A Bird Doesn't Sing Because He Has an Answer

My mother saved everything.

I recently found her Joan Walsh Anglund wall calendars from the early 1970s. Do you know those calendars? The ones that feature pastel images of round-faced children with tiny black eyes, but no mouths or noses? My mother’s notes—and a few of my dad’s—track everything we did the years just before we left California.

There was that special terrarium demonstration at day camp one summer. My sister’s ice skating on Mondays, ballet on Tuesdays, and Brownies on Wednesdays. A few odd notes: Mike – 1 Hard Boiled Egg, on March 21. The Kirby man had an appointment that same day. And in 1973, we left on September 15 for Glacier National Park and went camping for two weeks.

I know now when our St. Bernard, Shanty Pooh, was in first and second heat. Mom noted when they had to put Scott’s on the front lawn, and also when to fertilize the front planter. And she hosted a Valentine’s party for my brother on Monday the 12th and one for me on Wednesday the 14th (she did that more than once, with both Halloween and Valentine’s Day!).

And my dad’s one-year anniversary at Fairchild Semiconductor was on March 15, 1973.

My mother did have a few activities of her own—needlepoint with Nancy, coffee with Margaret, and tennis on Tuesdays at 7:00 pm. She marked when she was working on a new bulletin board at school, and when the KQED auction was—one year, they auctioned off an entire Big Bird birthday party she had created—favors, decorations, cake, and all.

The year I ended up with some fiberglass from attic insulation in my eye, and had to wear an eye patch over Christmas, apparently, I went to Dr. Strong on Tuesday, Dr. Rawson on Wednesday, and Dr. Mastman on Thursday. It took three doctors!

And I now know what my first full sentence was. It was September 1971, and my father was wallpapering my sister’s room. I said, “Mommy and Daddy doing Tudi’s room.”

For years, my mother always said, when something funny or interesting would happen, “You have to write that down!” She was obsessed about recording information so we would not forget. I found an envelope where she wrote when we were camping in Victoria one summer that my brother called the marshmallows we were roasting “marshmelons.”

Mom said this over and over about stories we told her of our own children, things they did or said. Write it down! And I always just said, “I know, I know.”

She must have anticipated this day. That nine years after she died, two years after my dad passed away, that we would find these calendars and read them. She knew none of us would remember Shanty Pooh, or caring for the lawn we had in Los Altos, or what my first sentence was.

I found one spot where she spelled my name wrong – she wrote “No School - Kelley.” That made me laugh. Even then, she was going a million miles a minute.

But as illustrator and poet Joan Walsh Anglund wrote in her book A Cup of Sun, “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer—he sings because he has a song.”