May 15 – The Bird Lady of Bell Center

by Khadijah

Every year, spring swept into Gays Mills, Wisconsin, on the tail of my Aunt Mid’s RV, as she and Uncle Byron returned from their winter sojourn to parts south. Aunt Mid was my favorite great-aunt, perhaps because she reminded me so much of my mother dark hair, snapping brown eyes, a wonderful sense of humor…but Aunt Mid was something more, something that was just her she could talk to the birds. And perhaps, more amazingly, she understood when she talked back.

My great aunts from my grandmother’s side were by and large of the cute grandma type by the time I knew them gray hair, sweet smiles, cookies on demand. But Aunt Mid, who was my grandfather’s sister, was something else. My first memory of her was as my kindergarten teacher. She was one of those teachers who really love what they’re doing, and therefore instill the love of learning in their students. She didn’t mind if I called her Aunt Mid instead of Mrs. Ambrose, which was good because I couldn’t fit any other name to her but the one I knew her by.

I don’t know when I first realized that Aunt Mid’s birdtalking was something out of the ordinary perhaps when I saw a newspaper feature called “The Bird Lady of Bell Center” and saw a big photo of her with a bird sitting on her hand, she leaning forward as if whispering in its ear. I had seen this numerous times when my mother and I would visit her, sitting on her patio drinking iced tea. I would listen to them talk, mostly about family, as Aunt Mid was an amateur genealogist. I would watch all the birds flitting from place to place on the yard. Every once in a while one would approach my Aunt, and she would pause in her discussion and talk to it. This seemed perfectly normal to me or maybe it just fit in with the sort of magical aura that Aunt Mid had for me. I would have accepted just about anything from her, as I always felt that she was different from everyone else, someone extra special.

I have found that I have some of Aunt Mid’s magic in myself, in my gift of healing. Aunt Mid could do this with her hands. If you had a burn, or scraped your knee or elbow while visiting her, she didn’t go for the alcohol and Bandaids. Instead, she would blow on her hands, rub them together, blow on them again, then place them ever so lightly over whatever was hurting you. Within minutes, the red would lessen, the swelling would go down, and you would feel almost one hundred percent better. My mother inherited this gift from her, and I in turn inherited it in my less flashy, more conventional methods of healing, with heart and hands and herbs. Whenever I help a child with a bruise, or a friend through a cough, I think of Aunt Mid, the Bird Lady of Bell Center, and I am thankful that a little bit of her, and of my mother, lives on through me.

Khadijah grew up in the Kickapoo Valley in Wisconsin and now lives in Yemin with her husband and eight children where she teaches Arabic and Islaamic studies to women and helps them recognize their importance and the need for their stories to be heard. Khadijah was the winner of the 2010 Story Circle Network Lifewriting Competition.

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One response to “May 15 – The Bird Lady of Bell Center

  1. What a wonderful woman your great-aunt Mid must have been, Khadijah! I’m glad she was part of your life, and that her ability to talk to the birds and heal came to you as just part of who she was. Sometimes gifts like that are difficult to accept or appreciate unless they’re just a normal part of every day. I’m sorry to hear she’s gone, and that your sibs didn’t let you know of her death, but you’ve written her spirit into life for all of us in this remembrance. Thank you for the gift of it.

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