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The Idle American
"Uncle Mort: For the Birds..."
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 • Posted April 9, 2014

Personal experiences racked up across three-quarters of a century—including yips and yaps at lecterns spanning five decades—offer positive proof that many times, utter silence is preferable to spoken words.

I was reminded of this age-old truth the other day when my Uncle Mort called. Upon his mention of a new-found interest in ornithology, the call—received in the morning hours of April 1--likely meant my 101-year-old relative was up to his old tricks--“spoofing it up” on April Fools’ Day.

Interrupting him was as tempting as a clearance sale on banana splits, a promise of bonus airline miles, or biggest-ever senior citizen discounts. Assuming this was his annual BIG JOKE for the holiday, it was little short of miraculous that I remained silent….

    *****

Maybe I was stunned to hear Uncle Mort pronounce “ornithology” with both clarity and unbridled excitement. What sparked this new-found interest in birds? It couldn’t have involved “tweeting,” since he stated that if God had intended us to “tweet,” we’d all look like “Tweety Bird.”

Perhaps his mind was jarred with the long-ago memory of Mr. Wallace Wimple, the little mush-mouthed guy on Fibber McGee and Molly’s radio show. (Wimple, always the patient listener, worked in mentions of his every-present “bird book.” A standard line on each episode: “That ain’t the way I heerd it, Johnny.”) Or maybe Mort was prepping me for the old story of two buzzards, flying lazily aloft on a hot summer day. One of the buzzards said, “Patience, heck, let’s kill sumthin’.” Another possibility involved the two feisty magpies in “Heckle and Jeckle” cartoons seen in olden days at the picture show. Or, maybe Sesame Street’s “Big Bird” was in play.

Okay, I admit it--my mind was largely in neutral when Uncle Mort said his interest centers specifically on crows, and how they’ve developed New England accents. I was hooked, eager for him to fill in several additional blanks…..

    *****

Pray tell, what was Uncle Mort talking about? Since his prejudices have been stacking up for decades, I figured crows with New England accents would rile him from the git-go.

Mort has little use for Yankees—a name mentioned regularly in his diatribes against the government. He’s long been opposed to southern migration of northerners, and is on record supporting turning ‘em back when they reach the Oklahoma/Texas border.

“Clearly, the feds are a full 180 degrees off target; they’re guarding the wrong river,” he’s opined….

    *****

He said his “study” began one winter day when he saw a flock of crows pecking away at road kill. (What with insects, as well as vegetation provided by Mother Earth in short supply, they “made do” with this sustenance.)

Mort claims he was mystified by several crows taken out by speeding trucks, but flew to safety when autos approached. Why, he wondered, were they not “spooked” by the 18-wheelers, but flew quickly away from the four-wheelers?

He returned to the scene several days in a row. “Finally, the mystery was solved,” he bragged….

    *****

Balderdash, thought I. There had to be an April Fool’s joke in there somewhere, but if so, it was well-hidden.

“It all came into focus when I realized the crows stationed a ‘look-out’ in the tall oak tree alongside the road,” he said. “The ‘look-out’ provided ample warning when cars approached, and his buddies took flight.”

“Why didn’t he warn them when he saw trucks coming?” I asked….

    *****

“That’s a reasonable question, nephew, and logical as well,” he answered. “The same one occurred to me, and I’m glad it did, ‘cause if it hadn’t, I might never have realized crows have a New England accent.” Okay, so I was “bumfuzzled” to the max.

“When four-wheelers approached, the ‘look-out’ crow cut loose with loud ‘caw, caw, caws’,” Mort said. “Too bad the ‘look-out’ couldn’t say ‘truck, truck, truck’.”

It could have been worse, I thought. At least he didn’t ask if I had been second in line for breakfast. “Remember,” he warned, “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Again, I felt like a 14-carat bird-brain, falling for one of Uncle Mort’s favorite pastimes—fooling me….

    *****

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury.

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