In the late 30s Swinton School, my father’s school, burned to the ground. For the next few years my father’s house served as the local school. A succession of teachers lived here, sleeping in the southwest bedroom, which would later become my brother’s and mine, and finally just mine.
The living room was where classes took place for the very few pupils who attended. There were Dad’s three sisters, Juanita and Shirley and Carmel, Uncle Howard, and my father, joined by a few other neighbour kids. The living room then was not much different than the living room now: the lath and plaster walls and the oak floor where I took my first steps and my sister Alison rode her first mule (though there was an ugly brown carpet covering the beautiful floor for many years).
The major differences in the room today are the starry white stippled ceiling Mom and Dad added in the early 70s and the large diorama Dad built around the same time to display his taxidermy. It’s filled with prairie birds that he’d found dead (my father was not a hunter: prided himself a “conservationist” and posted our land to protect the wildlife) or the neighbours brought to us and my father stuffed. When I was growing up it was not unusual to find a dead snowy owl when you went to the deepfreeze for a gallon of ice cream.
In the top left corner of the diorama there is a golden eagle swooping down, its wings spread wide, sinking its claws into the back of a pheasant. I believe Dad modelled it on an Audobon illustration. The pheasant’s head is thrown back in terror and pain, giving out a silent pheasant scream, frozen in its final seconds of suffering.
I remember the evening at supper when that eagle hit the power line in our yard and skittered to the ground, and remember my father rushing outside to save it from its misery. Somewhere in my mind I have stored an image of him struggling with the eagle, holding it in his hands while the wings were still weakly flapping.
But can that be real?
The left wing, not visible as you look up at it in the diorama, is badly damaged from striking the wire.