Gamboa News

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chronicled by
Lyla "Lou" Womack,

It's a Bird......It's a?

Chapter 1

The most enjoyed and unique animal we had was Taca our macaw, named after the Taca Airlines. We got her by an accident, a real accident. She originally belonged to someone on the ridge in Gamboa. A perch had been constructed on the ground level for her to roost on at night. During one of those tropical evenings a possum made its way up to her roost and almost killed her. Dadıs reputation had followed him as being the neighborhood vet when the man brought Taca to him. During the struggle for her life her leg was broken and was in bad need of repair. After Dad mended her leg and she was able to fly again the man let us keep her. Her new roost was high up on a branch in a great big tree next to our cottage.

When Dad started out the door to go to work, Taca would get real excited when he would call out, "Fly!" Instantly she would start to take flight while he backed the car out of the garage. She knew what that meant and she was ready to go! As Dad would drive down the hill to the Gamboa Bridge, Taca would be hovering over his car. She probably circled it a few times if the signal was red. Then when the light changed the speck in the sky followed his car all the way to the Hyacinth Control. There she roosted in a tree waiting for Dad to step out of his car calling her name, "Taca, Taca!" With her wingspread of three feet it was a beautiful sight to see her glide down and land on his arm. At at 3 o'clock when work was over the two of them would do an instant replay only in the reverse direction.

Always at breakfast we had an extra guest to join us or should I say a part of our family? Taca flew down from her perch in the tree when someone would open the back door. My brother or Dad would bring her to the table and let her perch with her claws grasping onto the back of a chair. Whatever we had for breakfast, Taca would have for breakfast. She must have thought she was a "people" at times for she tried to talk like one however her conversation was unintelligible but we always knew when she was happy, frustrated, angry and totally content.

Her most favorite activity was taking a bath on a huge table in the backyard. I would set a hose with a nozzle on top of the table then prop it up with a big rock. Once the water started spraying through the nozzle the horrendous squawking started. What joy she expressed as she walked up to the hose, grasped her claws around it and inched her way up to the spray coming out of the nozzle. The closer she got, the noisier she was. Earplugs would have been a very handy thing to have had on these occasions. Once on top of the nozzle, she started to bit the fine mist over and over again but in the process she would loose her footing and have one claw bracing the nozzle and the other hanging in midair trying to reach the nozzle perch but to no avail. What a funny site it was to see this balancing act. Finally she would brave it and just jump onto the bench and let all of the water spray on her backside while she would call out a sigh of contentment, "Ohhhh! Ohhhh!"

Her appearance changed dramatically as all of her feathers became wet. The grey down appeared underneath those beautiful feathers and I would call to her, "You wet bird!" She wasnıt the ³pretty bird² until the sun had dried all of her feathers and she was once again ready for flight.

Iıll say she was ready for flight. Her flights sometimes got us in trouble. For some reason or another she enjoyed dive bombing some unsuspecting kid on a bicycle. She meant no harm even though she flew back into her favorite tree and laughed, ³Ha, ha, ha!² A neighbor complained about it and said she was trying to run into his son but Dadıs response was always that Taca was too smart to dive bomb into a kid and break her neck.

Another time she took flight over the Gold Elementary, probably while following my brother to school. When he went into the building, she did too and flew the length of the hallway and out the back door.

My brother Bub would come running home many times when Mom called him only to find out that it was Taca mimicking her. Naturally she got a good chuckle out of that one too.

Bye Panama

When we left Panama in 1953 we boarded the United Fruit ship Parismina. Taca boarded it too, but this time in a cage. That was her first experience in a cage. We stopped in Golfito, Costa Rica to load the ship with bananas. For three days bananas were loaded from a freight train onto a conveyer belt from the dock to the hold of the ship. When we arrived at Golfito we were looking down at the dock however when the final load was made, of the 7 to 8 foot stalks of bananas, we were looking up to the dock about twenty to thirty feet.... high above us.

Feeling so sorry for Taca and her demise of being caged up for three days, Dad had to let her out. Not only to let her out, but to let her fly. As he placed her on his wrist he talked to her gently as she talked back to him, then told her to "Fly!" Off she took!

