As pointed out in this column, my remarkable father Ken Dreyer left this earth and got promoted to heaven last September 17, which appropriately for that patriot who loved our country and answered the call of duty to serve in the Korean War, was Constitution Day.
Dad, though very modest and gentle-spirited, lived his life by grabbing it by the throat as one might expect from one who grew up on a farm in the Midwest against the backdrops of the Great Depression and World War II. At age 83 for his first time he successfully tackled the 8.8 mile round-trip hike with two of his sons to iconic McAfee’s Knob. At 84 Dad visited Busch Gardens and with his oldest son who then was 60 rode the double-loop Loch Ness Monster rollercoaster.
As a part of the grieving and healing process, I chose to write an account of some aspects of Dad’s final weeks and moments with us, which has been a catharsis.
Below is an excerpt from early on Sunday, September 18, some nine or ten hours after Dad’s passing. I hope reading this incident is as inspiring for you as it was comforting for me.
I had a fitful night but slept some. Deborah and I were heartbroken. I was awake as the dawn slowly crept in through the window. I thought: “This is the first dawn since January 1931 when the sun has risen and there was no Roy Kenneth Dreyer on this planet.” Also, “This is the first dawn I have awoken to without having a father in my life, Ken Dreyer.” Plus, I realized we had to tell Mom the awful news.
The window was open due to it having been a warm evening. Lying there, I heard it:
Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck
That series took about 4 or 5 seconds. After about a four or five second pause or so, again,
Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck Chuck
At first I ignored it, but it gradually entered my senses. “What is making that noise?”
I grew up paying some attention to wild birds, thanks especially to my oldest brother Larry and Dad. Since Covid especially, I paid more attention to bird identification and their calls. Most of the birds I see here around our house I can recognize, and a number of the calls too. Or if I can’t identify the calls, at least they sound familiar, or part of the normal medley. However, over time, that odd call caught my attention. I didn’t recognize it, and didn’t remember ever hearing it before. Plus, it was so incessant. Most birds call for a bit and then go quiet or fly off, but this one kept right on. Finally, I got up and went downstairs to take our Blue Heeler Daisy out and see if I could see the bird. By the time we got in the front yard, the bird had been calling maybe five minutes or so straight, maybe more. That is unusual, especially since mid-September is not nesting season. I took Daisy under the dogwood trees and weeping cherry in the front yard and heard it clearly. Looking up I could spot bits of it through the leafy canopy, but not clearly, as it was on the very top of the tree. A titmouse and chickadee or two were flying around and calling, seemingly agitated by it, but it kept making its same call, without variation.
Finally I took Daisy around to the front of the trees and looked up. There on the very top branches flying a bit around from branch to branch was a brown thrasher. I am completely sure I identified it correctly, by its size, shape, brown back and spotted breast. Even when I was there, it kept on calling, as if it really wanted me to see it.
I can’t remember if it then flew away or I walked in the house, but I think I walked in first. Either way, it had continued its call for a long time, as if waiting for me to identify it. I took it as a sign from Dad and/or an angel that Dad was ok. It was very comforting.
That event reminded me of a story from the early 2000s from Mrs. Alice Huang in Taiwan. She had been like a second mother to both Deborah and me as young adults. It was either her mom or dad had passed, and they were heartbroken. On the night after the funeral, as I remember, she said a bird came in the middle of the night and perched on a windowsill of a bedroom. It was a bird they had never seen or heard before, plus most birds don’t fly at night. It sat there and sang non-stop until the sun rose, then it flew away and was never seen again. They saw it as a heavenly messenger and I felt the same about the brown thrasher.
Mom said Dad liked seeing brown thrashers and would point out bushes in their yard where he thought they had a nest. Later when Larry was here it dawned on me that eight is an auspicious number for Chinese. In the Cantonese dialect it has the sound of blessing or prosperity, and in Mandarin it sounds like the ba in ba ba, or Daddy. I noticed that the bird made eight chuck sounds each time, never more or less, always exactly eight.
When I was telling this to family members a few weeks later, I checked some brown thrasher calls on video and bird websites. Their call is melodious and like their close relative the mockingbird they can mimic other birds’ sounds. However, most of the recordings I heard were nothing remotely like what I heard that morning.
The closest match is the third recording on this webpage, labeled June 29, 2014. However, the bird in this recording has rather sporadic timing, while the one I heard was a clear eight calls, a silence, and eight again, over and over, unchanging.
What do you think?