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Remembering the Hummingbird Catcher

Each summer, my parents’ convert their front porch into a hummingbird airport. They put out two feeders and from dawn to dusk, hummingbirds zipping to and fro.

Two hummingbirds hover around a hummingbird feeder.
Two hummingbirds feast at one of my parents’ two front porch feeders in July 2018.

It’s entertaining to watch.

Sometimes, though, sitting on the porch with the birds coming and going can feel risky. The birds fly by so quickly and, at times, so close to your head that you can feel the breeze of their movement in your hair.

The threat of being hit by a speeding hummingbird seems most likely just before a thunderstorm hits, or around dusk when the hummingbirds are at their most active. At those times, there can be a dozen or more hummingbirds coming to get their fill at the feeders.

You have to trust that the birds know what they’re doing, that there isn’t a hummingbird too drunk on sugar water to fly.

Another downside to hanging out at a hummingbird airport is that you sometimes can’t hear the person next to you speaking. The collective buzzing sound of many pairs of hummingbird wings drowns them out.

But for the most part, it’s enjoyable to spend a summer afternoon on my parents’ front porch-turned-hummingbird airport. It sure beats spending time at a human airport.

The Hummingbird Catcher

My grandmother could catch hummingbirds with her hands. This was before she got sick, or at least before her dementia became noticeable.

The first time I saw her catch a hummingbird was around mid-morning of a not-too-hot summer day. I was home for a visit. She and I were sitting on her front porch, catching up.

My mom had recently mentioned to me that she’d discovered my grandmother had a previously undiscovered talent: She could catch hummingbirds and hold them in her hands.

And so when my grandmother offered one morning to show me how she caught hummingbirds, I told her that I would indeed like to see it.

My grandma, like my parents, had a hummingbird feeder hanging on a chain from the roof of her front porch. Hummingbirds came and went.

And my grandmother started to slowly step toward the feeder. As she did so, she gradually raised both of her hands, keeping them a few inches apart.

Grandma got close to the feeder, her movements gentle and subtle enough. It was as if the hummingbirds didn’t notice their environment changing.

Then, as if sprung from a cannon, grandmother’s hands clasped around a hummingbird, and she turned toward me. There in her gently cupped hands lay a hummingbird.

She held it for a minute or two. The bird didn’t look scared. If anything, it looked like it was resting, as if it was happy to not have to flap so hard in order to be still.

Then grandma opened her hands and let the bird go.

In a Dream State

Grandmother has been in my dreams as of late.

It’s been a few months since she passed away, although mentally she’s been gone a couple of years. Dementia made sure of that.

When she passed it was for many of us who loved her a relief. If we couldn’t have her back as she was, vibrant and kind and conversational, then it was best that she no longer suffered.

And I believe she suffered.

You’re told when you have a family member with dementia that the sick person doesn’t know what they’re doing or what’s happening. It’s what medical professionals say because what else can they say?

After all, it’s better to think that your loved one doesn’t realize their mental ability has disappeared than to worry that there’s at least a fragment of the person you knew trapped inside an uncooperative body.

The last time I visited my grandmother, her body started shaking, and she started crying when she saw me. She couldn’t speak.

Mom asked her why she was crying. Was she said? Happy?

No words came. No more words ever will.

My grandmother could do many things. One of those things was catching hummingbirds in her hands.

I think that’s important to remember.