We’ve never been short of characters in my family. My nephew, Allen, would certainly rank near the top of the list of our strange, wonderful and eccentric family members. When he was a toddler, he used to wear khaki shorts and a ten-gallon cowboy hat with his cowboy boots. He completed the ensemble with a large smoldering cigar clinched between his teeth. When he was in junior high, he kept a small boa constrictor as a pet and insisted on looping it through his belt loops when he went to school. He owned lots of other exotic pets while he was growing up like a ferret, a baby raccoon, a de-scented skunk and a pot-bellied pig. Not to be outdone, his father (my brother) used to keep a handful of live rattlesnakes in a metal trashcan in the garage.
Because we were so close in age, Allen and I grew up like cousins. We spent many fun times on our ranch when we were kids, fishing and swimming in our pond, crawfishing in the backyard, climbing up in the hay barn and swinging down on a rope, telling stories and shooting varmints.
For a male, Allen had lots of words he had to expend every day. My husband believes men and women have different word quotas that must be used during the course of a day, and that women average about three times more words than most men. But Allen could out talk any woman I’ve ever met, even on her most talkative day. I’m not sure if he ever breathed when he got to telling a story. He just inhaled mightily and told it all in one breath. It was very detailed, but always interesting.
One summer when he came to visit us, he started explaining to my dad how he could "charm" a hummingbird. My dad had limited tolerance for Allen’s long-winded tales, and just grunted, "Uh-huh," and kept eating his lunch. But the less Dad commented on the possibility of Allen charming a hummingbird, the more Allen became enthused about the prospects of trying it. Right after lunch that day, my dad went to lie down for his usual afternoon nap. That gave Allen time to devise a way to approach the nervous birds.
My mother always had lots of hummingbird feeders hanging around the edge of the back porch roof and always kept them full. Hummingbirds would spend the day darting back and forth between the feeders and the ample supply of flowers blooming around our back door. So while my dad slept peacefully in the back bedroom, Allen perfected his skills.
He was about eight at the time and had to stand on a chair to reach the feeder. Naturally, the skittish birds darted away when they saw him nearby, but he remained steady and undaunted. They eventually became accustomed to seeing him beside the feeder. Then, he put his left hand near the plastic flower-shaped opening and left it until they got used to seeing it there. He’d been out there for more than an hour when my mom started looking for him. When he didn’t come when she called, she looked out through the back windows and was amazed at what she saw.
Standing there on a rickety patio chair was Allen, leaning forward and gently stroking the back of a hummingbird with his finger as the bird hovered over the feeder, drinking in the syrupy nectar. By that time, my dad was up and she called him over to take a look. As they stood there barely able to believe what they were seeing, he took the bird charming one step further—he cupped his hand around the hummingbird and closed his fingers carefully. He backed off the chair gingerly, still holding the bird. He opened the back door and showed my dumbstruck parents.
"Look, Meme and Granddad!" he said, "I told y’all I could charm a hummingbird."
The tiny creature seemed almost calm in his hand, but I’m sure was relieved when my little nephew took him outside and released him.
After that, when Allen made bizarre claims about stuff he’d done…or could do…or would do given the opportunity, my parents would nod knowingly, believing his every word.