Sherryl Melynk on “Shithawk Eggs”
My baba was a rotund woman, which is what my mother called her. My father called her fat. It didn’t matter a wit to me what anyone called her. When she pulled me into her soft body to hug, I knew I was safe from the world. Except that I wasn’t, which is what I discovered when I poked the shithawk nest down and found baby birds instead of eggs. As a child, I never blamed her for placing me in a situation in which I would make such a traumatizing discovery. I blamed myself. I was a conduit of evil: what kind of girl could kill baby birds? It wasn’t until I considered the event from an adult perspective did I think about my grandmother’s involvement. What kind of grandmother would send a child each spring to knock down bird nests?
Baba’s doting on me masked her complex nature. She’d take my chin in her warm hand to tell me how smart I was, and in the next breath call my father, her son, a no good lazy drunk. She’d brush my hair with long loving strokes each evening, and the next morning, beat our German Sheppard dog into submission for killing chickens. She’d say that I was the prettiest girl she’d ever seen and that my father should have married a good Ukrainian woman like all her other sons. And, I agreed with her: why hadn’t my dad married a woman with the right nationality so I could be a whole Ukrainian girl like she wanted.
Understanding baba’s complicated personality has been difficult. How could the same hands love me so fiercely and drown barn kittens because there were too many of them? I’d like to say that it taught me about the complexity of human nature, but it hasn’t. It’s taught me that people are bizarre and inexplicable; especially people you love.