The Grooming Hour (handmade collage)


It is easy to forget in our age of urban sprawl that back in the late in 1950s and early 1960s, the suburbs sprung up like colonial outposts at the very edge of the known world. Like most frontier life, it was an odd amalgam of old and new ways. My parents being accustomed to the glittering social life of the city still made a point of dressing for evening cocktails, even if their social circle was now limited to the handful of other families in the cul-de-sac surrounded by unincorporated farmland as far as the eye could see. In the hour before my father's return from a nascent office park somewhere even further out in the suburban wilds, my mother used the time for herself. She called it the grooming hour. She took comfort in a nightly ritual that consisted of dressing for the evening, making and refrigerating her legendary deviled eggs, and going out into the backyard to groom the cassowaries that wandered in through the open gate. Back then the giant birds were as common as sparrows. Though the birds are known to be shy around people, my mother seemed to have a special touch with them. They'd approach her to get a handful of goldfish crackers and then stand by her while she combed their wings. It is difficult to say which of the parties enjoyed the ritual more: the giant birds or my mother. Perhaps it was because the birds hissed at my sisters and me whenever we tried to approach our mother, but somehow we intuited that this was their special time and they were not to be disturbed.

As the years went by and houses sprouted up around us, the cassowaries numbers dwindled. Fewer birds now came into the yard and my mother seemed adrift. Then, one day to our great surprise she took up macramé. Although her enthusiasm for life returned, I sensed that she never felt the same sense of tranquility she enjoyed all those late afternoon hours out in the yard with the birds.