Home to Roost by James Bates

Sydney wasn’t prepared for how much he missed his daughter after she went away to school, but he missed her a lot. He and his wife Susan had adopted Kim when she was only six months old, a skinny, quiet baby who came to them from a crowded orphanage in Sapporo. They showered her with love and attention and the little girl thrived, growing into a strong and healthy young woman with an aptitude for science and math who graduated from their local high school with a scholarship to Cornell University. 

Once close, after Kim left home Sidney felt a distance growing between them, especially after his daughter began focusing on her studies and pursuing her interest in helping to find ways to impact global warming. In short, she was not only growing up, she was growing apart from her parents; something natural, of course, and something Susan seemed to understand, but it was hard for Sidney to accept. 

“We’ve got to give her space to grow, Sid,” Susan told him that first fall. “It’s something we need to do as parents.”

“I know,” Sidney halfheartedly agreed. “I’ll try.”

Susan continued, “Good.” Then she tactfully changed the subject. “How about if you and I get the gardens shipshape next spring? We can get a bunch of catalogs and figure out some pretty flowers to plant. We could even put up a bird house.”

Sidney unenthusiastically went along with Susan’s idea. Anything, he reasoned, might help. 

Surprisingly, it did. That next spring they worked in the yard in the evenings and weekends, planting hardy perennials: purple cone flowers, golden black eyed Susan’s and white Shasta daisies. They planted pots of red and white and pink geraniums. They put up hanging baskets full of blue and yellow pansies. They even put in a ceramic birdbath. For Sidney, it felt good to be busy, accomplishing something worthwhile, and he had to reluctantly admit that he was missing Kim less. Plus, he had to admit, the gardens did look pretty good.

Finally, as a sort of a pièce de résistance, they set up a bluebird house on a post in the middle of their biggest front yard garden. They waited and waited. Unfortunately, that first year it was not successful, but the second year a bluebird pair discovered the wooden structure and built a nest. The next year they came back. Sidney was thrilled.

Watching a pair of bluebirds raising their young became one of his favorite pastimes. It didn’t begin to alleviate how much he missed his daughter, but it helped. Plus, it wasn’t like they never saw her. Kim still made it home for holidays, and they talked on the phone and sent emails, but it wasn’t the same, an issue Susan tried to point out in a gentle way.

“She’s a grown woman, now, dear,” she told him more than once. “You’d better get used to it.”

Intellectually, Sidney knew she was right, but emotionally…”It’s just hard,” he told her. 

“Welcome to being a father,” she told him, being wise in the ways he wasn’t when it came to parenting.

Kim graduated from Cornell in four years and decided to stay on and earn a master’s degree. She was a teaching assistant in Biology and was busy with her studies so her parents saw and heard from her less and less. Again, Susan understood. Sid? He still struggled.

“You need to figure this out,” she told him. “Call her more often. Text her. Whatever.” Quit moping around is what she wanted to say but didn’t because she understood. She missed Kim, too, but, unlike her husband, she had learned to cope. She knew her daughter was a good person who was focused on not only gaining knowledge, but planning on using that knowledge to do something worthwhile with her life – to make the world a better place. What more could a parent ask for?

That fourth spring after putting up the birdhouse Sid and Susan waited patiently for the return of the bluebirds. Their arrival was late and it concerned them.

“Where are they?” Susan wondered out loud. “Migration is so hard. Maybe something bad happened.”

“They’re tough birds,” he responded.”They’ll make it. 

Truth be told, though, they both had other thoughts on their minds that spring, thinking less about bluebirds and more about their daughter, who they hadn’t heard from since February.

“I’m so busy folks,” she told the last time they’d talked. “I’m working on my master’s degree and it’s eating up all my time. Plus I’m teaching a classes. I’ll call when I have a free moment.”

But she didn’t call and that was disconcerting. What was going on with her?

During this particular time of year, to make it easier to watch the bluebird house, Sidney and Susan turned a couple of living room chairs around so they faced out into their front yard. The arrangement also gave them a nice view of their gardens. Sidney had already cut back all of last year’s perennial stalks and raked out all the leaves. Some tulips were starting to show and spring was on its way. But where were the bluebirds? More to the point, what was Kim doing?

