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Sweet Serenade Of Life Nelida Soto And A Cacophonous Collection Of Birds Share A Home Filled To The Brim With Music. She Also Is Passionate About Needlework And Plants
By Jeff Kunerth, Sentinel Staff Writer
May 2, 2004
The music fills the apartment and overflows, out the door, down the corridors, up the stairwells. It's not the loud, thumping music that pulsates from the apartments of the young like a beating heart about to burst. It's melodic instrumental music, Latino music.
The music comes from Nelida Soto's television in the living room and the radio in the kitchen. On the TV, a man is singing of the sorrows of Soto's homeland, Puerto Rico.
"It's about some man who has a wife and children, but he do the drugs," says Soto, 67. "No work, no nothing. He goes outside and lives under the bridge. He begs money. Loses his mind. The children say, `Poppy, come home,' but he stays under the bridge. It's true."
Resting next to the television is an acoustic guitar. She bought it for herself at a flea market, but she has never learned to play, could never afford music lessons.
Instead, she takes the guitar and sits in front of the three birdcages on the floor by her front window. Inside the cages are lovebirds, finches, parakeets and a Quacker parrot. Strumming, she serenades her songbirds.
"The birds are happy, very happy," she says. "See?"
The lovebirds flutter around their cages. The finches hop around, too. They chirp and chatter, answering the sounds of the guitar strings. She does this every day after waking to the sounds of the birds.
This is her alarm clock, her wake-up call in the morning -- the music that birds make when the day is new.
"I am so happy when they are singing. I listen," she says.
She admires the sounds that they make, the pretty colors of their feathers and their clever little bird brains.
"They are very, very intelligent," she says.
To prove their intellect, Soto describes how she sometimes separates the female lovebird from the male. She moves the female into her bedroom. When she lets the male out of the cage, he flies throughout the two-bedroom apartment searching, searching.
"He is looking for the wife. He find the wife. He goes to her and stays with her. He says to her, `You are my wife. You have to stay with me,' " she says.
Some birds mate for life. Not so Soto.
Soto's apartment is filled with pictures of her family. Above the television is a large black-and-white photograph of her, at 23, on the day she married Eugenio Sanchez. They were together for 10 years and then divorced.
In 1990, she moved to Homestead. Two years later, Hurricane Andrew came and leveled the apartment complex. Picking through the ruins, she found her birdcages overturned and smashed. All her birds were dead or gone.
But while she was trying to salvage what was left of her belongings, three of her birds returned. The four finches in the cage of her Willow Key apartment are descendants of those three loyal birds.
The birds are as prolific as they are musical. A finch, inside her nest, is incubating three or four eggs. The lovebirds can't stop, well, making love.
"I don't need more babies," Soto laments.
When the cages become too crowded with bird offspring, she sells the surplus or gives them to family members -- some of whom already are up to their eyeballs in birds.
"My son," she says, "don't want any more birds."
Eugenio Sanchez Jr., 42, said his mother gave him two finches. Before he knew it, he had 13.
"They multiply. They multiply fast," Sanchez says.
The son has tried to curb his mother's enthusiasm for an abundance of birds.
"I have been trying to get her to stop. The birds take a lot of maintenance, and it's not good for her healthwise. She has asthma," Sanchez says. "That's like talking to the wall."
Soto is a woman of many interests, all taken to extremes. The way she is with birds and music also applies to plants and crocheting. Her apartment is adorned with the bounty of her needlework. And if the apartment complex didn't frown on tenants adding unauthorized vegetation to the landscape, she would have a botanical garden outside her window, her son says.
When Sanchez comes from Miami to visit his mother, he wonders how she can listen to the birds, radio and television at the same time. To him, it's too much sound, too confusing, too chaotic. To her, this is life filled to the brim.
"She has the gift of enjoying all these things going on at the same time. This is her. What can I say? It's her way," he says.
It's not a large apartment, but there might not be such a place big enough to contain all the passions of Nelida Soto.