As I (Gayle) am preparing chapters of Ian’s children’s chapter book “Jake, Little Jimmy and Big Louie” to blog, I’m also working on my second (and I hope final) edit of the sequel to Ian’s already published memoir: “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada.” I’ve already blogged an excerpt from the sequel which we have named” “Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story.” Today I’ve just completed editing a section in which Ian describes receiving his real-life bird, a cockatiel he also named “Jimmy.” I thought it might be appropriate to blog this section to give readers an insight into some of the things Ian learned about raising a bird and teaching it to speak and whistle. He later added some of these ideas to the children’s story that is now “Jake, Little Jimmy and Big Louie.” You will notice that certain things Ian experienced with his cockatiel Jimmy later were used in the characterizations of Little Jimmy and also of Big Louie. I’m also including a 1998 photo of Ian and Jimmy, the cockatiel.
Excerpt from “Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story”
“Mary and I went down to Winnipeg to spend Christmas with Audrey and Eugene and our three grandchildren, Tammy, Calan and Ainsley in 1997. Then, since Mary and I had been married on the 29th of December, we returned home to Creighton to celebrate our anniversary. We were at Shirley and Brien’s house for a quiet evening on our wedding anniversary when Shirley suddenly appeared carrying a great big bird cage.
” Inside was a beautiful, young cockatiel. He and the lovely cage were being presented to us from our two daughters, their husbands and all five grandchildren, including young Ian and Tiffany. I was invited to take the bird out of its cage and hold him on my hand. He came with no bother and Shirley asked me what I was going to call him (it). Without any hesitation I said ‘Jimmy’ (after the little budgie in my unpublished children’s book, not caring what sex the bird was!). He was such a lovely surprise gift for both of us. And he really was a ‘he’, we found out later.
“Jimmy took quite a lot of looking after, for I had to feed him egg almost continuously, and clean his cage almost continuously, too! He was on the egg diet a long time, longer than he should have been. Brien had obtained Jimmy from a friend at work who bred them. From what Brien learned, Jimmy should have been on seed when he was still enjoying his egg. I had bought some seed for him, but he didn’t seem ready for it. When I was cooking for him, I would generally put two, sometimes three eggs in the pot and boil them hard, storing them in the fridge, for Jimmy seemed to be always hungry. I would cut off a little bit and wrap the remainder for later, making sure that Jimmy also got some of the yolk (that is what he went for first) along with some white. In the beginning I’d chop the egg up for him, but I soon found that doing so was a complete waste of time, for his little sharp beak would slice through the soft egg just like butter.
“Soon I set about teaching the bird things to say and whistle. Being a musician, I don’t think it is bragging to say that I’m a pretty good whistler as I’m able to do quite a bit of fancy stuff like grace notes, triplets, warbles and different things—a lot of stuff that I did on the trumpet. Soon our bird was saying ‘Jimmy’s a good boy’ (just like in my little story), ‘Hi Ian, wot’s up?’, ‘Hello, Mary’, ‘I love Shirley’ and so forth. He also started whistling the verse of “Bonnie Jean” from Brigadoon that I was rehearsing for my solo at our upcoming concert in Flin Flon. (I didn’t teach him this, he just picked it up while I was whistling it around the house and going through the words in my head.) In addition, I taught him to whistle the first part of ‘The Mexican Hat Dance’; the bugle call that goes, ‘You gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up in the morning’; a series of notes from a ‘custom’ car horn, and a silly something we used to sing in Scotland when I was a wee boy that ended with ‘Wee Bobby Geachy’s……white drawers.’ The latter bit used the popular rhythm that everyone knows: ‘Dah Dahdah DAH DAH…dah dah!’ However, what I taught Jimmy varied in that I substituted a wolf whistle for the last two notes (the last ‘dah dah’). Jimmy really did it superbly. (Sometimes I would whistle the first bit and he would answer with the wolf whistle and other times it would be reversed, with Jimmy starting it off.)
” Jimmy really performed to perfection the day I was dressed in my kilt just prior to leaving the house for the dress rehearsal of the show I was in. Jimmy’s cage was in the dining room and as I passed the door opening that would allow him to see me, he went, “Wheeet-wheeoo”—a perfect, long, wolf whistle. I burst out laughing. It was like he did it intentionally, his timing was so right. My answer was, ‘Hey, funny guy. You’ve never seen a Scotsman in a kilt before?'”