Who Cares How Charlie Parker Died

There’s so much to remember, so much to learn, like never a state before. Seven times eight, it’s fifty-four. How to eat with a spoon, how to tie a shoe, look both ways, changing views. How to speak to a ghost, playing house, hiding under a bed. How to use the right hand, how to throw a ball, stand up when counted, catch a fall.
How to wave good-bye, when not to cry, how to live on the other side. How to pace yourself, when to take off, how to find the spot, play an instrument. How to say I won’t go, how to hold it in, when to say no, smoke a cigarette. How to fall asleep, wake up a fool, say may I, when you know that you can. How to smile in defeat, when to take a stance, stand up for applause, and pogo-dance.
The colour of blue, how to act surprised, the taste of chocolate delight. ‘I’ before ‘E’ – most of the time, how to speak in the present tense. The birds, the breeze, when not to lie, and so it goes. Ahh – the ride.

“Wow! Grampa come here, hurry.” The voice of a young boy excited. His name is Steven and he was about to take his first ride into the stars. “Grampa, it’s just like you said it would be.”

The clock strikes twelve! It’s midnight blue. There are no clouds. The sky is a mirror, a reflecting pool with a thousand brilliant sparkles of light. The moon is a solitary slit of white. Serene. Absolutely peaceful, no reason to lie. We’re at peace here – here on the island.

“I’ll be right there,” I said, knowing what he had found.

“Hurry Grandpa!” he cried, full of awe. “Man! This is awesome,” he said, standing high on a ledge overlooking the lake, with his head facing up, facing the stars.

“Steve,” I hollered, “don’t stand too close to the edge. I don’t want you to fall.”

He turned his flashlight from the midnight sky, aimed the light beam toward the ground, and stepped back twice.

“Look!” he cried, as I walked toward him, toward the lake. I bet we got the best sky in the whole wide world, eh Grampa?”

No question about it, I thought. We stood there together under a bed of stars, generations apart.

“Wow!” I said. My mind ventured into the sky. The time has come, it’s time to fly. It was perfect. Not a single cloud, not a whisper of air, we stood in silence beneath the moon. Not a sound except for the crying of a distant loon.

We stood there captured by the stars, far too many to name. We stood there in a state of wonder until, “Grab your life jacket we’re going out,” I declared, “to ride in the stars.”

I could feel the gleaming in his smile, he began to cheer, “We’re big enough eh Grampa!” as he raised a fist into the air. “But what about Gramma?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about Grandma, she’ll be all right,” I said. “Besides, this-here is a man’s ride,” I tell him, “now let’s take off!”

We took off running down the path following Steve’s beam of light streaming towards our little boat at the bottom of the hill.

“Climb in,” I said, gulping the air, a little out of breath.

I pushed off and we were on our way.

“Can I drive?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Of course you can,” I said, “but first let me start the engine. Now lets get outta here! Head for the spot.”

Like two rookie players called up to the show, “You be Dizzy, I’ll be Gillespie,” I said, playing our roles. We laughed out loud.

“We’re not ’fraidee cats – right Grampa?” Steve shouted. “They always land on their feet you know,” he told me.

“That’s right,” I said, “and birds don’t fly into the dark of night.”

“Except Charlie-Boid,” Steve corrected me. “He flew one night, remember Grampa?”

Yeah I remember. Damn crazy bird. Born and raised in a New York style. One lonely gull, forsaken or forgotten, or just plain foolish enough to come all the way up here to Ontario, to live alone on a distant lake. He was a squawker. Always squawkin’ about somethin’ or an other, piercing the upper parts, looking for the perfect note!

But he was beautiful to watch in the early morning dawn, diving through air, pure silver white, spin into a cloud, out of sight, then emerge again off to the right, into the blue. He could drift, wander in the wind, then pump his wings and pull himself up, again and again into the warmth of the sun. He was strong when he was having fun.

Charlie-Boid took off one night just a squeelin’ and a sqauwkin’ and he never looked back.

['A man ain’t nothin’ but a man,' John Henry once said, just before he took off. Some folk say he died from workin’ his self too hard. Some folk say he died from a broken heart. Some folk don’t say anything at all.]

“Do you think maybe he could be dead or somethin’? Steven asked.

“Don’t be silly,” I snapped, “Boid just gets crazy sometime.”

“Yeah Grampa, crazy Ol’ Charlie-Boid. What a crazy Ol’ Bird! But man, he could fly. He could really go!
And he sure could squawk a lot, but just mostly when we went fishin’ eh Grampa? He could really catch a fish, ’member? Better than anyone! Better than you and me, that’s for sure!” Steve said, poking fun at our lackluster fishing skills.

“Yeah he was the best!” I said with a smile. “Seemed to know just where to find them.”

“Hey Grampa, we goin’ the right way?” Steve asked, interrupting my thoughts.

I looked around, searching the outline of the trees that surround this tiny lake. “Perfect,” I said, “straight ahead we’re almost there. Turn the motor off, we’ll just glide in.”

The engine stopped and glide we did, through black-purple water, sparkling with stardust, flickering, like the sky above. It’s quiet again without the engine's roar. The sound of still water makes me feel, feel as though I’m in control. And then as if by my command, or perhaps by chance, a roaming summer breeze strolls in.

