Canary in a Coal Mine

I don't know if these are canaries, but I found it in my paper collection, and I flashed back to another time. It is from a late 1800's book, and it seemed the appropriate picture for spring and for tonight's thoughts.

The phrase Canary in a Coal Mine refers to the use of canaries to check the quality of the air in coal mines. If the canary was singing, the air was free of methane gas. If the bird meant it was dead and you had better get the hell out of there.

My mother's grandfather came over from Lithuania with his young wife and settled in Brooklyn, where he raised canaries for a living--I hope they were put to better uses than for coal mining. I suspect so as Brooklyn is far from any coal mines that I am aware of.

My family lived in Brooklyn for nearly 100 years. It came to an end with the death of my grandmother at the age of 90 something; she lived in the same apartment on 22ND street for 50 years.

I have romantic visions of those times where all your relatives lived on the same street, and there was always someone around to help out, whether it be to bandage a knee, or sooth a broken heart. It was a time when the worst thing that happened on Halloween was getting hit with a sock full of flour, and the family outing was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge on a Sunday or going to Prospect Park. Every kid went to Coney Island when they had some extra money.

I don't have much left to remember my mother's family for an envelope of photographs that no one wanted after my grandmother's passing. Photos of Easter and everyone color eggs (I was in one of those photos!), photos of my great grandparents together, always with a glass of beer or a vodka in hand. Photos of my grandparents when they were young and in love, then when they had my mother. My mother growing up. My mother holding me as a baby.

The image of a canary evokes such sentimentality in me. If I did not have cats, I would fill my house with the sweet song of the little yellow bird.



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