Once my brother and I left home for good—we were in and out for a few years—my mom decided she needed a parrot. Maybe she missed all the noise my brother and I generated, or maybe she just wanted to try something new. For whatever reason, she became the proud owner of an Amazon green parrot.
Julio became her baby, and she taught him how to talk. Under her tutelage, he gained an extensive vocabulary—for a parrot. She spoke to him all the time and played tapes for him when she left the house. Eventually, Julio returned the favor.
It was impressive, but he never made any sense. He was only capable of repeating what he heard. He would string words together in between bird noises and cackles, but they were random and undiscerning. Our fine feathered friend would sing and talk for attention or to be social.
One time a friend and I visited Mom. As we chatted at the kitchen table, my friend’s brow pinched, and she said almost in a whisper, “I could have sworn that bird asked if I wanted some apple.” I assured her that was what he said. Apple was one of his favorites, and Mama would often ask, “Want some apple?” On the other hand, Mama would also ask, “Wanna go to bed?” when she covered Julio’s cage with a towel for the night. It bothered her quite a bit that he might repeat that particular phrase when a repairman came to the house. But my favorite was when he would sing. Daddy, a die-hard country-western fan, would greet Mother and sing in a high falsetto, “Hey, hey, good lookin’.” Pretty soon, the bird sang it too. Daddy never had much to do with the bird, but his sole contribution caused hilarious moments.
However, for all his charm and accomplishments, Julio had his favorite people. I wasn’t one of them. I sounded like Mother, but he’d realize I wasn’t her when I got closer and get mad. Julio bit me twice that I can remember, once on my index finger, because he didn’t warm up to my friendly intentions. Another time, I was barefooted and had my feet wrapped around the legs of a chair. Julio was out of his cage, taking a stroll. He spotted my unprotected toe and clamped down hard. We had quite the squabble over that one. It didn’t surprise me much when a vet told Mom Julio should have been Julia, as “he” was female. That explained a lot.
Even though Mama loved that bird, they can live a frightfully long time. She eventually took him to a bird farm where we hoped he would sing and talk to his caretakers. The hours of pleasure he brought us needed to continue, even if it wasn’t at Mom’s house. Julio’s nonsense brought a lot of smiles. It was like a baby learning to talk and getting things all mixed up. But when he got mad, the same mouth that made us laugh could bite and bring tears.
It’s not so different with us. With our words, we can express kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. Or we can say ugly, critical comments and hurt people. The Apostle Paul said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouths, but only such words good for edification (building each other up) according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
We’re in a better position than Julio. Parrots can only repeat words they hear, whereas we’re capable of thought. God gave us more than a bird brain, but if we don’t use it for good, we’re going to sound like Julio—
“I love you, mama, darlin’—hey, hey, good-lookin’—apple.”