The Great Blue Heron visits a few days each week. It’s usually brief and relatively uneventful. He just pokes around the pond for a bit, quietly checking up on the scene. He stops for a quick snack and an occasional squawk, and then he takes off back towards the sunset.
“Where do you think the Pop Pop Bird is going?” asked Charlie from the kitchen window as she watched the Heron fly away.
“I’m not really sure,” I replied, not sure whether to guess or a make up a story.
“I think he’s going back to heaven,” she suggested confidently.
“Yeah…you might be right,” I mumbled with a quiver in my voice and a tear in my eye.
A little more than 5 years ago and for as long as I can remember, the Heron was Pop Pop’s favorite bird. The bird served as his partner around the pond and unlike those pesky geese, it was a welcomed addition to the backyard scenery. The bird’s presence is grand but unassuming. He blends in from a distance, but the simple notion that he’s there is comforting. I remember watching the bird from Grandmom and Pop Pop’s dinner table when I was growing up.
Nowadays, it’s Charlie and Jack dropping spoons in their bowl of cheerios and running over to the kitchen window to see the bird before school. And while they never met the real Tony Janiec, they’re pretty convinced he’s become the “Pop Pop Bird.” And I have no reason to disagree with them. Because whenever the Pop Pop Bird visits, he shares the same mannerisms, interests, and qualities that I remember of the guy who built this place.
So when the bird soars in each morning and lands at the edge of the pond, Charlie and Jack hoot, holler, and bang on the window. But once the chaos and excitement calms, I often use his presence as an opportunity to pass down the lessons that he would teach if he was still here:
“The Pop Pop Bird is coming by to make sure you eat all your broccoli.”
“The Pop Pop Bird wants you to be a good listener for Mommy and Daddy.”
“The Pop Pop Bird is checking to see if you’ve been taking care of the tomatoes in the garden.”
And while I use the bird as a convenient messenger for my parental commands and lessons, the bird also nudges me to keep his important traditions and values alive. His presence reminds me to clean up the yard, stay active, take care of my family, and to appreciate the simple things in life and nature.
It bums me out that my kids never got to meet my Pop Pop. Seeing the adorable relationship that they have with their GiGi (my Grandmom), I can only imagine how they’d be with him.
On Saturday, October 1st, all of Grandmom and Pop Pop’s kids, grandkids, and great grandchildren came together to celebrate Grandmom’s 89th and what would’ve been Pop Pop’s 93rd birthday. It was shortly after the 5 year anniversary of Pop Pop’s passing. We told stories and shared memories around the fire pit. We watched football, enjoyed drinks, and ate food. We scattered his ashes around all of his favorite spots on the property.
We sprinkled Pop Pop where he worked tirelessly on his tennis game with his friends and family.
We sprinkled Pop Pop by the pond which served as his pride, joy, and sanctuary, but also his daily challenge against the geese and algae.
We sprinkled Pop Pop by the large oaks and maples in the backyard which signified that he was the type of guy to plant trees so others could enjoy the shade.
We sprinkled Pop Pop in the garden where he was always pushing tomatoes, spinach, and zucchini. The seeds that he planted will continue to blossom for generations…even though Jordan and I manage the garden like busy millennials.
We sprinkled Pop Pop in the shrubs around the deck where Grandmom and Pop Pop would often bring people together a good meal, conversation, and ambiance. It’s where Jordan and I continue to host our own parties.
And we sprinkled Pop Pop in the driveway circle where he used to work on his fitness in his 80s by doing laps with his bike. It’s same circle that Charlie and Jack do laps with their bikes today.
The lively gathering of 21 adults and 8 little kids showcased the legacy that Grandmom and Pop Pop established. Everyone is headed the right direction and rapidly expanding the family tree with the same core values that we learned from Grandmom and Pop Pop.
Now, as Jordan and I live in the house that Pop Pop and Grandmom lived in, maintain the yard that they worked so hard on, raise our kids with many of the values that they taught us, and continue growing the family that they loved – they will always play a big role in my life and the generations that will follow me.
And whether it’s a special event like Saturday, or a quiet summer day when I look out by the firepit and see Grandmom reading a book or singing “The Wheels on the Bus” with her Great Grandchildren, or if it’s just another Wednesday morning and I look out towards the Pond to see the Pop Pop Bird poking around, I continue to get a feeling of “Home Sweet Home” and a reminder of where I come from that’s difficult to match.
Charlie asked me recently, “Will Gigi become a bird one day?” Again with a quiver in my voice and a tear in my eye, I replied “Maybe. Hopefully not for a while, but that’d be nice, wouldn’t it? When she does, she’s always welcome at our house…unless she comes back as a Goose.”
She nodded and walked away content with my response. “Good. I like when the Pop Pop Bird visits. I hope Gigi Bird does too.”