It was a warm late spring Saturday. My three brothers and I were battling in a two-on-two basketball game in our yard. Dad was hoeing nearby in the garden while Mom hung laundry to dry. Suddenly a quail landed between us and the garden and started scurrying around in circles.
Dad grabbed the round laundry basket from Mom and caught the bird. The bird appeared nervous but not overly distressed. We brought him into the house where Dad placed the bird in a cage of some sort. I can’t remember where or why we had the cage. He sat there in the kitchen looking at us when suddenly he started his shrill bob white call. Dad loves quails and laughed loudly. We tried giving the bird some water but after a time Mom said we needed to let him go.
Dad took the cage outside and opened the door for the bird to go free. However, instead of flying off Henry strolled out of the cage and started scurrying around our yard. We watched him as he pranced around. Amazingly, the bird strolled back to us and gave us a bob white greeting! I can’t remember which of us named him Henry, but the name stuck. We didn’t know how long Henry would stick around. He was totally free to run off into the tall weeds outside our fence or fly off into the woods. But he stuck around! In fact, Henry would follow us around the house, even chasing us with his little legs!
I remember attempting to learn how to ride on a neighbor's skateboard out on Bear Creek Road by our house, back then called HH highway. Henry was down there with us. Suddenly going down a hill I gathered a lot of speed and feared jumping off and falling. Looking behind me, Henry chased me as fast as his little legs could go
I remember one day after school getting off the bus and seeing Henry staring at me by our porch. I decided to run around the house, my favorite game with the bird. I would run aways and look back and see Henry trotting behind. I did a couple of laps around the house and suddenly didn’t see Henry. I called for him and overhead heard his bob white call. He had flown up on our roof and looked down on me. Immediately he swooped down right on my foot and started pecking my foot gently.
Henry scared Dad one time. We were playing and suddenly Henry started pecking on my shoe again, this time flapping his wings as he did it. Dad thought Henry was attacking me and ran at him yelling. Henry ran under Dad’s truck and wouldn’t come out for hours.
We would sometimes let Henry roam around the house. One day My grandpa was over with grandma. Grandpa sat in one chair in our living room and my brother, Dave, in the other. A lamp on a table stood between them. Henry flew up on top of the lamp and started calling. Dave looked under the lamp up at Henry, who promptly let go of a bird dropping right on Dave’s face! I’ve never heard my grandpa laugh that hard before!
Henry slowly started extending his territory beyond our home to our neighbors down the road, Roger, and Dana Olson. Dana loved Henry, who would often sing to her while she worked in the yard, perched on her front porch. However, one fateful day while he kept her company their cat snuck up behind Henry and pounced on him, breaking his neck before Dana could shoo the cat away. Henry was gone.
I remember feeling a mixture of grief and anger when Mom told us what happened. I wanted to find the cat and kill him, but Mom said no.
A few years back I went quail hunting with my father-in-law, Bill Gilkerson. While I enjoyed the hunt, especially watching Bill’s dog work, I had a sickening feeling in my gut about shooting a quail. Fortunately, there were not many quail out that day, and when I did shoot, I missed…maybe on purpose? That was the last time I went quail hunting.
I’ll never forget Henry the quail. The brief time we had him brought us all such joy and warm memories. Looking back on my life, God has brought many animals into my life at different times to comfort, encourage, and bring joy amid difficult times. As a kid we had several turtles, all named Homer. We had many stray dogs and cats, including Bernie Carbo, a cat who thought he was human, and Chigger, a gentle white beagle we had for many years. Today my wife and I have 3 outdoor cats, Fat Emily, Ruthie and Gibby (named after my all-time favorite pitcher Bob Gibson). Each morning and each evening I feed the cats on our deck and give them a good back scratch.
Animals, unlike humans, are consistent and simple. I believe God gives us animal friends to show us what true devotion and friendship are all about. It’s up to us to listen to the lesson.