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Life wasn't easy with my jealous, feathered sibling

Laura hated me. And I hated him. For over seven years he made my life at home miserable.

Despite the name, Laura was a male _ a gorgeous, mature scarlet macaw who came to us with a good-sized vocabulary and who adored my mother. He took one look at me and there was instant sibling rivalry.

He would call to my mother, "Please kiss kiss Laura." He repeated it until she did. And she'd murmur "good boy" and stroke his back. But when she mothered me, he'd yell, "Bad girl, bad girl."

Don't tell me macaws can't think. He did. He hissed at me, taunted me. He was a bird from hell as far as I was concerned.

He reigned from a special stand my father had built. No cage for him. It would "damage his beautiful tail feathers." And so he had a 6-foot-high stand with a wide, solid perch and a large metal tray 6 inches below that, which was kept filled with gravel. At each end of the perch were his water and food containers. And there was a slender chain with a band that could be snapped around one leg.

During the day he was free. But when I was at home, he wore the chain. Perhaps that was part of the reason I was the enemy. Mother kept one of his wings clipped, which kept him from flying. But he could run clumsily and on occasion could skim a few inches from the ground. That's how he chased me when he got the chance.

When mother was at home, she undid the chain on the presumption she could keep him away from me. He'd wait for his chance and climb down to the ground and suddenly attack me. Many times I raced up our small suburban street with him hippety-hopping behind me, hurling waterfront invectives he could have learned only from the sailors who brought the birds home on cargo ships sailing between South American and New York ports.

Laura was a magnificent red, yellow and blue bird. The red began at his head and ended midway with a wide band of yellow. Then there was a deeper blue and the tail feathers were a mixture of blues and reds. We figured he must have been 20 to 30 years old.

About three years after Laura took up residence, a second parrot was bought for $3 at the docks. The new bird was quite young, barely full grown. His entire back was a turquoise blue and his stomach a bright yellow. The tail feathers were a combination of each. This variety is distinctive because of the black zebra stripes across the white facial feathers. I forget his name. Because he had not been tamed, he stayed in a large cage. Laura ignored him.

I learned to play with my friends at their house, not mine. Mother worked around the house with that bird perched on her shoulder while he cooed sweet nothings into her ear. Not that I did not get my share of attention. It's just that I shared it.

I hadn't thought of Laura for years. I would not have now except while leafing through a sewing magazine, I found two pages filled with pictures of Laura and What's-its-name facing each other. It was an ad for an all-purpose thread and the tie-in was "flying colors." And suddenly the memories flooded back.

Hysteria overtook New York and its vicinities in the form of a so-called parrot fever in the late '20s and '30s. Actually it was finally determined that standard green parrots were the carriers. In any event, mother got rid of both birds quickly.

I got the last laugh. She kept me.

Hazel Geissler is a writer living in Belleair Beach. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.

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