My late husband, Ray, known to his friends, clients, and colleges as “Doc” was a psychologist by trade. One of his doctorates however was in religion. He did not have a denominational church but did teach Christian philosophy to a small group.
Ray and I had only been married about two years, but his tradition of going to downtown Dallas and picking up homeless people for the holidays had continued. We would rent a bus (school bus) and bring back homeless people for a Christmas prayer meeting, followed by a buffet, and ending with Christmas songs. We provided shelter for the night through bedding on the floor of the church/classroom built as an extension to our lake house.
We started preparing for this meeting beginning right after the one we had for Thanksgiving. Ray always read the Christmas story from the bible. He had a wonderful speaking voice. The cold he had had a few weeks back had left him with a little hoarseness, but he was determined to proceed with our plans for the prayer meeting.
I wanted this to be a special Christmas for him. He had a lifelong dream of owning an African Gray Parrot. They were very expensive, most over $1,000, but I had found one for only $400. It had been owned by a man who had a dog training school. The problem was that when the dog classes were in session, Tilly, the parrot, would yell out commands (in the trainer’s voice) and create chaos for the class. The man needed to find Tilly another home quickly so he had lowered the price. I was delighted that she talked a lot and brought her home for a surprise Christmas gift. I discovered Tilly liked to talk to herself. Her constant chatter meant there was no way to wait till Christmas besides I was too excited to wait anyway.
Preparations for this special event were very involved. The meeting was still about two weeks away and Ray had contractors on the front deck creating short benches for seating during the meeting and also give each attendee a gift that would double as a shelter lined with carpeting to keep out the winter cold. When turned over the benches looked like large dog houses with doors that latched. While all this was going on at the lake house, Ray was in North Dallas, working at his psychology clinic about 30 miles away.
Ray had been very excited about Tilly. They really hit it off. I purchased a very large cage for her in the corner of the living room. Ray finished his work in town and came home a little early one evening. As usual, when he came through the door I would greet him, put my arms around his neck and give him a quick kiss. The minute I said, “Hi, Honey”; Brutus, our dog would run over and put his paws on Ray’s shoulders and put his chin on top of Ray’s head. It always made us laugh. Brutus was a 235 pound, completely cross-eyed Great Dane we had rescued from a breeder that was going to have him put down because of his defects. He was a gentle giant that stood 36” from the shoulder to the floor.
I had been listening to several records and recording the instrumental ones on a tape that would be used for the meeting. I had also been playing the ones with voices so I could write down all the words. I had been also typing up the words and making copies. I left for part of the day to make arrangements for a singer to lead the singing. I had fixed our evening meal and we were discussing the music that we would play at the meeting. All of a sudden, Tilly made a sound like a saw running and then shouted “Sun Bich”. We do not curse so were astounded at what she said. She repeated it over and over, always preceded by the sound of a saw. Ray quickly called the contractor to find out if anything had gone wrong that day. The contractor reported that everything was on schedule despite the problems they had had with the electric saw. Ray grinned when he heard the explanation. Tilly had picked up the sounds that had come from the front-deck that day. That was just the beginning of Tilly’s surprises for us.
Then Tilly started calling Brutus. He had his own sofa type love seat by the bay window in the living room. Tilly had started mimicking Ray’s voice and calling, “Brutus, Brutus, until Brutus would come over to the cage. Once Brutus got to the cage, in Ray’s voice, she would demand, “Get in your spot.” She was driving poor Brutus crazy. I told Ray he was going to have to work with Tilly so she would not keep repeating the curse words. He did. He worked with her for hours. She walked the full length of his arm and bobbed her head up and down as they played. I had done some research about parrots and learned that when parrots bond with their mates they would regurgitate their food and feed one another. Since Ray was not a parrot, Tilly would deposit her treasure behind his ear. It was gross to me, but Tilly was delighted that Ray allowed it. It seemed to strengthen the bond between them. Ray stopped me to show off how Tilly would now walk up his arm to his shoulder and put his head in Ray’s mouth. I thought it was revolting, but smiled and just said, “Oh, Wow.”
While Ray was working with Tilly, I continued to go through the Christmas records to find exactly what we needed for the prayer meeting. One of Ray’s closest friends had a wonderful singing voice and had promised to lead the singing the night of the meeting. I finally had found all the songs she requested at our meeting early in the day. Ray’s voice was not getting any better even after refilling the medication the doctor had given him. My concerns were shooed away by Ray, along with a pledge that the show must go on no matter what.
