Since my first Tribune column in 1988, I must have churned out quite a mass - or mess - of words. Back in those days, it was easier to do the writing than it was to get it typed up and delivered to the Tribune office. Often I hand-delivered it, or sent it through the only mail we had then, what we call snail-mail today. Then someone there had to edit and re-type and get it to the Marietta office. Later it was easier, at least for me, when it could be faxed. With the miraculous advent of computerization, all of that changed, and I must say, for the better.
The one thing that never changed was the challenge of finding a subject. I once sat in a writing class taught by Mary Hood, the noted Georgia author who lived in Woodstock at the time. One of her assignments was to compose a short essay describing a seemingly uninteresting episode such as the time you lost your keys, or some bland inanimate object such as a rocking chair.
I thought of that assignment on this beautiful snowy morning as I watched the never-ending entertainment provided by the birds outside our kitchen window. The show, which could have been a column subject, was instead keeping me from my Tribune assignment, for what's there to say about birds and snow that hasn't been said already!
We think the birds are pretty, so colorful against the white snow. But pretty is as pretty does, and these creatures definitely do not pass Miss Manners' politeness test. If humans acted this way in a buffet or cafeteria line, somebody would call the cops. In fact, there is no line at the bird feeder. The feeding frenzy drives the birds as their instinct takes over and they push and shove and gorge on the goodies so freely provided. Which brings me to another thought.
Are humans the only creatures who know how to stand in line and "wait your turn?" A little one learns very early, unless he happens to be an only child and home-schooled, that we must wait in line.
Preschoolers are taught immediately that the good life is structured and lines are a part of that structure. It's a lesson that must be learned at some point since life is filled with lines. We must wait in line at the post office, the grocery store, the mall stores, the drug store, the library, and the tag office. The lines are long at Disney World and Six Flags, and at public restrooms everywhere. We board buses and trains in a line. We stand in line to vote and to get a driver's license, at Home Depot and Kohl's, and at Captain D's and Cracker Barrel. We must wait our turn when picking up tickets to see a movie or a ball game. We obediently move along in the line for Communion at church, or to speak to the pastor on our way out.
Sadly, there are long lines at the unemployment office, and at shelters where the needy can get food and other of life's necessities.
We must stand in line even for Christmas Eve dinner at Nanny's house and for fellowship suppers at church and civic club meeting buffets. We stand in receiving lines at weddings and at happy retirement parties, and in receiving lines to express condolences at funeral homes. As drivers we know about those other lines, the ones where we queue up at traffic lights or snake along marked roadways where we must stay in the lines much like we learned to color within the lines as children.
Our training kicks in in a thousand situations and keeps order in our sometimes otherwise disordered lives. Perhaps the cardinals and the bluebirds will never acquire this one human trait. I can't imagine the arrogant woodpecker giving way to the precious little chickadee. So we'll just try to keep the birdfeeder filled and hope that the bird battles don't produce bloodshed. Nature's balance takes care of those things. We probably mess it all up with our birdfeeders, and truth-be-known, it's just for our enjoyment. They are a joy to watch, and to write about.
Now if they would just be still long enough for the perfect photo!?
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock's official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.