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Story ID:1109
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Orlando Florida USA
Person:Blue Jay
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By Fred Wickert

There is a special kind of camaraderie among police officers. The Air Police at Orlando Air Force Base in Florida were no exception. The year 1961 I was living in a rented house out in the woods in Pine Hills section of Orlando. I had no close neighbors.

Being a member of an Air Police unit meant that I was a member of a dedicated group of young men who took their work seriously, but played just as seriously when we were off duty. Our duty shifts rotated by working three days on the day shift, followed by three days on the midnight shift, followed by three days on the evening shift. Then we had 72 hours off. We called it the three-day break.

From time to time we organized a party for the three-day break. We usually agreed to meet at the Air Base, and then drive together to where the party was going to be. Usually, a collection was taken up to buy a number of cases of beer at the commissary, a quantity of ice was begged from the dining hall, and the beer was iced down in clean trashcans.

A fair amount of food was gathered for the event, including a sufficient quantity of meat kept in coolers. Chips, pretzels, firewood, charcoal, pickles, mustard and ketchup were always among the supplies.

Someone came up with the idea that it was cheaper if we made our own beer than it would be to buy it at the commissary. A collection was taken to purchase the supplies. We were able to obtain two water cooler jugs, each with a capacity of five gallons. We scrounged a number of cases of empty beer bottles from the rear of the NCO club. On the midnight shift, we had a patrol with the help of the Flight Commander, transport those empty bottles to the dining hall, where the cooks allowed us the use of their steam table to steam clean and sterilize all the bottles.

We purchased a large number of bottle caps and a bottle-capping machine for the occasion. We looked up a recipe for the making of home brew and proceeded to purchase the necessary ingredients.

All was ready with one exception. We had no idea where we were going to make this brew. There was no way it could be made in the barracks. The only place there was room for it was in the day room. It could not be secured there, and when the First Sergeant made his rounds, there would have been hell to pay for sure. It just wouldn’t do.

A number of suggestions were made and discarded until finally someone suggested that my house was the perfect place for it. I lived at the end of a road, surrounded by woods and no near neighbors. Why not put me in charge of making the brew? Reluctantly I agreed.

I took home all of the ingredients, mixed them all up with the right quantity of water in the five gallon glass jugs, and set them to brewing. After about three days bees were attracted to the jugs. There was brown foam that had seeped through the cheesecloth on the top of the jugs. Some of the liquid expanded and ran over, flowing down the sides and on to the floor. This resulted in a sticky, stinky mess, which brought no end of verbal abuse from my wife.

The day finally came when all was ready and it was time to bottle it up. I enlisted the aid of one of the other men to come to my house and assist me. There was a tool shed about ten feet beyond the edge of the back lawn in the woods. We carried the five-gallon jugs out to the tool shed and cleaned the mess from the floor. This was much to the relief of my wife, Tae.

Once we got the brew into the tool shed, I obtained some aquarium air tubing. I borrowed a large brass teakettle from Tae. We had a roll of cheesecloth and a few loaves of sandwich bread. We fashioned the cheesecloth over the opening in the top of the teakettle and placed about four slices of bread in the cheesecloth. We then siphoned the brew from the jug into the teakettle, filtering it through the sliced bread. When the teakettle was full, we poured the strained brew into a bottle, and capped the bottle.

Each time we emptied the teakettle, we threw the bread outside on the ground and replaced it with new slices. We soon observed some Blue Jays landing on the ground, picking up the bread and flying off with it.

As we worked, we noticed in the beginning there was a flock of Blue Jays coming. Little by little, the numbers of Jays began to dwindle. One of the Blue Jays was a little larger than the rest, and he was one of the last three or four to continue coming.

The largest of the Blue Jays soon captured our attention. As he landed, he tipped over forward on his breast. He then straightened, hopped to another piece of bread and took off with it. When he returned, his landing was harder than before, and after straightening, he teetered a little before hopping to some bread. This time he required a short hopping run before he was able to take off into flight.

The big Jay was a little longer in returning this time. When he did, he fell flat on his face and was slow getting up. He staggered as he hopped up to the bread. Getting his next piece of bread firmly in his beak, he ran about eight feet before getting in the air, but he was unable this time to get up in the air high enough. After flying a little ways, he ran head first into the trunk of a tree about ten feet above the ground, and fell like a rock to the ground at the base of the tree.

We felt badly, believing this Blue Jay had killed himself. We determined to pick up all the brew soaked bread and secure it, as well as refraining from throwing any more on to the ground. We did not intend to do the birds harm.

After we cleaned up all the bread, we continued bottling brew. About twenty minutes had gone by when we noticed the Blue Jay we had presumed to be dead, slowly raised up from the ground. He stood there weaving for a few moments, and then took to the air with his piece of bread still firmly clutched in his beak. This time, he had enough and did not return.