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A Bird with a Broken Wing

October 1, 2007

Some stories are meant to be told rather than written; they are far better heard than read. This is such a story.

I sat with my friend Frank Nantz in a hospital room shortly before his death. He asked me to write this story for him.

I wish you, the reader, could have heard Frank narrate this account in person. His Chesnee accent, his unique dialect, made the telling far more delightful than I can ever achieve through the printed word. I relate the story in the first person, as if Frank were telling it.

**********

I worked for Foremost Dairies over twenty-one years. I started out driving a milk truck. Later, I was promoted to supervisor and then to sales manager. Eventually, the company decided to send me to be a plant manager in Sylacauga, Alabama. I explained that I didn’t want to go to Sylacauga, Alabama, or to anywhere else. I wanted to stay in Spartanburg County.

My wife, our two daughters, my mother and father, my mother-in-law and father-in-law didn’t want us to leave. I had fifty head of cattle on my farm in the northern end of the county, which I refer to as a plantation. My cattle didn’t want me to leave either. When I told my company I wasn’t going to Sylacauga, Alabama, I was offered more money. I assured them that it wouldn’t be enough to get me to move.

Because I refused to relocate, Foremost Dairies sent me to Jacksonville, Florida, for an evaluation. I met with Melvin Reid, Ph.D., for the better part of an afternoon. His office was on the top floor of the Gulf Life Building.

Dr. Reid gave me a test that asked five hundred of the silliest questions I have ever heard in all my life. Do you vomit at the sight of blood? Do dirty hands make you sick? Would you rather be an airplane pilot or a coal miner? Do you love your father more than your mother?

I did well on many of the questions about current events. I read a lot, and I enjoyed answering those questions. Some of the questions were just plain ridiculous. Question Number 178 asked: If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad? I studied that question a few moments. I decided to leave it blank.

I finished the test. Dr. Reid looked over my answers, then slid his glasses down to the end of his nose like an old maid schoolteacher.

“Mr. Nantz, you didn’t answer Question Number 178.”

I explained that Question Number 178 did not give enough information.

Dr. Reid looked down at his notes for several minutes. He read the question aloud, “If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad?”

He asked, “Mr. Nantz, how much more information do you need?”

“I need to know what kind of bird you’re asking me about.”

“Mr. Nantz, please tell me why it matters what kind of bird has a broken wing?”

I answered, “Dr. Reid, you’ve been cooped up in this big Gulf Life Building too long. You need to get out more.”

Dr. Reid slid those little glasses back down to the end of his nose. “Mr. Nantz, I want to hear your explanation. I’ve got all afternoon.”

Sitting with Dr. Reid at the top of the Gulf Life Building, I explained.

“Travel east on Cannon’s Camp Ground Road in Spartanburg County, you will see bluebird boxes, some on fence posts, some on telephone poles. Turn left on Highway 110, near Cowpens. Continue to the county line. You will arrive at my farm. All along that stretch of road, I have put bluebird boxes that I have built. I clean them out each winter and keep them fixed up each year. I refer to that road as the Frank Nantz Bluebird Trail.

Dr. Reid, if I was walking my bluebird trail and found a little bluebird with a broken wing, I would pick that bird up in my hands. It would break my heart. I might even cry.

“Now, Dr. Reid, I have a bird dog, a fine pointer named Tonya. I love to go quail hunting. Tonya can flush a covey of quail better than any dog I have seen. With my pump shotgun, I have hit as many as five quail in one covey on the rise.

Dr. Reid, my bird dog and I will ramble through bramble briars and blackberry vines until we find those quail. I take those little dead birds and put them in the pocket of my hunting jacket. If one of those quail is still alive but has a broken wing, I wring her neck and put her into that big pocket in my jacket with the others.

Dr. Reid, I don’t feel one bit sad about that because those quail will soon be my supper.”

In his evaluation of Frank Nantz, Dr. Reid was complimentary. His recommendation to Foremost Dairies regarding Frank:
“Do not let this man leave your company. Do not send him to Sylacauga, Alabama. Let him stay in Spartanburg County. His wife, his two daughters, his parents, his in-laws, and fifty head of cattle all want him to stay. And while a few quail might like to see him leave, many more bluebirds want him to stay right where he is.”

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, October 2007

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