By Lorene Ruymar – Vancouver, B.C.
I’m a new subscriber and saw my first copy of The Senior Paper at the airport in Calgary while waiting my time to fly. Reading in the January edition about someone’s mother who had owls for pets is what trapped me.
Having two owl chicks, both named ‘Mickey’, for our best buddies while we grew up on a most boring farm was a huge blessing to us.
Actually, in 1943 when I was 12 and Bernice was 14, mom and pop sold the farm and we moved into Regina. Bernice and I were both in Grade 8 and it was Christmas Eve when we made the move into a fabulous new world.
We grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, far away from everybody. The nearest towns were Earl Grey, 16 miles away and Strasbourg, 19 miles away.
East Mount School was three miles from our farm. Mom and pop set to work at getting four girls in five years. No boys! So we had to be the boys.
The oldest, Bernice, had to be boss and I, as the second oldest, was second in command. The two littlest, Betty and Alice, did odd jobs.
Not built for running
When there was thick snow on the ground, Uncle Oscar climbed a tree to rob the nest of the Great Horned Owls. He took one chick to his house and brought the other to ours. We four girls knew it was ‘fly into action’ time.
Mickey chose his sleeping place under the cream separator, at the far end of the kitchen. We’d run barefoot races with him the length of the kitchen, to the hugging and cuddling corner down at the other end.
Owls are not built for running. Their little feet are like sticks going poke poke poke while their head pops back and forth.
Hey, what about dinner? Yeah, take a little bucket down to the barn, climb up into the hayloft, and bring 2 sniffing cats along to search the hay for mouse nests.
Brand new baby mice, curled like pink shrimp, were a feast every day. As these goodies grew in size, the cats could keep up the chase.
As spring and summer came on, Mickey became one of the girls, riding on our shoulders as we hiked across the farmyard, showing no fear of the big farm dogs, the ducks, turkeys, and geese.
Best fun was ‘gopher grab’
We trimmed his feathers at the end of June so he could jump from our hand to the roof and run up to the top of our house to see the bald prairie, then glide back to ride on a shoulder.
The best fun of the week was the gopher grab. We set a kitchen chair on a little red wagon, park our owl on the back of the chair and put two buckets into the wagon.
Two girls would pull the thing, then invite all the cats and dogs of the farmyard and down we’d go, past the barn, to the well where we watered the cattle. Next to that was a hill loaded with gopher holes.
The trick was to fill one bucket with water, pour it into a hole, and watch for at least one wet gopher to pop up from a different hole. The dogs gave chase, killed a gopher, and brought it to the Mickey wagon.
One person held the gopher up over Mickey so its head pointed down into Mickey’s throat. Slowly and thoughtfully Mickey swallowed and swallowed until the gopher was all gone except for the tail which hung out over Mickey’s left cheek.
Then, suddenly, glop, the tail was gone! You’d think the game was over, but no, Mickey was not the only one to consider. We filled a bucket with a nice little supply of gophers for a rainy day before we led the happy dogs back to the house.
If you suspect that Mickey was taking a flight or two without permission, you’d be right. We didn’t clip wings, and we never trimmed the sharp nails, and Mickey was starting to think for himself.
With winter approaching and an owl having to do what an owl has to do – we said goodbye to Mickey!
The next spring, Uncle Oscar brought another little owl for us to have fun with. He said he did no wrong because the parents would immediately produce two more chicks which he wouldn’t steal and the world would better for it, so we happily took our new buddy into the house, named him Mickey again and had all that fun again.
On the third, year Uncle Oscar went again to the owl tree, climbed it, and the mother owl fought him so savagely he nearly lost his eyesight. He backed down that tree and never went near it again.