Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Daddy's Home: Crow Call by Lois Lowry

It's morning, early, barely light, cold for November.

I sit shyly in the front seat of the car next to the stranger who is my father, my legs pulled up under the too-large wool shirt I'm wearing.

I practice his name to myself, whispering it under my breath, "Daddy, Daddy."

Saying it feels new. The war has lasted so long. He had been gone so long.

It's an early autumn morning and Liz and her dad are off together. In her pocket is his smooth, wooden crow call, and in the back is his gun, the old gun he's brought along to kill the crows which eat their crops. To Liz her father is a stranger and a mystery, gone away at war longer than she can remember, doing things she can't quite imagine.

But her father seems to know her well. He noticed her longing looks at the rainbow plaid shirt in the store window, a man's hunting shirt which reaches below her knees and swallows her skinny braids inside its big collar, and she's proudly wearing it as they ride through the Pennsylvania dawn together. They stop at a diner for breakfast.

"What's your favorite thing to eat in the whole world?" asked my father.

I smile at him. "Cherry pie," I admitted. If he hadn't been away so long he would know. My mother had even put birthday candles on cherry pie on my last birthday. It was a family joke in a family that hadn't included Daddy.

My father handed both menus back to the waitress. "Three pieces of cherry pie," he told her.

"Three?" she asked sleepily. "You mean two?"

"No," he said. "I mean three. One for me with black coffee, and two for my hunting partner, with a large glass of milk."

As Liz and her father climb the hill toward the grove where the crows roost, she still feels a bit strange, walking quietly beside a man who is a hunter.

""Daddy? I wish the crows didn't eat the crops."

"They don't know any better," he says. "Even people do bad things without meaning to."

"Yes, but..." I pause and then say what I have been thinking. "They might have babies to take care of, baby crows."

"Not now, Liz. Not this time of year. By now the babies are grown. It's a strange thing, but by now they don't even know who their babies are."

At last the two reach the hilltop. Liz pulls out the worn crow call, hoping that she has the knack for making it work. She blows softly at first, surprised and heartened by the sleepy croak of a crow in the trees. Gaining confidence, she blows again, and again. Slowly crows begin to lift from the grove and to circle around where she and her father wait. Then there seem to be hundreds, swirling wildly around her, and she cannot contain the thrill of controlling such a force.

I run about the top of the hill and then down through the forest grass, blowing the crow call over and over. The crows call back at me. I look back, still running, and I can see my father, sitting on a rock, and I can see that he is smiling.

Lois Lowry's just published Crow Call is a moving memoir of her own childhood, as shown in the photo of Lois herself in that knee-length hunting shirt, pigtailed, about six or seven years old. Like her two Newbery Award books and, as she admits, all of her others, this short story is about human connections, about an empathetic father who instinctively knows the way back into his daughter's heart.

My father comes down the hill to meet me coming up. He carries his gun carefully; and though I am grateful to him for not using it, I feel that there is no need to say thank you--Daddy knows.

Bagram Ibatouilline's soft-hued illustrations, beautifully realistic and yet nostalgically evocative of the period, are perfect in each detail--the rumpled rag rug in Liz's bedroom, the signs on the diner's walls, and the shyly hopeful face of Liz, lit by the early morning light as she looks for and finds the father she has missed. A beautiful piece of work by author and illustrator, telling a story as deep as life itself.



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