Within no time at all she was just a black dot in the sky. "Taca, Taca," Dad yelled anxiously with his voice echoing over the whole ship and harbor. That little spot in the sky circled around and came gliding down to perch on his outstretched arm. Mom later shared with me recently that she was hoping that Taca would think while she was flying, "Back to the jungle," and stay there.

During the years to follow, poor Taca had to live in a cage that dad constructed in the backyard of our home in L.A. People would pass by and hear a dog barking and ask my brother where the dog was. My brother would respond with, "It's our macaw." The people would start laughing and say, "Oh sure." With that Bub would say to Taca, who was probably close by, "Bark like a doggie Taca," and Taca would bark, "Woof, woof!"

What a bird!

The Great Escape!

In 1964 my parents left Los Angeles and were on their way to their home in Oregon... with Taca. They stopped overnight to stay with me and my family in Fresno, California. The following morning the inbred instinct that my dad had of not caging an animal came to light as the morning sun arose. As Taca was removed from her cage she stretched forth her inhibited wings and instantly took to flight, much to my fatherıs chagrin. I donıt know if he had forgotten that her wings had grown enough to take flight or what...but there she was once again a speck in the sky. However as quickly as she took flight, that instantly, she was gone.

The area that I lived in was in a subdivision surrounded by grape vineyards so looking for Taca would be like looking for that needle in a haystack but she had to be found! I hauled out my bicycle while everyone else was walking around the neighborhood calling out frantically, "Taca, Taca, Taca," and decided to go further into unexplored territory on two wheels. I donıt know what the neighbors were thinking when they saw this lady riding down the street yelling Taca. I just thought of that now! I rode for several minutes with the same repeated melody and then would stop and listen for some noise. Fortunately since a macaw is one of the noisest parrots of the parrot family an audible response could be expected. At least thatıs what I was hoping. My hope came into a reality as after one loud, "Taca," I heard her chattering in response...she knew my voice! The chatter was coming in the direction of an old farm house nestled among the vineyards and off the beaten track of the subdivision. As I ventured down the dirt road the chattering became louder and louder as we were echoing back and forth to each other. In a distance I could see her brilliant red and gold feathers among the leaves of a fig tree.p "Taca! Oh what a pretty bird!" I spoke gently to her. Taca was delighted I think to see me. Now a question was posed in my mind. "How am I going to get her back home?" The only answer I gave myself was, "On the bike handlebars." When I lived in Gamboa I remembered our spider monkey, Higgy, sitting on the handlebars of my bicycle as I would pedal him a ride all over the neighborhood, so this might work with Taca I thought.

I think it was already set up for me to find the end of a broom stick handle leaning against the tree to tote her with to the handlebars. In all the years that we had Taca in Gamboa I never held her because I had seen her bite my dad and my brother and draw blood in the process. So I knew that the broom stick handle was a life saver for me. I gingerly put the handle under her claws and she automatically grasped them as she had in the past with me. Then I took her over to the handlebars and she propped up on that grasping them in the same way. A great big sigh came from me as I started to ride back slowly to my home.

While we rode along the two of us talked back and forth to each other. I, hoping that this would distract her from flying away again. She, if birds think the way humans do...thought, "Hmmm, here she is for the first time and I get to touch her!" With that, she started to walk across the handlebars and edge closer and closer to my wrist while grasping the bar. My goodness did I start talking then! I think however that must have excited her more and so she proceeded to grip my arm and proceeded to climb higher and higher until she was on my shoulder.

I wasnıt even concerned about what the neighbors thought as they looked out their windows probably saying, "Oh see the lady! Oh see the big bird!" At this time I was wondering just what she was going to do with that ear lobe that she was nibbling on. Talk about that adrenlin high....rapid heartbeat. I didnıt want a pierced ear so young in life! But lo! In a distance... I could see my dad come into view. There he was standing on the front lawn with a smile on his face from ear to ear. As I got closer to the driveway all I could say was, "Daaaaaaaadeeeee!" She never bit me and she never will again because after that episode she was flown to Balboa Zoo in San Deigo and for all I know she might still be there for parrots of this kind live to be 75 years old. So if you ever go into the aviary, donıt be afraid like I was to call out, "Taca!" For who knows what might happen.

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