Sammy the Crow
Uncle Guy Phillips had a love-hate relationship with crows. Born in 1899, he was my father's oldest brother and practically had no childhood. Typical of kids raised on a subsistence farm, his life was mostly work with very little time for play.
When his father died in 1936, Guy assumed the care of his mother, sister, a mill to operate, and two farms, which he merged.
There must have been some time to play because he taught me to make sling-shots and pea shooters and told me about his pet crow “Sammy.”
Aunt Ruth, his sister, said the adults couldn't understand Guy's fondness for Sammy.
Crows and farmers are natural enemies.
Crows pull up corn as soon as it sprouts, harass chickens, and are a nuisance.
This isn't a new problem: Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian farmers built scarecrows to protect their crops; they all included human features.
Crows are actually well organized. While they help themselves to your garden, a sentry observes from a tree.
My grandfather, it is told, believed that crows could count up to five men entering a field, information they broadcast through “caws.”
Crows communicate by calls; my father and his brothers competed at calling up crows by voice from the front porch.
There are calls for distress, danger, rally, fighting. Crows are like their cousins, bluejays, in that a distress call brings other crows to give aid or comfort.
Guy made scarecrows and tossed an old black shoe onto a low limb to appear as a sentry. A few scattered black shoes and boots appeared from a distance as feeding crows.
He stood under a tree and called. Sometimes he took a crow from the top of a tree with a .22 rifle.
Guy said he found Sammy near the “water rock,” a cool pocket under a car-sized granite bolder where the men kept drinking water in jugs while plowing.
He took the baby crow home and “split its tongue” with a razor. Crows are natural mimics, so it wouldn't be unusual for a crow to repeat whatever they heard.
Guy said Sammy could talk as well “as that other black bird,” a myna bird.
Sammy followed Guy, hopping around the house, ate from his hand and was usually on Guy's shoulder when they took to the front porch in the cool of evening.
During family meals, Sammy was put into a bird cage. Ruth said the family would not have a crow hopping around on the dining room table.
The cage went outside during meals because Sammy raised a fuss when away from Guy.
I asked what happened to Sammy.
Guy said that he left.
I asked if he'd pinioned his wings.
“No,” Sammy was a bird, born to be free.
The family noticed that Guy wasn't much on shooting crows after that.