled out and publicly embarrassed every time I entered and descended this bus posing as our family car.
Sundays were the worst! Mother loaded her Catholic brood into this camper and Dad, head held high, drove us to church like we owned a Cadillac. On arrival, I felt the critical gaze of my best friend, Barbara, as one brother after another tumbled out of the side doors while the youngest two children were retrieved via the hatchback door. After this circus I entered the church humiliated. Composure took some time, but after encouraging words from my father, I silently prayed to St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Impossible, to help me make peace with this vehicle.
I suppose it wasn’t until I turned 16 that I became painfully aware that if I ever wanted to drive, it was this monster or nothing. One bold day, with my Dad lending technical assistance, I got in on the driver’s side, put the car in first gear, and drove the unfashionable VW down our street.
Many decades have passed since that first test drive. Today, I drive a beloved, five-speed, leather interior, cream-colored VW Beetle. Curiously, I frequently recall with fondness and good humor my youthful days behind the wheel of “the bus.”
“Family Transportation” © Jeanie Silletti (2017), from Ebb & Flow