I had lots of pets growing up—mostly dogs. Dad was known to take in stray animals. Someone was always giving him a dog or cat or rabbit they had found. Sometimes people would give him a pet they could no longer keep. Dad found homes for some of those pets; others we talked Mother into letting us keep. We had more than the usual run-of-the-mill pets while growing up. My Uncle Alfred gave my brother and me two lambs one summer. We named them Tom and Jerry. We had ducks and rabbits, and once we acquired three goslings. We called them Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, as they followed us all the days of the summer. But Blackie was the pet that endeared himself to my grandmother the summer she lived with us.
Grandmere was not much taken with pets. Oh, she would feed them if needed or shoo one off her lap, but she didn’t play with them or take them for walks or seek them out when she was lonely. I was 11 that summer, and Bill, my brother, was 15. He had a summer job driving a tractor on a farm a few miles from Amarillo. He got up early each Monday and left with Jimmy, our next-door neighbor. He came home on Friday evenings, tired, dirty and always bearing a treasure for me. I could hardly wait for Friday evening to see what he would bring. Sometimes he had rattles from a snake he had killed. I had quite a collection of rattles that summer. He brought a lizard, a horned toad and several locusts, but most of those things I could catch myself. The best treasure was a baby crow that had fallen out of a nest and was rejected by the crow family. Bill had found worms and small bugs for it all week at the farm. He let me help him on Saturday and Sunday and then turned the feeding over to me when he had to go back on Monday. Grandmere named the chick Blackie, and we agreed it suited him.
I found lots of bugs and worms for Blackie. I shared them with Grandmere as she liked to put them in that wide-open mouth, too. It was amazing how fast Blackie grew. I didn’t want to let him out of the garage as I was afraid he’d fly away. Grandmere said we shouldn’t keep Blackie penned up. He would stay with us as long as he wanted, but he might have a better life somewhere else. Blackie would venture to nearby trees, but he always came to the front porch swing when Grandmere was there. He loved to sit with her. Often he sat on her shoulder, but sometimes he would perch on top of her head. Grandmere really loved that crow! It was quite a sight. I don’t think she’d ever had a bird for a pet. He wasn’t readily shooed away, either.
I think Blackie’s mischievous personality blindsided Grandmere, and he won a place in her heart before she even knew it. He liked sleeping in the box I had for him in the garage. One morning Blackie’s leg got caught in the spring of the garage door. I was heartsick to see that broken leg. Grandmere told me how to take a matchstick and soft cloth and make a splint for Blackie’s leg. We soon had him walking again. He stayed close to home while his leg healed.
Blackie was my constant companion those long days of summer. We would go for long walks or bike rides. He would sit on my shoulder or fly just overhead. When Grandmere came out to the porch, he would fly to her with a bright pebble or piece of glass that he had collected on our outing.
Like the rest of his species, Blackie was very intelligent and could even vocalize like a parrot. Grandmere called my brother Billy Earl. She would say, “Blackie, where is Billy Earl?” Or “There is Billy Earl.” That crow would fly to meet my brother, squawking “Billerl, Billerl, Billerl.” Sometimes Blackie would follow Bill when he rode his bike and would always squawk “Billerl” as he flew overhead.
One cool, windy day in the fall, Blackie soared high above the house. Grandmere and I watched as he flew from sight. I cried myself to sleep that night when Blackie did not return for his visit with Grandmere and me or to find his warm bed in the garage. Grandmere told me that Blackie needed to find a family of his own, and we should always remember the summer he was part of our family. She gave me a hug and said, “Part of growing up is learning to let go. There are always new adventures awaiting us if we keep ourselves open to the opportunity.”
I wasn’t ready to grow up if it meant losing Blackie, but she insisted, “We don’t always get to choose our lessons or the time for them, but it is wise to collect them and learn from them.”
Joan Lawrence lives in Georgetown and has a red dachshund named Pfennig. This is her first published article.