As a child growing up in Southside, Cheryl Bush’s favorite playground was Friendship Cemetery.
“We’d run around there for hours and then pick up acorns,” she said.
When you ask her what she did with the acorns, she looks at you quizzically, too polite to imply you’ve asked a question with an obvious answer.
“We fed ’em to the deer,” she says.
Cheryl has a thing about feeding animals.
About two decades ago she went to work for her brother’s body shop on Gardner Boulevard. Not long after that she found a nearby source for day-old bread and has since been feeding sparrows in the neighborhood.
“It’s weird,” says Cheryl, “but they know my car when I pull into the parking lot. It’s gotten to be a joke because there’s so many of them now.”
On May 6, 2005, Cheryl’s brother, Sandy Carpenter, died.
“I lost my brother, boss and best friend on the same day,” she says.
Jay and Heather Burchfield bought the business and Cheryl stayed on.
The Burchfields with Cheryl’s help run their body shop with an easy professionalism you don’t find in chain stores or much outside the South. You show up with a torn up bumper or even a hard-to-find missing headlight bulb, and they’re all over it. They also have time to talk.
And that’s a good thing, because Cheryl and the Burchfields have plenty to talk about these days.
The subject is one of Cheryl’s favorite topics, birds.
Specifically, a macaw named Henry.
Henry showed up Tuesday. As you might expect, he came with a story; $2,000 tropical birds don’t just show up, as a rule.
Henry belonged to Stanley Bates, who died earlier this year. Henry, who is 17 (and can live as long as a human) belonged to Bates’ late wife Lillian.
Until his death earlier this year, Stanley ran a tire store at the intersection of Waterworks and 14th Avenue and did alignment work on cars the Burchfields put back together.
After Stanley died, the care and feeding of his winged pet fell to Robin Bates, his daughter-in-law.
Robin wondered if the Burchfields wanted the macaw.
The answer to that question sits atop a cage about four feet from Cheryl’s desk.
“We’ve been joking that we’ve hired him as a greeter,” says Heather.
And a beautiful one he is. Almost three feet from head to tail, Henry’s back and breast are varying shades of turquoise; he is yellow around the head and has striking black and white zebra stripes under his eyes.
So far the only word out of Henry’s beak has been, “Hello.” And that has come at the time of his choosing.
With the right prompting though, Henry will dance. So far, we know he loves peanuts and fresh fruits and vegetables, and that he’s finicky about what he does eat.
“He won’t eat a tomato skin,” says Cheryl.
Henry peels the skin away from the tomato and he cracks the peanuts with a two-inch beak that looks like it could do real damage to a human finger.
As one would expect, Henry’s getting a lot of attention, especially from the woman he shares an office with.
“We don’t know if he’s making fun of us or just having fun,” says Cheryl.
Really, I don’t guess it matters.
In the meantime, the sparrows on Gardner Boulevard shouldn’t worry. Cheryl Bush says she’s not about to abandon her less flamboyant friends.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.