True or false: Girl bird rescuer or lady roofer? by Chris Galvin Nguyen
Chris Galvin Nguyen, from Montreal, takes Lawrence Hill's first writing challenge and tells us one tall tale and one true story.
Which one do you believe: did she try to rescue an injured sparrow or pay her way through university by working as a roofer? Let us know in the comments below!
UPDATE: And the true story is... Lady Roofer!
Girl Bird Rescuer
I was looking for toads at my grandparents’ farm when I found the damaged baby bird shivering in the tall grass and goldenrod. I ran back to where my grandmother was thinning the raspberry canes and told her I needed a small box.
My grandmother said its wing was broken and though the vet could fix it, he was away on holiday. Together, we coaxed the baby sparrow onto a piece of firm cardboard and put it into a Kleenex box without touching it.
I dug out the wire birdcage I’d seen in the barn in a pile of other discarded things, did what I could to clean off the rust, and tucked the sparrow inside, along with a saucer of water and some birdseed borrowed from the neighbour. I made a splint for its wing out of Popsicle sticks and a strip torn from an old sheet in the ragbag.
The bird sat silently until night time, but as soon as we went to bed, it began to make piteous peeping sounds.
“Get rid of that bird,” my grandfather told me in the morning.
“But it needs help!” I said, putting on my saddest seven-year-old face.
For two more nights, the bird cried and jumped about in its cage, and finally, my grandfather clomped up the narrow stairs, and filled the doorway of my attic bedroom. “Get down here and take that bird outside,” he said and clomped down again, leaving no room for argument. I carried the cage outside and set it in the dewy grass to open its door when I thought of the boathouse. I picked my way through the field, the wet grasses scratching at my legs, until I came to the lane between the two farms, which led down to the lake. Once inside the boathouse, which now housed little more than some sagging canvas deck chairs and a rusting BBQ, I set the birdcage on the workbench and made my way back to the house.
“You put that bird in the boathouse, didn’t you?” my grandfather asked between bites of cereal. He poured a cup of my grandmother’s bitter, black tea and pushed it across the table towards me.
“Yes,” I said, thinking I was in big trouble.
“Well, looks like the raccoons got in there last night. You won’t have to worry about the sparrow anymore.”
I looked at him, searching for a hint of a smile—anything to tell me he was just fooling. But he wasn’t. I’d always wanted a pet bird, and I’d hoped to doctor the sparrow back to health, but after that, I never wanted to keep a bird in a cage ever again.
“I wanna be a lady roofer too!” The six-year-old girl was pointing up at me as I straddled the peak of the neighbour’s roof, nailing on the last of the ridge caps. I waved at the little girl, then crouched over the hot black shingles again. From the prickly handful in my palm, I rolled a broad-headed, stubby nail out with my thumb, set it in place, gave it a tap to get it started, then moved my fingers out of the way and drove it in with two hard whacks of my hammer.
In the hot sunshine, the asphalt shingles gave off an intense tarry odour. The breeze blowing up from the shaded east side offered some relief from the oven-like heat that made the air shimmer and dance above the shingles on the west side. I nailed down the last ridge cap and climbed down the ladder, which rang and clattered each time I stepped on a rung.
“Your hand feels like sand,” the girl said when I shook her outstretched one.
"She’s fascinated with you,” her mother said. “She’s talked about nothing else since you started on our neighbour’s roof. I keep telling her the work is very hard and sweaty, but she says she doesn’t care. How do you do it anyway? I mean, you’re so tiny to be carrying all those heavy things up the ladder on your shoulder.”
In those days, we used thinner shingles, and the rolls of roofing paper were smaller. Now that they have machinery to deliver materials right up onto the roof deck, some of the packages are bigger and heavier. And I had my methods: I’d carry up only half a pack of shingles at a time, or half a box of nails.
But the toughest part of the job wasn’t the heavy work. It was when a new male labourer joining our team would refuse to work with me, saying a woman shouldn’t be on the roof, or when someone would say all roofers were hard-drinking people who couldn’t get a better job. But I enjoyed their looks of surprise when I told them that roofing was paying my way through university.
Sparrow photo: HITNOM
Roofer photo: Patsy Lynch