Did the buzzards come? No ma’am

Published 8:28 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

One good thing about reaching the “mature” years is that people will indulge you.

You can repeat things over and over and folks won’t stop you – unless they’re your young’uns.

“Mama! You’ve told us that a hundred times!”

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Another good thing about maturity is that your hearing isn’t so good, so I wade right through their protests. And, too, when they’ve got their feet under my table, they’re obliged to listen.

So, indulge me — oblige me — with this if you’ve heard it before.

Several years ago, Elizabeth Law invited me to her house to see this huge buzzard that roosted every afternoon atop a dead tree across the pond. We sat on her porch and consumed a gallon of lemonade and two-dozen sugar cookies while we waited. Finally, the buzzard came and it was an incredible sight. The old buzzard had a tremendous wingspan and, silhouetted against a fading sky, it was a sight to behold.

At an event some time distant, Elizabeth greeted me in a loud, clear voice, “Every time I see buzzards, I think of you!”

I took that as a compliment. I’ve always had a fascination with the ugly vultures.

When I was a little girl, I would lie out in the grassy pasture and watch, transfixed, as the buzzards glided on the warm air currents – as they did a waltz in the sky.

“One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told.”

My friend, Betty Kay, and I had a little song we sang as we buzzard watched.

“Did you feed my cow? (Yes, ma’am). Could you tell me how? (Yes, ma’am). What did you feed her? (Corn and hay). Did you milk her real good? (Yes, ma’am). How did you milk her? (Squish, Squish, Squish). Did my cow get sick? (Yes, ma’am). Was she covered with ticks? (Yes, ma’am). How did she die? (Uh, uh, uh). Did the buzzards come? (Yes, ma’am). How did they come? (Flop, flop, flop).”

When buzzards come in “for the kill’ they flap their wings, so we would jump up, dance around and “flop” our wings like the ol’ buzzards. We had great fun with buzzards.

So, when my family moved to Ohio in 1980, I was excited to know that the little township of Hinckley celebrated Buzzard Sunday.

The story behind Buzzard Sunday is that a hundred years or so ago, wolves were killing all the cattle in the area. So the men piled all of the cow carcasses and some meat from a rendering plant in the middle of a big meadow and, with shotguns in hand, surrounded the field. When the wolves came to feast on the raw meat, they were shot and left to rot. And, “Did the buzzards come? Yes, ma’am!

The legend is that every year at the exact same time the buzzards return to Hinckley, just as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano, but for a whole different reason.

I made plans to attend Buzzard Sunday but my neighbor told me that I might be disappointed.

“You probably won’t see any buzzards. Buzzard Sunday is just a rite of spring.”

A rite of spring? In Ohio?

Ohio has two seasons — winter and June, July and August. Spring? Nevermore.

But I packed a picnic, rolled up a blanket, got out the binoculars and we were off on a great adventure.

As we got out of the car, I heard a woman say, “They’re from Alabama.” Her husband replied, “They come from everywhere to see the buzzards.”

But did the buzzards come? No, ma’am.

The only buzzard in Hinckley that day was a resident buzzard in a cage.

Did it matter? No, ma’am. But the day was far from a disappointment.

We ate breakfast, hoping it was not buzzard sausage, bought Buzzard Day tee shirts and pins and a glossy 8×10 of a buzzard. We had a picnic lunch and looked to the sky every time someone shouted, “Buzzard! Buzzard!” only to see an airborne Frisbee or a swallow in search of Capistrano.

Now, on this Sunday each year, just as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano and, just as surely as the buzzards skip the day held in their honor in Hinckley, my thoughts turn to Buzzard Sunday.

And, my wish is that I could be there once again to hear someone say, “Look. They’re from Alabama!” And I would say, “Yes, ma’am.”

Jaine Treadwell is features editor for The Messenger. She can be reached at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com