“Did you know birds can switch off half of their brain by closing one eye?”
That's my son. A font of interesting tidbits of information nonchalantly injected between each paragraph during our nighttime reading.
“That's how they can get rest and still be alert.”
I just finished the passage in Judy Bloom's “Superfudge,” wherein the title character, Fudge, is told by his parents that the pet Myna bird he received as a gift would definitely NOT be allowed to sleep in his bed.
“Birds don't really sleep standing up, you know," interjected my son. "They kind of squat. As long as their legs are bent, they are pretty much fastened on to their perch.”
Not only was my son taking issue with the author's facts about avian anatomy, but also her characters credibility.
“THAT kid is OUT of CONTROL! There is NO way in a MILLION YEARS a real, flesh and blood parent would let THAT kid have a bird. I could see them getting him a Beta fish, maaaaaybe, but definitely NOT a bird! It's irresponsible.”
I like to think it was a different era … one in which parents gave their kids more responsibility earlier.
“Back in the olden days,” I tell him (I like to use the phrase 'olden days' for nostalgia's sake) “Parents were usually pretty clueless … sometimes to the detriment of the unfortunate animals.
“That was before Betty White and the ASPCA. ... Before people called police if a farmer drowned a litter of kittens.”
The look in his bulging eyes told me I'd gone too far.
To him, the 'olden days' means being entranced by a red Muppet who spoke in the third-person and wore Pajama's 24/7; yet he assumes the olden days for me must have included Prairie dresses and horse-drawn wagons.
Honestly … I thought that way, too, especially when I found a picture of my mother standing next to a Freihoffer's Bakery horse.
“That was a novelty for the neighborhood … they mostly delivered by trucks back then,” my father had explained, noting the horse knew the route so well, he'd often walk a little ahead of the delivery man.
It was a story I'd heard so often I forgot the quaint memory wasn't first-hand.
Which may have been what I was thinking about when my dad gave my son of a vintage edition of Steinbeck's “The Red Pony,” as well as a Technicolor video for his ninth birthday.
“A boy and his pony … should be a heartwarm-y tale,” I said as we all sat down to watch Robert Mitchum and Myrna Loy make classic movie magic.
But as the kids become glued to all the wonders of late '40s movie special effects, I begin to remember what happened to children in the good old days …
You know … how they become orphaned and sent to work houses; or how their loyal yellow lab gets rabies and has to be put down. And how did I forget that the Brothers Grimm might have been more aptly named Brothers Grotesque in their original form?
Sitting there watching as the formula played out …
-- Lonely boy gets Red Pony as a gift
-- Red Pony gets loose
-- Red Pony is found
-- Red Pony gets sick
Wait? Did I even read “The Red Pony” or had I just pretended to have read it on some internet meme?
Better Google. ...
Turns out it gets worse:
-- Red Pony gets Trachiotomy
-- Red Pony escapes again
-- Red Pony dies in a canyon
And is eaten by vultures.
And there's more:
Farmhand feels so bad about the Red Pony situation he wants to kill his pregnant mare so he can give its foal to the boy.
What???? How was this even a children's book?
Of course, by the time I get all caught up, Little Tommy is covered in technicolor blood wrestling a vulture, and I can't turn off the TV fast enough.
“That was so scary, but that would NEVER happen!” announces my little zoologist. “Vultures have relatively weak legs and feet with blunt talons. One would never scratch a human like that.”
“I think Alfred Hitchcock would probably beg to differ.”
“Who's Alfred Hitchcock?”
“Another filmmaker from the olden days who made a bird movie. We'll probably watch that one next year.”
"Too bad I can't switch off my brain by closing my eyes."