Gateway to the Classics: When Grandfather Was a Boy by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
When Grandfather Was a Boy by  Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Little Lost Catbird

"Why, you don't mean that you're not in bed yet," said Grandfather.

Grandfather was sitting in his big wooden rocking chair close to the kitchen door, listening to the crickets out in the garden.

"It's late for a little lad like you to be downstairs in his nightgown."

"Please, Grandfather, dear," said John,—"Once upon a time."

"Well, now, I don't know about that," said Grandfather, trying to look very cross. "It all depends upon what you've been doing today."

"I was late for school," said John, trying to look scared.

"What made you late?" said Grandfather, sternly.

John hung his head.

"It was the catbird's fault. I followed her way across the fields, to see if she really hatched kittens."

"A catbird?" said Grandfather,—"That reminds me—"

Grandfather was looking far away, over the garden, and into the Long Ago.

"Oh," said John as he snuggled into Grandfather's lap.

"Once upon a time when you were a little boy—"

"I was going down the lane to pick blackberries," went on Grandfather.

"How big were you, Grandfather?" asked John, tucking up his toes in his nightgown.

"Oh, just a little fellow—about knee high to a grasshopper," said Grandfather.

"I didn't know that a grasshopper had knees," said John.

"Now, see here," said the Grandfather, sternly, "who's telling this story—you or I? And do you suppose any grasshopper is going to stop in the middle of a road long enough to show you his knees? Why, he is too busy using them all the time. I think it's time you went up to bed."

"Oh, please, Grandfather," said John. "I won't interrupt any more."

"Well—as I was saying," Grandfather went on, "I was going to pick blackberries, and I had a new tin pail to put them in and I wore my best straw hat with the wide rim to keep the sun out of my eyes. I had on a blue and white checkered shirt and brown jean trousers. You remember I told you last night that your Great Grandmother wove enough cloth every spring for two pairs of brown jean trousers and they had to last all summer. You never saw your Great Grandmother."

"No, I never did," said John—"What was it about the blackberries, Grandfather, dear?"

"I didn't say that the story was about the blackberries," said Grandfather. "I said I was starting out for the blackberry bush. Your Great Grandmother said if I came home to the farm before noon with the pail full of berries, she would make me a saucer pie for supper. Well, all the way I was thinking about that pie, and wondering if there would be so much juice that I'd have to eat it with a spoon. I got to thinking so hard that I went straight past the blackberry bush. I went on, and on, down the lane until I came to the edge of the woods, and then I heard a noise."

"Goblins!" said John, his eyes sticking way out.

"No!" said Grandfather. "It was this." He made his voice very high and squeaky.

"Meiouw, meiouw!"

"A kitten!" said John.

"No," said Grandfather. "It was a little catbird."

"It had fallen out of its nest. It couldn't fly. There it lay on the ground just waiting for me to pick it up. I can see it now. It was a little gray bird with white spots on its breast.

"Well it objected some and tried to scratch me, but I picked it up and I put it in the tin pail with the cover on loosely and I started home. I thought I'd tame that little catbird, and hang it up in a cage at the back door."

"Oh," said John. "Did you really tame it?"

"I thought you weren't going to interrupt me any more," said Grandfather.

"As I was saying, I started along home but I hadn't gone very far when I heard another noise."

"Meiouw! Meiouw!"  Grandfather made his voice very, very gruff.

"A cat!" said John.

"No," said Grandfather.

"It was the little catbird's mother. She was coming along behind me in the road as fast as Sam Hill."

"Who was Sam Hill?" asked John, but Grandfather went right on.

"Sometimes she would light on a bush and screech, sometimes she would stop on the wall and screech, but she kept right on following me. She was saying just as plainly as I'm saying it now:

" 'Give me back my baby!' "

"Oh, did you do it?" asked John.

"Not for a while," said Grandfather.

"I ran away from the old catbird with the little catbird in the tin pail. But after a while I got to thinking. I sat down on a stone beside the road, and I thought and thought and thought about how the old catbird had picked up sticks for her nest, and how she had taken so much pains to lay eggs, and how she'd been planning to teach that young catbird to fly. There she was, sitting on a low branch in front of me, all alone. And there was her baby in my tin pail."

"I suppose you gave her back her baby," said John after a while.

"Now, how did you ever come to guess that?" said the Grandfather.

"I just emptied that little catbird out of the pail into the road, and I went along home. I suppose she helped it to get under the bushes for the night, and taught it to fly in the morning. I never saw it again, though I went down the lane every day all summer."

"Is that all the story?" asked John, softly.

"Yes, that's all," said the Grandfather.

"And you never had any little tame catbird?" asked John.

"No," said the Grandfather.

"And no saucer pie that night?"


"Well, I guess I'll go up to mother, now," John said.

Copyright (c) 2005 - 2020   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.