At one point when I was a little kid, we had this pet owl. I’m pretty sure it’s super illegal to keep owls as pets, but that never crossed my mind when I was younger, he was just kind of there in the background of my childhood for a little while, Oggie the owl. I don’t even know if that’s how you spell Oggie. By this point in my life, this is all fuzzy oral family history, and so I’ve never thought to write it down before.
Here’s how it started: My dad brought the owl in the house one night after having found him lying wounded by the side of the road. My little brother at the time was barely old enough to talk, and he kind of toddled into the living room where my dad was wrapping up the bird’s injured leg in white gauze and mumbled something unintelligible in his two-year-old baby voice. Something he said must have sounded like Oggie, because everyone laughed and it just kind of stuck.
Like I said, every memory that I have regarding Oggie is kind of hazy, probably because we were all so young, and so whenever my brothers and sisters and I talk about our family mascot, there’s really very little in the way of verifying any of the sounds and images we all have kicking around in our memories. And another part of the uncertainty has to do with the fact that, to this day, we can never talk about any of this stuff when my parents are around. They absolutely forbid even a passing reference to the bird. I’m pretty sure somewhere along the line, someone got word of the owl, someone must have given my dad a pretty serious warning, about how they’re protected animals, how you can’t just go caging them up inside, and so they’re pretty strict about acting as if it never happened.
For the first week or so, Oggie didn’t need a cage, because he was injured, his leg was really messed up. And so my dad just put him in this cardboard box lined with newspaper and Styrofoam packing peanuts. But once he started regaining even a little bit of his mobility, it became clear that we needed some boundaries. I remember one time my little sister, she wasn’t even walking yet, she crawled over to Oggie’s box with that cute I-want-to-play-with-my-pet-bird look on her face, and Oggie surprised all of us by hopping out of the box, fast, he was like face to face with my sister, and he let out this insanely loud screech. Worse, I mean, his feet were still heavily bandaged , so there wasn’t any real danger, but he started pawing at my sister’s face. Imagine if those talons were exposed, that would have definitely been a trip to the emergency room, at least.
After that, my dad confined Oggie to a corner of the living room. He bought some chicken wire at Home Depot and affixed it floor-to-ceiling right next to where we had the TV. He cut out a portion of the wire and that kind of served as a rinky-dink door, so we could clean out his cage, tend to his wounds, and give him some food.
I remember that being a problem, figuring out what he’d eat. My parents did a little research and discovered that owls in the wild were predators, that they eat things like live mice. But my mom, who already wasn’t too crazy about the whole owl-in-the-house thing, I remember her putting her foot down at one point, telling my dad, “There is no way we are keeping a box of live mice in the house to feed that goddamn owl!”
So there was a lot of trial and error. It would have been nice if he’d taken to any of the various bird foods that my parents bought at the pet store. But after days and days of being surrounded by several bowls of different types of seeds and pellets, Oggie still hadn’t even considered eating anything we offered, and he started freaking out, hopping from spot to spot, gnawing at various parts of the chicken wire, and eventually, that shriek. It got to a point where all he did was stand there and let loose with that piercing cry.
My mom was worried that the neighbors were going to call the cops, so in a desperate attempt to shut Oggie up, she cut up some raw chicken from the fridge into these bite-sized strips, laid them out on a plate, and pushed it through the slot in that fence. It worked, and it was weird, the whole owl-chicken thing. I remember asking my mom, “Mom do you think Oggie gets sad that he has to eat other birds?” and she told me something like, “No, that’s how they do it in the wild,” which seemed like a good enough answer at the time.
From my little kid perspective, I remember it like he was always there in the corner, not responding to our calls, swiveling his head from side to side, occasionally staring at one of us intently, almost menacingly, for hours upon end. But really he could have only been there for a few months, tops. It didn’t take long before the house smelled awful. With the bird nearing full strength, it was impossible for either one of my parents to give Oggie’s cage a thorough cleaning. I could tell my mom was getting tired of having the bird. She stopped letting us have anybody over the house, she warned us never to talk about Oggie with anybody at school.
We all got the sense that it was coming to end, the way my mom started cursing under her breath whenever she’d cut up Oggie’s chicken, or the late-night fights my parents had behind their closed bedroom door. One day we came home from school and Oggie was just gone, along with any trace that we’d ever had a pet owl.
“We donated Oggie to a zoo,” was all that my mom offered as an explanation as to his disappearance, changing the topic abruptly with, “But good news, now you can have all of your friends over later this week!” Which wasn’t good news at all, because even though my parents told me not to mention Oggie around my friends, it was practically all I could talk about. Every time we had arts-and-crafts, I’d draw pictures of him, I’d mimic his screech out in the playground, I was owl obsessed.
And I could just see it in my head, all of my friends coming over, the first thing they’d say is, “See, I told you he didn’t have a pet owl,” which they all did. And my mom kind of laughed it off, like, “Pet owl? Ha!” all while giving me that look, like, you told them about the owl? What did I tell you about talking to your friends about the owl? You just wait until everybody leaves.