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A Mother’s Day story...Special bird returns home

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By Stephen Thomas

 BEECH GROVE - Joseph and Freddie Clan have experienced a vision of something unique in their front yard.

An albino robin red breast bird has been visiting them for two seasons.

The unusual specimen and its sightings lead the Clan family to believe it has something to do with Betty Jean Clan, Joseph’s wife and Freddie’s mother.

The highly unusual bird first made an appearance at the Clan house in the spring of 2010.

According to Freddie, Betty Jean was diagnosed in November 2009 with pancreatic cancer.

Though it’s believed Betty Jean never saw it herself, the bird began making appearances almost daily in the front yard.

On July 8, Betty Jean succumbed to her cancer. Freddie said the bird was not seen any longer following the funeral.

Betty Jean and Joseph, devout Catholics married over 57 years, attended Ash Wednesday services every Spring. Freddie took Joseph to mass at St. Aloysius in Shepherdsville this year.

When the pair arrived back at the house, a family member reported to them that the bird had returned.

“From Mom’s funeral to Ash Wednesday we did not see that bird,” said Freddie. “I think it’s Mom. I think it has something to do with her.”

The robin was spotted daily for about five weeks.

“We’ve had a lot of comments about that bird,” Joseph said.

The robin is white along the backside, including the wings. The feathers on the front are yellowish where the famous red breast is normally seen.

The Clans referenced “The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible” by Sally Roth, which mentions the albino robin. Though scarce, there are a small number of reports in the United States.

Despite the relatively small numbers, robins are believed to contain the most albino specimens of all birds.

The book said albinoism could be caused by many factors, including stress or shock, environmental reasons or genetics.

“It reads that no other birds will have anything to do with him,” Joseph added. “Most times it’s out there alone.”

Freddie said the bird was definitely a robin based on its physical characterizations.

“It hops around out there,” he said. “No other bird hops around like a robin.”

Joseph mentioned the robin was skiddish around humans at first. Now he hangs around an old tree stump eating worms.

“We have a lot of bird houses out back, but he stays out front,” he said.

If anything else, the unusual bird has brought another level of comfort to a family that lost its beloved matriarch over the past year. Betty Jean and Joseph have eight children and a slew of grandchildren.

Betty Jean, an orphan until she was seven years old, was an avid baseball fan. Freddie and Joseph estimated she had collected 25,000 baseball cards in her lifetime, not to mention the autographed balls and bats.

Last spring the family took a trip to Cincinnati to take Betty Jean to a Reds game. 

While there she met Jim Day and Jeff Piecoro, who cover Reds games for Fox Sports.

Many of Betty Jean’s big family moments are shared at the Clan kitchen table, where Joseph’s homemade shadow boxes display the heartfelt memories.

Meanwhile, the albino robin red breast has remained elusive to the newspaper camera. Fortunately, many family members have been able to capture photos.

The family is proud to host their unusual guest, and in Betty Jean’s honor it always brings a smile along with it.

“I keep thinking it’s Mom out there,” said Freddie. “That’s just my belief.”