Flying with Taca
by Lou Womack

The most enjoyable and unique animal we had was Taca, our red and gold macaw, who was named after the Taca Airlines. We got her by accident, a real accident. She originally belonged to someone on the ridge in Gamboa. A perch had been constructed at ground level for her to roost at night. One tropical evening a possum made its way up to the roost and almost killed her. Dad’s reputation of being the neighborhood vet prompted the owner to bring Taca to our house for treatment. During the struggle for her life her leg had been broken and was badly in need of repair. After Dad mended her leg, she was able to fly again.  Taca's owner let us keep her. Her new roost was high up on a branch of a great big tree next to our cottage.
When Dad would start out the door to go to work, Taca would get real excited when Dad 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 Gamboa Bridge, Taca would hover over the car. She would circle a few times if the signal was red. Then when the light changed the red speck in the sky would follow the car all the way to the Hyacinth Control Station. There she roosted in a tree waiting for  Dad to step out of his car and 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 on 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  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, that horrendous squawking would start. 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 would bite the fine mist over and over again. 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 sight it was to see this balancing act. Finally she would be brave and just jump onto the bench and let all of the water spray on her backside while she calling out a sigh of contentment, “Ohhhh! Ohhhh!”
Her appearance changed dramatically as all of her feathers became wet. The down appeared underneath those beautiful feathers and I would call to her, “You wet bird!”   She wasn’t a “pretty bird” until the sun had dried all of her feathers and she was once again ready for flight.

 I’ll 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, “Ha, ha, ha!” A neighbor complained about it and said she was trying to run into his son, but Dad’s 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 elementary school, probably while following  my brother to school. When he went into the building, she did too and flew the length of the whole  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.
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 conveyor 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 stalk of bananas we were looking up to the dock high above us.
Feeling so sorry for Taca and her demise 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 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 recently shared with me that she had hoped that while Taca was flying that day, she would have thought, “Back to the jungle!”
Years later when  I became a teacher I would show my class a film Dad made called Animals of Panama. After viewing it, all of them with one unanimous voice shouted, "We want to go to Panama!"

February 19, 2000

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