Southern Folks: Praying and flying and Mrs. Silva's birds

Bill Stamps
Bill Stamps

Back in the 1950s, when my soul was pure and innocent and my hair was platinum blonde, I believed, with all my heart, that I had a one-on-one relationship with the Almighty. I, of course, knew he had the rest of the world to look over. But I thought that he and I had something special going on. Mom told me that God was always with me, and I guess I took that literally.

It seemed to me that almost everything I prayed for came true. I began to take God's presence for granted. Not in a bad way. I just figured he always had my back. Especially because I was being as good as I could be. I messed up from time to time, but not enough to spit at.

Southern Folks

There were a few of my prayers that went unanswered. Like, getting my parents to love one another again and get back together. I said that prayer daily, but to no avail. It was a big request, so I thought it was gonna take a while. I was probably somewhere down the list. I tried not to ask him for anything too big for fear that it might disrupt my place in line.

Still, I said a mess of little prayers. Like helping me catch some big fish. To give me the strength to pedal my bike up the steep hill right outside of the little Middle Tennessee farming town in which I lived. To hit a home run. For my dog, Prince, to learn tricks. I said plenty of prayers that had to do with me not getting caught doing something I shouldn't have. The Almighty only answered a few of those.

Silly as it was, occasionally I'd pray to be able to fly. I don't think I really thought my request would be taken seriously, but it couldn't hurt to give it a try.

I was 10 years old and eligible to join the Cub Scouts. A kid named Frankie lived right across the street from his aunt, Mrs. Silva. She was den mother for the only Cub Scout pack in town.

Mrs. Silva, a woman without a husband, lived alone in her two-story white house. Her mailbox, up by the street, displayed a painting of a red cardinal sitting on a branch. There was a loose-laid brick sidewalk leading up to the porch.

Her porch had all kinds of wind chimes and little twirly things hanging down from the ceiling and green potted plants everywhere. Every day, without fail, a full-grown mama robin bird flew in, sat on the porch swing and just hung out.

Frankie knocked on the front door, then opened it and yelled out, "Aunt Jody?" From back in the back came a little melodic voice, "I'm coming. I'm coming. I'm coming." And there she was, smiling, her arms wide open and on her way to giving Frankie a big hug, like she hadn't seen him in a year.

As Frankie was introducing me, Mrs. Silva started hugging me, one of those lush, enveloping and loving hugs. She smelled good, kinda like baby powder.

When you're a kid, you can tell by their hugs what kind of hearts people have. I was sure that she was a soft person and very protective. Some hugs, more than others, feel like safety. Those kinds of hugs are good for the soul.

Mrs. Silva was a petite cherub-looking lady. She reminded me of a fairy godmother or maybe Santa's wife. Her cheeks were rosy, and her skin was smooth, even though she had to have been in her 60s. Her gray-and-white streaked hair was curly, and there were laugh lines on either side of her twinkling eyes. She wore silver-rimmed glasses and always seemed to have an apron tied around her waist.

Her home smelled like pine needles and was filled with antiques and several paintings of birds. A baby grand piano sat in her front room up next to a big floor-to-ceiling window. All us Cub Scouts sat on the floor around the piano.

Mrs. Silva's tiny fingers seemed to float across the keys as we sang selected church songs. Not the boring and serious ones, but rather ones like, "Little Brown Church in the Dell." Mrs. Silva, as you might expect, sang like a bird.

We'd be singing along and two parakeets that Mrs. Silva let fly freely throughout her house would zoom over our heads and back out. A blue one would sometimes land on Mrs. Silva's shoulder. She had a housekeeper, Annie May, who spent most of her day cleaning up behind the parakeets.

I ended up doing some yard work for Mrs. Silva in exchange for the cost of my Cub Scout uniform and handbooks. She wouldn't let me mow her yard. She worried that I might get hurt.

There was still plenty for me to do. Her backyard was much larger than the front. She had a small garden planted up close to the garage. Big trees lined the back fence. A couple of pear trees and several apple trees stood by themselves over to the right.

Beyond the apple trees, back up next to the corner of the fence, tied and hanging from a stout limb of a towering oak tree, was a homemade swing. I had Mrs. Silva's permission to swing all I wanted, once I finished my chores. I'd get to going pretty high and jump out with my hands out like Superman.

Mrs. Silva must have had a half-dozen birdbaths spread out in the yard, plus several bird feeders. Anytime I went back there, all the birds flew up into the trees. There were so many of them that their flapping wings made a ruffling sound.

My job was to pick up sticks and fallen limbs, fill up the bird feeders with the seed she kept in the garage and hose the birdbaths with fresh water. It sounds simple enough, but it took a while. I didn't care. When I was done, Mrs. Silva would come out with a glass of chocolate milk for me, the thick kind that came from a glass bottle. We'd sit out there on the back porch steps and talk.

I noticed that as soon as she came outside, the birds, all kinds of birds, flew down from the trees and began singing and drinking from the birdbaths. Mrs. Silva told me they were singing their thanks to God for their fresh water. She said, "Do you see? Each time the birds take a sip of water, they look up to heaven and thank God for it."

We talked about all kinds of things. She asked me about the content of my prayers. I told her of my constant prayer for my parents to get back together. Mrs. Silva explained to me that God never made mistakes and that he probably could see something in the distant horizon that we couldn't. She was right.

I also told her about my somewhat whimsical prayer of being able to fly. It was my backup prayer in case God didn't arrange for my parents to reconcile. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Mrs. Silva put her hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in my eyes and said, "Dear one, the Lord put birds on Earth to decorate the sky and sing to us. But the Lord has already answered your prayers to fly."

She pointed out at the swing, extended her arms like a bird in flight and said, "Each time you jump from the swing, you are, indeed, flying. You must always think of it that way. Rest assured, some day, we will all fly as angels."

From that day forward, all through my childhood years, every time I jumped out of a swing, in my mind I was, indeed, flying, even if it was but for a brief few seconds. I remember thinking it was good practice for when I became an angel.

Bill Stamps' new book, "Miz Lena," is now available in a limited-edition, signed and numbered hardcover. Contact him at or through Facebook.

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