Byrds of a feather

Published 2:05 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First cousins, once removed. Sometimes I wish I had never learned the “correct” way to determine your relationship with your extended family. At the time I first knew them they were more commonly known as my second cousins.

In any case, my oldest first cousin, Bill, had three sons born three years apart. In their youngest years they would visit at Compass Lake and later at Bay Point after my grandparents (their great-grandparents) moved there.

At the age of 10, the youngest son, McCageor or “Cage” as he is more commonly known, made his first solo visit. For six consecutive summers he visited, growing up with Catherine and Elizabeth. He attended Ponder family reunions in Arkansas and even acquired a slight southern accent.

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All the boys have since visited as time and events would allow. The last visit was four years ago at Elizabeth’s wedding. Turner Byrd, the second son and Cage Byrd, the youngest both spent their vacation in Compass Lake and Donalsonville this past week. It was like the good old times.

The oldest son, Bill Byrd IV, couldn’t attend as he is currently serving as a major in the U.S. Army in Iraq. This is his third tour in that country, also having served in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

The next generation of cousins call him “Ranger Bill.” He fits the stereotypical image perfectly. He is a passionate warrior in the classic sense. In any fight, I would want him on my side. I have seen pictures of him with his machine gun strapped over his shoulder giving candy to children. A fighter with compassion.

He now has two of his own children, back home; William Fitzhugh Byrd V, (yes, that is the fifth), and Jack Cadigan Byrd. My guess is knowing Will and Jack are back home with his wife, Lisa, makes it harder being a hero. In any case, he is a great guy.

Turner is now an administrator for a nursing home and assisted living facility. He moved from his home in the Pacific Northwest and settled in Florida, never looking back. He moved up the corporate latter and clearly knows what he is doing.

I am struck by his desire to strike a balance between the corporate owners that own facilities and dictate budgets against the real live people with real live problems that he serves. I would trust him with my own, and in that environment, trust may be the best quality a man can have.

He played football for the Oregon State Beavers. He was small and a walk-on, but loved the sport and played with heart that inspired all that knew him. I get the sense that same heart is still working as he deals with the complicated lives of older people with all the health issues of today.

Cage was the last and our most frequent visitor. Elizabeth also visited him during his year at the University of Hawaii. Surfboards were strung from the ceiling in his dorm room. He later graduated from the University of Portland with a criminal justice degree.

He has just completed his fourth year on the Portland City Police force. He has received several medals and commendations. The first rescue he had was of a red tail hawk, found in downtown Portland. He gathered some towels from a nearby hotel and captured the young raptor, eventually getting the animal to the Audubon Society for treatment and release.

In the way that is becoming more and more common, the news media captured the story of Officer Cage Byrd capturing a Hawk and putting it in a cage. Think “Byrd captures hawk” as the headline.

Hundreds of news services picked up the story, including the Stars and Bars, where older brother Bill read about it in Baghdad. It is sometimes a very small world.

Officer Byrd, doesn’t only rescue distressed birds. He has received a coveted Life-Saving Medal for grabbing a person attempting suicide off one of the largest bridges in the world. Without a backup, he grabbed the person as she jumped and held her until help could arrive.

Neither these boys, nor their parents ever lived in the South. They were all born in the Portland area where their parents and grandparents still live. The Byrd boys’ parents wanted them to experience the South and we were a beneficiary of their many visits.

They understand “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir.” They like grits and sweet tea. They can still ski and tube with the best of them. They are funny, articulate and good company.

I just can’t think of them as first cousins, once removed. They have been a part of our lives for a long time and we have always been proud of them. Now serving in the Army, the medical field and the police force, they have become much more.

I won’t tell them tonight while they are still here, but they are heroes one and all. I would not hesitate to hold them up to any that I know as examples of overcoming their own share of obstacles to become men like you would want your own sons to be.

We are happy that after some 30+ years, they still fly to our part of the world to celebrate with us the memories of their youth and to enjoy the changing dynamics of a family over time. As we all know, Byrds of a feather fly together.