The Wise Child

When I was ten and my younger sister was seven, we religiously watched a film called ‘Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird’. It is a story based on the novel of the same name by Jean Little. The film is rare and was made for television.

It is a sad film and I’m not sure why it gripped the imagination of a ten and seven year old. It tells the story of the Talbot family in the 1950s and how a teenage boy named Jeremy copes when his father develops cancer. I think I liked the look and feel of the film and the connection the characters had.

Birds are a unifying theme. Jeremy and his father keep birds in their garden. As his father’s illness progresses, the family have their holiday in a summer cottage. One night as Jeremy works on a picture puzzle, his parents go out for a walk.

They are not gone a long time, when Jeremy’s mother returns in a hurry from the rain and ushers Jeremy to go with her. Jeremy puts on a raincoat and brings a flashlight. He goes to the spot where his father is waiting. In haste, Jeremy points his flashlight at the dark, in the direction his father shows him. There, in the trees is an owl. His father tells him there were two of them until his mother went to get him.

Suddenly, the owl swoops very low towards them and flies away to their great excitement. Jeremy’s mother exclaims they are soaking wet and rushes ahead of them to get back to the house. Jeremy’s father asks him to promise that he will remember this moment always. Jeremy nods.

Jeremy’s father gives him an ornament of an owl as a gift. Jeremy decides to call the owl ‘Hoot’. When Jeremy’s father dies, the family have to move from their house to an apartment. Jeremy brings the bird feeder from the house and hangs it from the balcony of the apartment.

On Christmas Eve, Jeremy wakes in the middle of the night. He brings ‘Hoot’ with him into the living room. He finds his mother’s Christmas stocking and places ‘Hoot’ at the bottom. Then he fills the rest of the stocking with sweets and oranges.

He goes to the balcony to feed the birds. It is a cold winter’s night and it has snowed. Jeremy finds a bird on the bird feeder that has died from the cold. He picks it up and warms it with his breath and says ‘Don’t die’. His mother wakes to find the owl and sees Jeremy at the window.

It has been months since his father died. For the first time, he cries and his mother is there to comfort him. The birds in this film serve as a reminder of the beautiful and precarious nature of life.

In Akihabara, Tokyo I found a book called ‘The Last Year of Childhood’. It is a book of colour photographs by Ute Behrend. The girl on the cover and the title of the book are suggestions of beautiful worlds made but lost at the same time. As I flicked through the book, an owl stared back at me. I think a wise child knows thoughts are birds and stands by the window, letting them out of the mute world. I know these birds have never stopped caring for me.

Lena O’ Connell

Lena O’ Connell graduated from the Limerick School of Art and Design in 2009. She specialised in fine art, sculpture. Lena currently lives and works in Daegu, South Korea. She teaches English and is involved with a children’s art group.