Late one Saturday morning as they sat in their chairs Susan glanced at her husband. He had learned to accept that their daughter was growing and becoming her own person but she knew it helped when he could talk about her.           

“What do you suppose Kim is up to these days?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “It’d be nice to hear from her. At least she could return our calls.”

“She’s probably busy finishing up her course work. Plus, remember she said that she had to write a dissertation.”

Sidney nodded, then smiled, “I have to say, I’m really proud of her.”

“Me, too,” Susan said, grinning. “She’s a wonderful…” Then she stopped mid-sentence and pointed, excitedly, “Sid, look! One of the bluebirds is back!”

Sidney leaned forward to see better. “All right,” he exclaimed. “Finally.” He grinned, grabbed his binoculars and began watching the male bluebird, distinguished by his bright blue coloration all over except for the rusty color of his breast. “What a beautiful bird,” he marveled. “He looks great. Do you see the female around? His mate?”

“I’m looking, dear,” Susan said. But there was a slight distraction in her voice. She’d seen something, someone, that is, who was walking down the street and who had just turned into their driveway. She was walking with a purpose and carrying a backpack. “Sid, I think you should check out the trees by the driveway.” Susan’s heart was suddenly filled with joy, so much happiness she thought she might burst. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“What is it? The female bluebird?” Sid put his binoculars down, turned toward the driveway and started to say, “Where…?” Then he stopped, speechless, and looked, mouth hanging open. He rubbed his eyes. Could it be? No. But, yes, it was. It wasn’t a female bluebird, but a thousand times better. “Kim! Kim’s back!” he yelled.

His voice was so loud that Kim looked up and saw her parents through the window. She smiled and waved just as Sidney bolted from his chair and ran outside to met her, Susan following close behind. He grabbed his daughter in a bear hug as Susan joined in, the three of them hugging each other right in the middle of the driveway, a pair of bluebirds perched nearby on their birdhouse watching.

It was the happiest of reunions, but after a few minutes Sidney had to wonder. “How’d you get here? What’s brought you home? Nothing’s wrong I hope?” 

Kim stepped back and said, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’m fine. I got a ride with a friend. Plus, I’ve got something to tell you both. To ask you, really.”

Susan said, “Let’s go inside. You must be starved. I’ll fix us something to eat.”

They went inside and sat at the kitchen table while Susan put together lunch. The answer was not long in coming.

Kim spoke calmly and directly, barely able to contain her excitement, “Mom and Dad, I’ve been offered a full professorship at the university.” Her parents started to congratulate her, but she held up her hand to stop them.”But there’s a contingency. They have to like the  paper I’m writing for my master’s thesis. It has to be good, really good, and I was wondering if I could move in and live here this summer and work on it. It’d mean the world to me. I could help out around the house and yard and we could be together. Just like the old days,” she smiled.

“Of course you can, dear,” Susan said immediately, not having to think. She took Sidney’s hand. “Right?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Stay as long as you want.” He was happy beyond words, grinning from ear to ear. Ironically, he just then happened to gaze outside at the bluebird house.”Look,” he pointed excitedly. “Not to change the subject, but check it out. Both the male and the female there”

They all stood and hurried to the window. “That’s so cool, Dad,” Kim said. “And kind of fortuitous.”

“Why’s that?” 

“Well, I wanted to wait until I got here to tell you. I’ve switched my focus. I’ve been studying ornithology and the impact global warming has on bird populations in the upper Midwest. That’s what I’m writing my paper on.”

What an interesting subject, Sid thought. But what he said, as he put his arm around his daughter’s shoulder was, “As long as your happy, honey. That’s all I can about.” 

Next to them, he saw Susan grin. He grinned back at her. He was finally getting it.

Kim watched the bluebirds for a moment and said, “You know, Dad, if it all works out, I might even get a grant to do more in depth analysis. If that happens, I just might be around here a lot more often.”

“That’d be wonderful, sweetheart. Perfect.”

Sidney smiled at Susan, thinking it’d be just like the bluebirds coming back every spring, staying for a while and then leaving  only to return the following year. Maybe that’s what Kim would end up doing – come home for just a while before going off on another episode of her increasingly interesting and meaningful life. If he and Susan could help her and provide a place for her to stay, that’s all he could ask for. It’d be just like having bluebirds come home to roost every spring; their home would always be there for their daughter. Like it was supposed to be.

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

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