Birdie. Big Bird. Aunt Birdie. The Gestapo. She was barely five feet tall and almost as big around. She was bossy, brash, brassy and had very few filters. She told it like it was and rarely held back what was on her mind. She was the neatest of the neat freaks and God forbid your house had a newspaper out of order or a few pieces of crabgrass in your lawn when she came by. She’d call to say she was coming over and whoever answered the phone called out “Big Bird is coming!” and the whole house got busy straightening up. But she had the biggest heart around. I loved that woman.
She always hated the name Birdie. She had an older brother, Michael and sisters Victoria and Doreen. Where Birdie came from, she had no idea. She figured that either her mother hated her at first sight or that even though she didn’t drink, she got drunk once in her life and that was the day Birdie was named. Birdie didn’t even have a middle name to go by, Birdie is all she got.
To give a bit of an idea of what she was like, Birdie once ran for City Council and won. She lasted exactly one day. Her biggest complaint was that she was treated like a woman by the old guard and quit at the end of the day. But that wasn’t before she made 2 senior councillors and the City Mayor cry.
The other thing to know about Birdie was that she was a true sun worshipper and a bit of a closeted exhibitionist. I had an absolute blast driving to Florida with her, my Uncle Bill and my parents back in ’76. Uncle Bill drove the entire way in my mother’s big Chevy station wagon complete with the real wood panelling on the side, pulling their pop-up trailer behind us. Once on the interstate no one could figure out why all the transport trucks were pulling their air horns as they passed us. I knew and chuckled every time one did. Finally, Uncle Bill glanced in the rear-view mirror to see Birdie laying in the back, suntanning with only her underwear left on. The transports were high enough that they had a clear view into the back of our wagon and seemed to be appreciative of what they saw. From behind the wheel Uncle Bill shouted through clenched teeth, “Jesus Christ! Birdie! Put some God damned clothes on!” I never did figure out how he could yell so loud when it looked as if he was about to break his jaw in half.
Every summer, we’d spend a few weeks at a cottage a friend of the family had. There was a lazy little river at the back of the property that had a high, limestone cliff face on the other side. The river connected two small lakes and there were no motor craft allowed, so it was a great place to go swimming. There was one time when my other Aunt and Uncle came up with my cousin Sandy. One of my nicknames was The Fish because I loved the water so much. I was bugging the adults to let us go swimming, but everyone wanted to stay in the cottage and play cards. Finally, Aunt Birdie relented and said she would go down to the river to watch us, she wanted to work on her tan anyway.
Birdie went to get changed and when she came back into the kitchen, I sang the little song I had made up for her, just like I always did. Aunt Birdie only had one bathing suit.
“Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Little Wittle White Bikini”
She did a little jig to show off, dark tanned rolls just a-jiggling, and down we went to the water.
Sandy and I had a lot of fun swimming, playing on inflatable rafts and bouncing a colourful beach ball between us. It was a really hot day with the sun beating down and it wasn’t long before Birdie took her bikini top off. The cabin was surrounded by woods and there was hardly ever any traffic on the river, so this was something she often did. Birdie had her back to us, she was bent over pulling weeds from the undergrowth. No matter who pointed out how fruitless the endeavour was, Birdie could never stop if there was something to do or to be cleaned up.
Sandy and I were 9 or 10 at the time and we both had a bit of a devilish streak going. Sandy looked at me with a glint in her eye, tilted her chin in Birdie’s direction and called out, “Aunt Birdie! There is a canoe coming!” Birdie rushed over and grabbed her bikini top from the picnic table and quickly put it back on. When she turned towards the river she couldn’t see any canoe, only two little brats killing themselves laughing. She gently cursed us out, took the top back off and went back to her weeding.
Like most kids, when something got that kind of reaction from an adult, you kept the joke going. Every fifteen or twenty minutes one of us would call out, “Aunt Birdie, a boat’s coming!” The joke quickly went stale and eventually Aunt Birdie just ignored us.
We had been swimming for nearly two hours and it was time to go in for lunch. Aunt Birdie was still bent over, her calloused hands were now smeared with green bits and clumps of dirt and the backside of her white bikini bottom was coloured the same from her wiping her hands on the only clothing she had on.
Sandy and I were making our way to shore when I heard a splash behind me and a little to my left. Two fishermen in a small aluminum boat were paddling their way over to the other lake. I called out to my Aunt but she waved me off, she was very tired of the game. The boat was just about to clear the woods and I called out more frantically to her, this time Sandy joined in. Aunt Birdie didn’t even turn around when she told us, “I’m not falling for it again!”
One of the fishermen coughed and the sound echoed off the cliff and down the water. That was the only sound you could hear, even the birds stopped singing as they waited to see what would happen next. Birdie stood up and slowly turned around. She didn’t try to hide in the least, she just stood there defiantly, hands on her hips, mounds of brown flesh spilling over the top of that tiny bikini bottom, monstrous bosoms swaying, staring at the fishermen passing by.
I turned back to the little boat and the men had stopped paddling. They were drifting along, each had their jaws hanging open in big Os. A pregnant pause as each stared at the other before Birdie called out to them in a loud, brash tone:
“What’s the matter, you never seen tits before?”
I have never seen two guys paddle away so fast in my life.
God, I loved that woman!