Last Thanksgiving, my family traveled to the midwest to visit my 94 year old grandmother so that our daughter could meet her. My family calls my grandmother Mo-Mo, a name that I allegedly gave Mo-Mo when I was a baby (there were no other witnesses, just Mo-Mo’s word).

One day Mo-Mo was in a mood for reminiscing, understandable at her age. I asked her to tell me a story I had only heard passing references to over the years.

“Mo-Mo, is it true that when my mom was a kid you all had a pet owl?”

Mo-Mo lit up with a big smile.

“Oh yes, Owliver!”

I’ll try to reproduce the story as Mo-Mo told it; I believe that this took place in the 1970s in Illinois.

One day, an owl showed up outside of Mo-Mo’s house. It was very small for an owl and clearly in bad health. It was resting in a covered spot, safe from rain or predators. Mo-Mo immediately took a liking to him and named him Owliver. She nursed him back to health by feeding him raw liver out of her bare hand. Owliver was very delicate and careful when eating, and never bit her hand.

As Owliver got a bit healthier, he stuck around the house and became very attached to Mo-Mo. She started taking him on car rides, with Owliver hanging out in the front passenger seat. She’d take him to the grocery store to get more raw liver and leave Owliver in the car while she shopped. People at the grocery store would frequently tell her she had some sort of hawk or crow trapped in her car and she would calmly correct them that he was an owl, his name was Owliver, and he was doing just fine, thank you.

After Owliver had been with the family for a while, Mo-Mo consulted “the bird lady in town” (???) and asked what she should do. The bird lady told Mo-Mo that if she kept feeding Owliver and providing him shelter he’d never be able to survive on his own in nature, so she advised her to let Owliver go. Mo-Mo drove Owliver far away to the woods, said goodbye, and set him free.

Owliver showed up back at the house a week later. As Mo-Mo tells it, she explained to Owliver that he had to live on his own, but he was still allowed to visit occasionally and she would feed him if she happened to be home when he showed up.

This continued for a time, with Owliver dropping by periodically to visit and have some liver, until Mo-Mo hadn’t seen Owliver for a while. She hoped that this meant that Owliver was finally able to live on his own and no longer needed her help. Mo-Mo paused at this point in the story, and began to cry softly.

She found out that a boy in the neighborhood had received a BB Gun for his birthday, and had almost immediately shot and killed Owliver. She doesn’t blame the child, who she says was given a BB Gun from his parents with no guidance and was “just doing what little boys with BB Guns do.”

Mo-Mo has had many bird friends over the years. Most recently was a years-long friendship with a cardinal named Einstein who winters at her condo, but that’s a story for another time.