The sound of the hawk’s whistle high in a distant tree reminds me strangely of Julie. She and I never talked about the whistle of a hawk. Our moments were spent in other ways. Yet now, ten years after our daughter’s death at the age of 42, the hawk’s whistle during the month of August somehow reminds me of her.
Maybe it’s because I link the sound of the hawk with the visit of a mysterious bird that showed up a few years back just when I was particularly missing Julie. Though I’m not sure it was a hawk, I concluded afterwards it must have been because of its distinctive whistle. I was feeling nostalgic and morose that day, close to the August 18 anniversary of Julie’s leaving us. I had tried for weeks to see the bird making the shrill call. When that bird lit on a dead pine tree limb and stayed for long minutes, I thought he was the caller. Whether a hawk or just a mysterious bird, somehow its visit was like a whisper of comfort from the Lord.
Julie was a bouncy little girl with blonde hair in two ponytails when we adopted her at five years old. She loved to tease us all, especially her brother William, our biological son. William was almost seven when she arrived. She liked older men which was sometimes comical, other times embarrassing. One dear elderly gentleman in our church was one of the ones she picked on. She would run up to him and hit him as hard as she could, then laugh that mischievous laugh. Mr. Pipkin took her hits as the signs of affection they were meant to be and playfully hit her back. Mr. Fred Bearden became a lifelong friend who responded in kind to her teasing comments about his singing.
Our daughter was crazy about her father. Whenever she could she went with him on one of his veterinary calls. One of those times Charles pulled a live calf and realized there was a twin as well. Teasingly he said to Julie, “Watch this! I’m going to get another one.” Julie clapped gleefully from her perch on the fence as the second calf emerged. Problem was that thereafter every time Daddy delivered one calf she would plead “Daddy, get another one!”
Julie loved, like most kids, to have friends over for a sleepover. Those friends became precious to us as did those of William. I’m thinking of Julie and Dawn Baggett gloating over a beautiful cake they as sixth graders baked. Carol Mitchell was with us the night Hurricane Kate hit in 1984. The three children “camped out” downstairs for safety. They had a hilarious time the next day cleaning up the debris in the yard and welcoming back our black mule Raleigh who had escaped where a tree demolished the fence.
Every Mother’s Day Julie worried about her birth mother. We’d explained to her that her birth mother, whom she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler, loved her but wasn’t able to take care of her. She reasoned that her mother might not be able to take care of herself. When Julie turned eighteen she inquired at DFCS about finding her mother. They discovered her mother had signed a paper saying she wished not to be found. After that Julie seemed not to worry anymore.
Our two children looked strikingly similar, though very different in temperament. Even the dentist remarked again and again about their having identical orthodontic problems. I stopped reminding him that Julie was adopted! But Julie didn’t feel she looked like the rest of us. She longed to have blood kin. When her daughter, Amanda, was born a peace came over her that was amazing. One of the moments I cherish was when, a very few minutes after her baby’s birth, Julie said, “Mom, would you please hold her?” Something clicked as I held her blood kin and we all three bonded in a very special way. Julie at last had someone who could really look like her!
Julie loved babies–puppies, kittens, kid goats, lambs, rabbits, squirrels–but nothing compared to the fierce love she had for her own two babies, Amanda and Charles Douglas (named for his father and his grandfather).
As a young mother Julie developed an incurable debilitating condition called Familial Spastic Paraparesis. It became very difficult for her to take care of her children. We were so glad that God had blessed us by placing Julie and her family in a little house on the other side of our goat pasture so we were nearby to help.
Some Julie moments crowd my mind as I hear that hawk above: Julie doing somersaults and back bends on the lawn as now I see her granddaughter achieving; Julie playing with her brother and their friends in a tung oil tree treehouse; Julie’s baptism when she was eight and then again later when she wanted to rededicate her life; supper with her and her husband and children at their house when she could still cook–such delicious cornbread!; the two of us playing triominos which she always, without fail, won; crying together over sad movies; watching the children swim while we sat on her deck sipping coffee, hers loaded with cream and sugar.
One of the last times we saw Julie was July 4, 2012. She then lived across town trying to be independent. She arrived at our carport picnic glowing with excitement. She couldn’t wait to see her granddaughter, Charli, with whom she hadn’t played in several days. She’d just learned that a second grandchild would be born that winter but Charli at 18 months was the light of her life. My hair was just growing back after chemo treatment for breast cancer. She ran her hand over my bristly head and said, “Oh, Mom, you look so sexy!”
That day, August 18, 2012, when we received the emergency call, sticks in my mind as a very dark one though I think the sun was shining. We rushed across town. Julie had died in her sleep.
We enjoy Julie’s children and grandchildren (five of them now with Amanda’s husband Jared’s three). I wish Julie could see them succeeding, growing, learning. I wish she could be at her son Charles’s wedding as he marries his sweetheart, Allie, this winter. But the high whistle of the hawk, or whatever bird it is, somehow seems like a message from the Lord that Julie is enjoying happiness with Jesus none of us could even imagine, beauty beyond belief.