“This is the spot where it all began,” I said, "Welcome to the Theatre Dome."

We laid back in the little boat, with our faces and toes pointing as far as they could towards the stars. Within a few moments of organized care, I heard, “Hey Grampa! If you just forget for a while, about being in the boat, about being on your back, it makes you feel like you’ve flipped upside down. It feels like I'm looking down and floating on top of the stars – Whoa! Did you see that Grandpa? Whoa, there goes another one!”

“Shooting stars,” I said. “Distant travelers streaking across our sky, sprinkling us with dust. Fragments of a long lost sun.”

“Gramma says they’re spirits. The spirits of little boys and girls,” Steven said, never to be forgotten.

I approved. “I think she’s right. They are spirits and they’re on their way to heaven!” I said, ending the thought.

“I know Grampa,” Steven agreed, “or they’re on their way back ... right?”

Like two birds from Filla-ma-loo that always flew backward, looking at where they had been instead of where they were going, we too looked backward in time. A stage of graveyard tales unveiled in a magical myth of youth. The sky, a vision of previous times, when dragons roamed, and magic swords with clouds of smoke and flame. We saw centaurs, a captain of charging men and pipers who’d lost their will to win. We saw a maiden in distress, wild Ho-Dawgs, and Pecos Bill.

The sky was a festival, a playground for children, full of wonderful creatures, characters of time, skeletons of the past. We searched the sky from side to side for the Hideous Hide Behind, but every time we whirled around trying to see it, "it would hide behind".

“Scariest damn thing I ain’t never seen,” I said, telling him another story.

“No one has ever seen him, right Grampa?” Stevie whispered with a sense of danger in his voice. “I bet he has huge shark’s teeth,” he said thoughtfully. “I think he has fangs and really sharp claws too. Yeah! And a monster’s tail and ... Grampa!” He paused and peeked over the side of the boat then grabbed my arm tightly. “Can he swim?” he whispered loudly!

I put my arm around his shoulder. “Not a chance,” I said. “He can only hide in the sky! Besides that, he only eats potatoes,” I assured him.

Stevie seemed surprised and put his mind at ease. “He’s The Potato Eater?” he said, laughing with a sigh of relief. “I don’t think I’d be afraid uh him!”

“Get ready,” I said, “it’s about to begin.”

Surrounded by nature’s harmony – rhythm and space – we lay there breathing and listening to air. Existing, solely for a glimpse of the moment, only to lapse into memories of what it was like, the colours begin to emerge. Rising from the horizon of deep-water blue, a fiery yellow-red-orange, like a golden crown of thorns reaching out, searching for the temple of Vincent Van Gogh.

“Grampa, it looks like gold! Real gold!” Stevie shouted.

“Could you imagine,” I said, “just imagine how rich we would be if it was real?”

Steven thought for a moment. “Wow! Boy oh boy would we be rich!” he exclaimed. “Rich enough to buy anything in the whole world if we wanted to, eh Grampa? That’d be cool. We’d be the boss, eh? We’d be the boss of the whole wide world.”

He began to nod his head. “First I’d buy Gramma some baby blue tigers to pet and to hold,” he said, pondering his every move. “And the best house where we all could live. The biggest one, except not too big, ’cause you know how Gramma gets mad when she has to clean it!”

He went on in general, buying things for all his friends, saving the world in his own little way until finally he said, “And then I’d give everybody a whole week off! Yep ... ’cause that’s what a king would do. Right Grampa?”

Suddenly the sky lit itself up with a mighty flash - cracked open like an egg - sending a bolt of light twisting towards us faster than life. “Oh no!” I said, clutching my chest. “Hit the deck!”

But it was too late.

“Grampa! Don’t be a fool. Get up and look! It’s just that Crazy Ol’ Bird and he's real big and bright! And what the heck? He’s wearing an Elvis suit!”

It was Charlie Boid all right – traveling back in time.

Appears he’d gone off to join the rodeo, changed his mind, and on his way back stopped off for a spell, at an Elvis School. Learned to read and write real good, preaching about all he knew for certain, in just a line or two.

There he was - restored to youth - bopping in the light, blowing in a cosmic wind, wearing his famous suit, pure silver white, trimmed in gold, with a touch of blue.

He began his show with a warm southern drawl, talking about his army buds, telling it like it was, then started to jitter and shake like a leaf. Without pause he broke into a medley of songs, boo-hooing about tender love, jiving to 'Teddy Bear' and baby I don’t care, then drove it all home with, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.” I think it was the best rendition we had ever heard.

It was over as fast as it all began. He took off wild, with our applause, spinning in a spiral of powder blue dust. “Thank-oo” he said, as only he can, “thank-oo very much!” He left a rainbow for us to touch.

The following morning, came without warning, upon me like a ton of stone. I had slept like an old log, snored like a bear. Dead tired, but what can you do, it was time to get up, to rise and shine. And so I awoke! To the whiffs of mahogany, chestnuts roasting on a wood burning stove, fresh coffee, hominy, and cinnamon toast.

I rubbed my eyes, coming out of a dream. “Welcome back stranger,” an angel proclaimed with a warm soothing voice, “how was the ride?”

Tommy D____ 1995