The Pet Crow

Many members of the family have inquired about a pet crow that was part of our history! Everyone seemed to know bits and pieces but no one appeared to know the entire story. However, Donald Shooks, son of Anthony who was the son of Jan, was able to recall all of the story that appears below.

My pet crow was taken from a nest during a fishing trip in May 1938. I heard the weak call of the young crows, rowed to shore, climbed the tree in which the nest was built, removed three fully feathered out crows and stuffed them in my shirt. I named them Harpo, Firpo and Marx. Firpo and Marx died within the first week. I kept Harpo in a small rabbit pen in the garage and clipped his flight feathers. He quickly became my best friend, mostly because I fed him daily. It took about four weeks for his flight feathers to grow back, but by that time Harpo was following me around like a pet dog. He would ride on my shoulder when I went for a bike ride and eventually fly away. To have him return, I would stop at Dad's grocery (Shooks Market in Ellsworth, Michigan) and get small meat scraps from under the meat block, jump on my bike and attract him by whistling and calling "Harpo!” With meat scraps in my hand, Harpo always found me. He would walk up my arm, give me a tiny peck on the head and walk back to my hand. If I didn't give him the food right away, he would really give me a hard peck. He would always come to me when I called his name or whistled. I found him to be very intelligent and friendly, except when I put him back in his pen. That he despised and would try to punish me by pecking my ankles!

Harpo followed me to school in September, but he would fly away when I entered the building. Somehow, Harpo knew when we had a study hour. He would fly up to the window of the classroom, land on the concrete windowsill and peck the window to attract my attention. But, instead, it attracted everyone's attention. We all laughed because he would cock his head left and then right and then peck the window again. The teacher, Miss Beadle, would say, "Donald, send that crow away.” I would open the window, pick up Harpo and tell him to go home or fly away and not disturb us. I would toss him in the air and he would fly away only to return in about ten minutes at another of the five windows to repeat his pecking. Finally, Miss Beadle would tell me to take him home and lock him up, which I did. The school visit was repeated two to three times each week.

Father always had cats in his grocery stockroom to keep down the mice (which, however, never seemed to disappear completely). One cat had a litter of four kittens. I was installing wood trim around the garage door of the store when the mother brought out the kittens. Harpo was watching me work, walking around my ladder. The kittens spotted Harpo and decided to try to catch him. They crouched down and slowly approached Harpo. When they were about three feet away, two of them ran for him. Harpo just leaned back on his tail and cawed loudly. The kittens ran, but Harpo grabbed one by the tail and tried to drag it across the ground. Then Harpo let it go and tempted the kitten to try again. The kittens never captured Harpo. He just had a lot of fun with them.

Harpo loved everything that shined. The local barber, Forest Dewey, purchased a new Chevy and parked it in front of the barbershop. Numerous times Harpo pecked at the hubcaps, trying to catch the crow he saw in them. Then Harpo found the chrome windshield wipers. He flew onto the hood and tried to pull off the wiper. He managed to pull it back about five to six inches only to have it snap out of his beak. That just made him try harder! His claws left scratches on the hood of the car, and eventually they became quite visible. Mr. Dewey finally walked to work! Later he took his car to a body shop and had the scratches removed and a small part of the hood refinished. My father got the bill. He paid Mr. Dewey the $30 and then deducted a like amount from my savings account.

Harpo also loved to pull clothespins off laundry lines. My mother and Mrs. Patterson hung out their washings every Monday morning. Once the lines were full and no one was watching, Harpo went down the line and pulled off every clothespin and dropped each on the ground. At various times he soiled a bed sheet or large piece of clothing. My mother said to me, "Donald, I'm going to kill that crow for what he's doing to my laundry.” No one ever saw Harpo pull the clothespins. He was very clever at avoiding detection. After completing his evil deed he would sit on top of the garage and caw a few times, acting completely innocent. My mother and Mrs. Patterson watched for Harpo, but never saw him remove clothespins.

During July and August, I slept on a roll-away bed on the cobblestone front porch. Every morning Harpo woke me at the light of dawn by giving me a small peck on the head. I soon learned to keep my head covered with a blanket or wear a cap. Once I was awake, he would stay by me for about ten minutes and give a few little caws, hop around my bed, and then fly away.

When walking to school along with 8 to 12 other students, quite often Harpo would appear flying, from somewhere. All the students would whistle and call his name. As long as I didn't speak or whistle he would just circle around us but not land. I would reach into my pocket and pull out a little snack and then whistle. He would pick me out and land on my shoulder or my extended arm to obtain the snack. I always received a little peck or a pull of my ear lobe before he pulled the snack from my hand.

Harpo was friendly with all my brothers as well. I never did cut his tongue. A number of people told me if I did so, he would be able to talk. But Harpo was my friend, and I couldn't do that to him.

During late September Harpo had not been seen for about three days. I asked many people if they had seen Harpo flying around town but I received no positive reply. His absence continued for another week, then two, and finally a whole month. I was suspicious that someone shot him, for he was very mischievous. Finally a farmer, a Mr. Parsons, who lived near the school came to dad's store to have his cream tested. He told my father about a crow that landed on his windmill while he was walking to his house from the barn. The crow did not fly away even when Mr. Parsons walked by. So he got his shotgun and shot the crow. He told father that the crow did not even attempt to fly away. I'm quite sure Mr. Parsons did destroy my friend Harpo, for I never saw him again.

I really missed Harpo. Despite being mischievous, he never hurt anyone except for pulling on the kitten's tail. Most of all, I missed his frequent visits to our 11 a.m. study hall. He never asked for anything except a little food, freedom to fly, and some personal attention.