...and other reminisces.
The other day I ran across an article on canaries that reminded me of a time, long ago when I was a boy and a small craze graced the radio in the form of singing canary programs.
One of the earliest examples was the Mutual Network offering, American Radio Warblers on Sunday afternoons from 1937 to 1952. The program was sponsored by American Bird Products, a birdseed supplier and featured organist Preston Sellers with canaries in cages near the organ.
Hartz pet products has been around over 90 years providing products that keep pets happy, healthy and thriving. The Hartz Mountain Master Canaries was another program and it's the one my mother used to listen to. It began broadcasting from WGN Chicago. Since the Hartz Mountain line had expanded beyond birdseed, the program featured sketches of other pets pitching products like dog chews and cat toys. Hartz would later be known for their successful line of flea collars. Later editions of Hartz Mountain Canary Pet Show featured future 60 Minutes alumnus Mike Wallace as an announcer.
Canaries are known for their beautiful songs and warbles and many people select these birds as companions specifically for their lovely singing and my mother had to have one.
So, one day while my parents were shopping they entered a store that sold parakeets and canaries and my mother brought home a canary, cage and all the accouterments needed for keeping a bird.
The problem was, the thing wouldn't sing; it simply sat in its cage mute. There are several reasons for this: it's immature, is molting, is sick, or unhappy. But, the main reason for a canary not singing is that it's a female. It's the males that sing.
Female canaries can learn to mimic some of the songs of male canaries, but are actually physically incapable of singing any of the long warbles that male canaries are known for. I suspect she had, unknown to her, a female.
I also suspect that Hartz was aware of this and were guilty of perpetrating a fraud on unsuspecting listeners. Instead of telling listeners if their bird wouldn't sing it was probably a female, they sold "Instructional" phonograph records which customers could use for their own canaries to learn to sing.
My mother sent away for one of the instructional records, a 33-1/3 long play record. She played it frequently, but the bird still wouldn't sing. So, one Saturday morning when my father went to clean the bird cage, my mother asked him to put the record on. In frustration he told her, “Get rid of that damn bird and just play the record!”
I don't remember what happened to the canary, but after that experience we always had parakeets. They are supposed to be able to learn to talk, but all the ones my mother ever owned never did.
It turns out that female parakeets generally don't learn to talk, so apparently, somehow, she always ended up with a female. Mostly I remember that they were all named “Ricky” which was probably an inappropriate name for a female.
Lest you think naming all the birds Ricky is odd, we also had three Boxer dogs over the course of my childhood. They were all named “Buster.”
I never knew Buster number one. My dad and Uncle Floyd took him hunting one day and he ran off. When they returned home they told my mother how they called and called, but he wouldn't come. Uncle Floyd told her that maybe he'd show up at the door someday; dogs have been known to do that. It was twenty years later that Uncle Floyd finally confessed that he had accidentally shot old Buster.
I remember the second Buster, but he died when I was very young so we got another Buster; he got hit by a car and as a result was left deaf nearly blind. Later, when speaking of the dogs, they were referred to as “the Buster Floyd shot, “Old Buster” and “blind and deaf Buster.”