Blackbird Singing In The Dead of Night

A photo my dad sent to my uncle after the deed had been done.

I really hate blackbirds, and I’m starting to think it’s linked to this story.

I actually specifically hate red-winged blackbirds. I used to be attacked by a barrage of them each morning on my walk towards Northwestern University. They were nesting, and they tend to be very aggressive. They often landed in my pile of curls and scratched my head, or worse, tried to peck at my students as they walked to my class. They have what I like to call “little shit energy.” Maybe that’s why my dad felt compelled to shoot one.

In November of 1998, I was only one, so I had to defer to my Uncle Steve for additional details. This story has been somewhat of a legend for a long time, and Steve provided invaluable evidence to confirm it’s validity, so I must thank him for his investigative work as I wrote this story. Because there is a primary source at my disposal, I will also write less here than in some of my other stories. I think my dad will tell most of the story himself.

Evidently, this all started with a challenge to my dad’s honor, a grave offense in our household. Our family is quite close, and we keep in close contact. From my uncle’s retelling, one day in about mid-September, my uncle remarked to my father that it would be quite difficult to shoot a blackbird with a pellet gun. This, obviously, is simply an objectively true statement of fact. How this statement transformed into a directive that led my father to take his pellet gun, clean and load it, and head into the yard two months later, is a mystery to all of us.

But he did. On a crisp November afternoon in 1998, my dad walked into our backyard and shot a blackbird, the one pictured posthumously above. Alright, no big deal, he shot a bird. My dad kills a lot of small, cute, defenseless animals, why is this any different?

This image was kindly borrowed.

You’ll notice in the letter that I’ve included below, the original penned tale of this event, that the punchline of this story is crammed in the bottom of the last page as a small postscript (p.s.) statement. Once my dad killed the blackbird, or perhaps it was a crow, we lived for weeks surrounded by black, birds.

They littered the branches, phone lines, and gutters of our neighborhood. Perhaps this is why they call a group of crows a “murder.” They gather on the occasion. Neighbors were beginning to call, asking:

“Why does your property look like an Alfred Hitchcock revamp?”

I don’t know for certain, but I can only imagine this drove my mother absolutely insane. My mom and dad have a “cops and robbers” dynamic, my dad being the robber, and my mom being the cop, laying down the law. I was going to say that they have a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic, but my dad sure as shit isn’t a NARC. I can imagine that she spent hours researching how to get rid of them, perhaps even grabbed the gun a few times in a spree attempt.

I could tell you more, but I think I’ll just pause here and let my dad fill in the details.

Pay close attention to the post-script, it’s the whole story.

My uncle and I ruminated on the pellet taped to the letter as well. Either it’s just another one of the hundreds we kept down in the gun room, or it was grotesquely unearthed from the avian itself. I’m still not sure which truth I prefer.

I think this story is a prime example of the peculiar life we lived in our home in Winnetka, IL. We moved into that house 4 months before this strange story transpired, and it’s been 4 months since we sold our home and moved out to Wyoming. And so, with this little story, I tenderly bookend my wonderful life in that house, with all of its peculiarity, and how well it suited us and our unconventional family.



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Chloe Zeller

Chloe Zeller

Young computer scientist, studying intersection with cognitive science. Driven by intellectual curiosity and snacks.