Birdhouse Wisdom

by Steven Chamblee

Steven & Elizabeth sneaking out to Trinity Park for a winter time picnic lunch.

Steven and Elizabeth sneaking out to Trinity Park for a winter time picnic lunch.

Each day is a blank page upon which can be written the mundane, the profound, the ordinary, the amazing, the tragic, the frivolous, the romantic, the hopeless, the beautiful, the grotesque. One can view the day as an exquisite challenge or a daunting task. Sometimes it’s better to take it in small bites.

Back about 1991, I went to work as a greenhouse attendant at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Full of that beautiful enthusiasm that accompanies new beginnings, I put up a little birdhouse in the potting shed and wrote “Suggestion Box” on the front of it. It was a lonely suggestion box, with nary a note placed in it, even with my constant goading of everyone within earshot for ideas. Until one morning, when I opened the back of the box and found it stuffed full of little pieces of folded paper.

A cheeky squirrel listens intently to the Birdhouse Wisdom... Photo by Steven Chamblee

A cheeky squirrel listens intently to the Birdhouse Wisdom… Photo by Steven Chamblee

Ah, must be one of my co-workers messing with me, I thought. I opened the first note and immediately recognized the handwriting of Elizabeth Parrish, the liveliest and most eccentric of our volunteers. (I remember the first time I met her … she was rambling on in conversation, changing subjects so quickly that I thought she might be “losing it.” A few minutes later, I realized she wasn’t crazy … it was ME who couldn’t keep up with her 90 mph train of thought. I laughed out loud … to her obvious delight … and we’ve been friends ever since.)

The first suggestion was pretty simple. And they got better from there…

Keep caffeine-free Diet Pepsi in the fridge at all times — for Volunteers
Wreathe your face with smiles. It’ll drive everyone crazy.
Wax the potting tables.
Feed da birds every day.
So! Let’s have another cuppa coffee and let’s have another piece of pie!
We need more suggestion boxes!
Square dances on alternate Mondays.
Paint your cat green; she’ll thank you.
Don’t walk down the white line on University Drive.
‘Tis far better to be healthy and rich than poor and sick.
Plant a tree — it will grow to shade you. Keep Moving!
Begonias don’t care what you call them.
Keep your eyes on the stars, your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone, and your feet on the upward path.
Macramé a hammock or two — volunteers will be pleased.
Drive right through the intersection — them as don’t stop, can’t.
Stock the fridge with banana pudding!
Someday your prince will come — don’t loan him any money!
Teach the squirrels to plant acorns in places we need new trees.
Stomp some ants today.
Never make friends with a snail.
Take a weed to lunch.
We otto have some mottos.
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker. – Odgen Nash
It’s far better to eat a dead mouse than be eaten by a live hyena.
Carry some lathes to the Lath House.
Take two — they’re small.
When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. – old Navy motto
If you’re playing basketball, don’t punt.
Rain dances to be held on Fridays — 2pm
Knit some little caps that tie under the chin for the squirrels — any color will do.
If what they say of you is false — never trouble to deny. If what they say chance be true, weep and storm and swear they lie. – Dorothy Parker
Save a quarter for the phone.
Eat more raisins.
Try to win, if you can.
Someday you’ll thank me for suggestions.

Elizabeth snapped this photo of Steven planting a tree on Christmas day…a tradition they shared for a dozen years.

Elizabeth snapped this photo of Steven planting a tree on Christmas day…a tradition they shared for a dozen years.

Indeed, I do, Elizabeth, indeed I do.

Elizabeth Parrish passed away on Nov. 22, 2013, at 94 years of age.

I loved these little notes so much that I arranged them on a piece of cardboard and laminated it … and it’s been hanging on my wall for more than 20 years.

Steven adds these notes:
Come celebrate the holiday season at Chandor Gardens! Go to for details. Just take I-20 west to exit 409, hang a right, go 2.1 miles and hang a left on Lee Avenue. Head straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-361-1700 for more information.

I can always use another road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come out and speak to your group sometime. I’m low-maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town too small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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