Everything was moving along like clockwork. The food was almost complete (all it needed was heating up), the tree in the classroom had been decorated, the benches completed and painted, Tilly had stopped cursing, Ray had gone through his final rehearsal for the reading and it was now Christmas Eve. Ray’s voice was now just above a whisper. I made some phone calls and made arrangements for the microphone to be delivered. The bus had left to bring our guests.
While we waited Ray had moved Tilly’s cage out into the classroom. Tilly did not like being left totally alone and would whistle very loudly if she thought someone was in the house, but she could not see them. In order not to disrupt the meeting, it seemed easier just to move her so she too could enjoy the festivities. I really think Ray just wanted to show her off. Ray stood about 6’5” at the front of the classroom, dressed in a black suit, with his silver-white hair shining, and his bible in his hand when the bus arrived. I was at the door (along with some helpers) greeting our guests and showing them where to sit. The song leader had arrived with a whiplash collar on around her neck. She had assured me she was going to try and sing anyway. I was praying for a miracle. Ray had no voice and the singer had no voice, but we were going to have a Christmas Prayer Meeting. I remember just quietly saying, “Dear Heavenly Father, this one is up to you.”
The room got quiet as Ray started to read the Christmas story. No one had remembered to take Tilly off her perch and put her back into her cage. She instantly flew to the top of Ray’s head. She continued, in his voice to recite the entire Christmas story, word for word. She had apparently been paying close attention when he was rehearsing.
At the end of the story, she made the sound like a saw and yelled, “Sun Bich”. The congregation thought she had said “Sunny Benches”. They all clapped and patted the beautiful benches they were sitting on. Ray instantly tried gently to grab her feet from the top of his head. While he was talking to her, his mouth was open part from amazement and partly because he was trying to speak. She stuck her head into his mouth and got a hold of his upper dentures and flew back to her perch with them in her claw.
She proceeded to hold on to them with one claw while she went into a full chorus of How Great Thou Art. Tilly was mimicking the voice of one of the sopranos whose record I had been playing. How do you interrupt a bird singing How Great Thow Art? The entire congregation had joined in the singing. When I attempted to quietly tug Ray’s teeth away from her she flew to the top of the tree. She did this without missing a note or dropping his teeth.
At the end of the song, She screamed in Ray’s voice, “Brutus, Brutus.” Brutus bound into the room and cleared three benches before reaching Ray. Brutus stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on Ray’s shoulder, and put his head on top of Ray’s head. The entire congregation, at first startled by this huge dog bounding over them, started to laugh. Tilly immediately started singing, That Old Time Religion. The congregation joined in and sang along with her. Our song leader just shrugged her shoulders and joined in as well. Tilly proceeded to go from one song to the next for nearly three hours. When the
singing finally ended, she flew back to the top of Ray’s head and deposited his teeth in his pocket. With all the dignity he could muster, he replaced his teeth and announced it was time to eat. He also said, “Brutus, get in your spot.” With that, Tilly started going through all the commands she had learned at the dog training school.
While we ate she had Brutus sit, stay, play dead, speak, roll over and shake hands. Brutus had shaken hands with everyone who attended. When the evening was coming to a close Ray got up to lead the group in the Lord’s Prayer. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth. Suddenly, Ray’s voice was back in full force. Tilly stayed silent except for a soft whistle that sounded like a violin playing Silent Night. The next day everyone was so moved by the meeting they all pitched in to make gift baskets from the left-over food to take with them. They planned to distribute them to those who could not attend. One man had confessed that he had only come for the food and a place to sleep, but he was leaving with a full heart. When we loaded up the bus late Christmas evening, the entire group had congratulated Ray on being able to train his bird to do so much.
Ray thanked them for the compliment. No one said anything about her taking off with his teeth. Ray said he had no idea what to do. His voice was gone, his teeth were gone. Then he told himself it was not about him, but the message. Then he heard Tilly. What was really amazing is that Tilly had mimicked one of the best sopranos we had ever heard. She had not missed a single note or missed a single word of the bible lesson. The Christmas Prayer Meeting continued to be a tradition for 8 more years until Ray passed away. What was really funny is that Tilly would start reciting the Christmas story every time she heard Christmas music or the religious hymns mentioned earlier. This became a problem at Easter, Thanksgiving, The 4th of July, and New Years’. No matter how many scriptures Ray would practice, the only one she would recite was the Christmas story. She always sang in soprano and preached in Ray’s voice. She was a gift I gave with a lot of love, at the right time, that kept on giving. Tilly mourned after Ray passed until she finally passed away herself. Brutus passed away 6 years later.
Tilly, Ray, and Brutus are all gone now, but the story of the Christmas Prayer Meeting still lives. The message of goodwill towards mankind is still true today. Thank you,Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in