I’m descended from the Eastern Quail, nicknamed the bobwhite, after the conspicuous call it makes: bobwhite! poor bobwhite! My grandfather was Bob White. My father is Bob White. In our family, we all learned to whistle like a bobwhite before we could speak in full sentences. We were raised amid a huge covey of quail, ranging from small statuary to printed renditions on cocktail napkins. Quail where everywhere in our home as well as in my grandparents’ home. My grandfather had a sign made that spanned the space above his garage door. It read “Quail Haven.” It certainly was. My grandmother even had twelve place settings of fine quail china, along with every obscure serving piece the company manufactured.
My grandmother and mother were both really good sports about the whole quail thing. More than good sports, actually. They encouraged it. This was back in the day when, not only was it customary for a woman to take her husband’s last name upon marriage, but his first name as well. My mother and grandmother were both known as Mrs. Robert White for many years. They were bobwhites, too.
Naturally, when my parents produced the family heir, they named him Bob White, III. (Insert birdcall here.) Eventually, this littlest bobwhite grew up and found himself a mate. Julie is a modern woman. Although she consented to take his last name, I doubt very much she’s ever considered herself a quail. They have one child, our niece, Rachel. Not Roberta or Little Bobbi White. In fact, my brother insists that had she been a boy, she would not have been Robert White, IV.
I’m afraid our line of the Eastern Bobwhite Quail is dying out.
Out West, where I live, we don’t have bobwhites. People don’t even seem to know about them. One time when my mother was here for a visit, she and I were looking around in a boutique. My mother saw a little quail figurine on a shelf.
“Maybe I should buy this,” she said. Then, turning to the sales girl she proudly announced, “I’m married to Bob White.” It was like she’d said “I’m married to Brad Pitt,” only the girl had never heard of Brad Pitt.
“Mom,” I jumped in. “They don’t know about that here.” Then of course I felt like I had to fill the poor girl in on the whole bobwhite thing. I'm pretty sure I even whistled for her. She was very patient and acted like she got it.
No bobwhites here, but we do have their cousins, the California Quail. These are the ones that sport the little fishing lure on the tops of their heads. They moved into our neighborhood about a year ago. They run all over the place. They also have a very distinct call. Two of them, in fact. The first one sounds like they’re crying “Chicago! Chicago!” It also sounds just like my husband’s airless paint sprayer. The second one sounds like they’re calling “Kurt!” It drives my son, Kurt, crazy. He’s really spooked. He’s been out of the country for the past two years so this is the first time he’s heard them.
“I always think they’re calling me,” he says, looking around warily. “It’s creepy. And they want me to move to Chicago.”
My mother has the quail dishes now, and wonders what will become of them after she’s gone. Bob and Julie think they’re hideous, so they don’t want them. I think her only hope of keeping them in the family is if Kurt marries an old fashioned girl and they move to Chicago.