Growing up in a time warp that very few people manage to escape from meant that I spent the first 18 years of my life within a 3 mile radius of my entire (and not completely sane) family. My younger years were spent being passed around like a hot potato from grandmother to grandmother, aunt to uncle, mom to dad, friend to foe. No kid is likely to come through that unscarred – and I was no exception.
One scar runs particularly deep and can be credited to my beautiful grandmother – Billie Jean. Don’t let her sweet, southern name fool you. She’s your stereotypical Irish Catholic, fiery red-head.
A typical Sunday morning in her household involved a wake-up call that could be heard from the kitchen as my Poppy came in the door, arms full of groceries, only to be scolded 5 minutes later for forgetting the blueberries (which we’re 90% sure my grandma never asked him to get in the first place).
At that point I’d turn to my cousin in bed beside me and ask if it was time to get up yet. To which she’d reply “No, that’s only the first time she’s made Poppy go to the store. She’ll make him go back at least another 3 times before we have to worry about getting up.” So I’d hit the snooze button until I heard the final alarm. Think Will Ferrell but instead of “MOM – THE MEATLOAF” you hear “VINCENT – THE BACON.”
Later that day my grandma took us to Blockbuster (#tbt) to rent a movie she’d been dying to watch – The Birds (mind you this is the same woman who once rented Blow for us and after the first 10 minutes, marched us back up to the video store to berate the woman for letting a lady with 2 young children rent such a vile movie). Yet she thought an Alfred Hitchcock film was appropriate for a 7 year old.
After making us sit through the most numbifyingly horrific 120 minutes of our lives in which birds can be seen pecking out the eyes of farmers and there is no such thing as a safe haven – not the car, the phone booth, or even the bedroom – I hear “VINCENT – THE BREAD” and then my grandma turns to us and says, “Ok kids, get in the car. We’re going to the beach to feed the seagulls.”
A Not So Perfect Day in Hervey Bay, Australia
It was one of those travel days where everything went wrong. You know, the one where your flight from Sydney is delayed which causes you to miss your bus which causes you to miss your ferry which causes you to miss your planned afternoon activities on Fraser Island. On top of that, you’re too paranoid about missing the next bus to venture too far out so you decide to stay put, only the place you’re at consists of a sidewalk with a restaurant (if you can even call it that), a general store (yes – you can call it that), and a quasi-souvenir shop selling Sydney Opera House Coffee Mugs (yeah we’re in a whole different area of Australia).
We had 2 hours until the next bus so we decided to make the best of it and check out VK’s Café and Takeaway. It’s a quaint place with a wraparound porch, a nice view, good fresh fish, and a truly lovely staff. We had the place pretty much to ourselves save the one Australian couple at the table next to us.
There was one rather odd thing about the place though – our table had a water bottle sitting on it. And no, not like the drinking kind. It was the kind I use to spray my cat with when he tries to lay right on top of my keyboard while I’m working.
My friend Tricia and I just gave each other that ‘wtf’ look, shrugged our shoulders, snapped a carefree pic, and put it out of our minds.
Then our food came. And it wasn’t alone.
At this point the scar my grandma left started throbbing (think Harry Potter’s lightening mark) and I jumped up and started making noises I assume only dogs could hear as Alfred Hitchcock flashbacks blazed through my head. It just kept getting closer…
It’s right there in front of me, taunting and toying with me.
The Australian next to us started howling with uncontrollable laughter and between breaths somehow managed to say “Relax, it’s only a butcher bird”. Yeah right, like that’s gonna f****** calm me down. By this point, I’m cowering behind a chair yelling over to Tricia – “Spray it! Spray it! For the love of God, SPRAY IT!”
I braved a look over and caught a frenzy-filled glimpse of her in full on battle mode with her long mane of blond hair swishing behind her back (Charlie’s Angels style) as she let those birds have it with that constant stream of water. With one last war cry, she finally broke them down and we watched them retreat back into the trees.
My heart started slowly beating its way back to normal. I took the bottle from her and looked around warily. There were more butcher birds lingering around the area but they kept their distance though one bold fella was on the table next to us taking french fries (I guess I should say chips) off the Aussie’s plate. The man didn’t even notice since he was still barreled over laughing his ass off at us (I was NOT amused).
He must not have sensed my ire because the next words out of his mouth were “They’re called butcher birds because they use their beaks to impale their prey.” (Seriously?!? Know your audience pal).
After he assured us that they don’t attack humans, we calmed down a bit and spent the rest of our time in Hervey Bay with our new local friend listening to him as he gave us an interesting zoology lesson on wildlife indigenous to the region (though I still held that spray bottle in a death grip).
His wife sat across from him diligently knitting and chimed in occasionally. They turned out to be a truly lovely couple and we had a splendid time getting to know them. If only the man could resist frightening us – “Oh you’re headed to Fraser Island, let me tell you ‘bout some wild dingoes……”
As trying as our 2 hours in Hervey Bay were, none of it mattered a few hours later when we finally found ourselves completely alone on Fraser Island…
Have you ever been attacked by wildlife on vacation? Let me know in the comments below!
****A side note to my lovely grandmother. I just wanted you to know that I love you and thanks a million for all your Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. I’m sorry I used you for some jokes but I jest with love! They are all very fond memories and if you hadn’t made me watch The Birds, this funny memory from Australia would never have happened!
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