The snow had fallen all along the street where we lived. A white blanket had covered the earth while we slept. My four year old brother ran up ahead of me towards the front step of our neighbor’s house, his yellow scarf flying behind him as he ran.
“Wait up,” I yelled, “wait for me.” That’s Max, I thought, always running everywhere. My father says that Max was born running and that it’s been my job ever since to keep up with him. My dad also says that’s what older brothers are for, to watch out for little brothers and sisters.
I looked up. Max was standing perfectly still. I stopped.
“Sam,” he said, “look.” His arm pointed towards a little birch tree.
A squirrel sat as if frozen in the snow looking back at my brother. Then in a burst of snow and noise the squirrel jumped up the tree alerting the whole neighborhood. My brother is good at seeing things even if he doesn’t talk much. His first word was “look” once he pointed out an owl sitting in a tree in our yard. I have never seen anything like that. My mother says that, everyone has a gift. So when Max says “look”, I looked.
Max ran on through the snow towards our neighbor’s front porch. I caught up with him by doing double time just as he pushed the door bell.
Max smiled and said, “Harley!”
“Don’t you boys have to be in school?” Mr. Bill Harley stood at the door of his house. Every day we come here on our way to school and he still acts surprised. His white hair, beard and mustache stood out against his black skin. Ex-Vietnam vet, ex-marine sergeant and ex-scuba diver instructor are all very impressive to anybody, but the most imposing thing about Mr. Bill Harley is that his eyes are completely white too. You see, Mr. Harley is blind but I never asked Mr. Harley how he was blinded. He isn’t the sort of man you ask those questions. He either told you or he didn’t.
Max smiled, “Harley.” He walked in. Mr. Harley was his best friend after all. Max gave Mr. Harley a leg hug. Mr. Harley patted him on his head.
“Nice to see you, too, Max. Both of you come in. I’ve been listening to the chickadees all morning. Chika-dee-dee-dee Chika-dee-dee-dee” Mr. Harley smiled and beckoned us in. “Take off your coats and come on in.” Mr. Harley didn’t use a cane in the house. The best part of Mr. Harley’s house was the smell. He has a home business cooking donuts and pastries to sell to hotels. My brother and I liked visiting Mr. Harley’s house.
Max cried, “Red bird, red bird” and ran into Mr. Harley’s living room.
A huge glass window spread the length of the house. Outside sat three different types of bird feeders. Common birds of every shape and size were busy at the bird feeders while squirrels collected seeds that had fallen to the ground.
“What do you see, Sam?” Mr. Harley took a seat.
“Sam, do you see the cardinal I’ve been hearing all morning?” Mr. Harley made a gentle “Bur-dee, Bur-dee” with his mouth.
I said, “I don’t see it, do you Max?”
Max was sitting very still and looking hard.
The three of us sat for half an hour as the old grandfather clock slowly ticked in the corner of the room. I described to Mr. Harley the way the birds swirled around the feeders. The colors and patterns of the different birds. He always knew their names and for each he could sing the song that the bird made.
Max jumped up, “Red birds, Red birds!”
The cardinals had returned. Five of the bright red male cardinals had arrived at the feeders.
Mr. Harley stood up and walked into the kitchen. “It’s time for you two to be getting to school. But before you go, you might want to take a little sample with you for the road.” He was holding to large jelly donuts.
“My mom is talking about getting a bird feeder of our own,” I told Mr. Harley as Max and I were putting on our coats and boots.
“I hope you still come to look with me at my feeder.” Said Mr. Harley looking suddenly sad.
“Of course,” I said. “But maybe the cardinal will come to our feeder as well.”
Mr. Harley smiled. I like to see him smile. “Just make sure you keep the bird feeder well stocked and never let it run out. It’s cruel to the birds if the feeder runs out in cold weather. Once you make a promise to a wild bird you must never break it.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Harley. See you next week.” I yelled over his shoulders. My brother was already running out the door.