With its dry, black tongue, a parrot licks the bars of its cage then screams a falsetto Hello! to two young boys eating ice cream at a respectful distance. One of the boys laughs and speaks Spanish to the parrot, which in turn continues to display a limited vocabulary of English. Across the aisle, proprietor Betty Heacker holds a shivering white puppy in one hand and a syringe in the other. The needle plunges into the fur, and the dog winces at its first vaccination. The parrot screams again, this time at nobody. The boys have moved deeper into the recesses of Wabash Antiques and Feed Store.
They might stumble upon a feed shed with an ancient pecan tree erupting through its roof or a room where kerosene lamps compete for space with tractor-seat stools, wagon wheels, an ox-drawn plow and large iron bells. Better yet, the boys may wander outside to the rows of clean cages housing an African goose, Japanese roosters and what Heacker claims is the largest selection of farm poultry in town. Some of the birds will be sold as Christmas dinner centerpieces, but some, such as the Royal Palm turkeys, will be loaned to Houston-area schools so that urban children can see them up close.
Wabash Antiques and Feed Store sits on a stretch of Washington Avenue that remains a corridor of defiantly majestic anachronisms. The neighborhoods bordering Washington are old and, despite the manic blinking of colored Christmas lights, utterly inert. On Sundays, that stillness is exaggerated, and people and objects recede here like the diminutive, mist-shrouded trees in Chinese land-scape paintings.
Wabash, however, does not recede. It pushes boundaries. Known in the neighborhood simply as the feed store, it's really much more than that: a hardware store, a pet shop, an organic herb garden and an antique market. It's a 3:30 p.m. car-pool destination where carloads of children are brought by their parents to pet the rabbits and talk to the parrots. But mainly Wabash is a kind of oasis where the minutes pass gently. Heacker calls it a little bit of the country in the heart of the city.
"We have lots of textures here," she says, chasing a squirrel away from a bag of alfalfa. "Lots of colors and sounds. There are things here that most folks don't get to see anymore." There are things here that are, in fact, quickly vanishing from our information-saturated culture, things we ought to see, such as hens and roosters, kerosene lanterns and the delights of life's more earthy pleasures.
Wabash Antiques and Feed Store is at 5701 Washington Avenue. Phone: 863-8322. Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
For more pictures of Wabash wildlife, go to www.houstonpress.com/extra/urbanadventures/index.html.