Jay invites his new college girlfriend Karla home to meet his parents in Pullman. He instructs Karla to sit in the green chair because Hooligan doesn’t like that corner where the radio is usually on. Jay cringes as he hears the click, click of Hooligan’s magnificent talons on the downstairs linoleum floor. Sure enough here comes the great horned owl, his 4½-foot wingspan filling the stair well as he swoops towards Karla, protective of his benefactor Jay. Karla whacks Hooligan with a pillow and pandemonium breaks loose.
How did the Gorhams come to have an owl named Hooligan living in their house?
In grade school at the time, now part-time Mazama resident and retired cardiologist, Jay Gorham, found an odd, fluffy, feathery sphere the size of a softball while looking for stray golf balls near a course. He took the ball to the WSU Vet School where his father, Professor John Gorham, was a renowned U.S.D.A. Research Leader for animal diseases.
Another wildlife biologist and falconer in the Department looked at the ball and immediately identified it as a fledgling great horned owl that had undoubtedly tumbled out of its nest. Now touched by a human, he told Jay the owl would die unless it was taken care of.
Coming home to find her son making a mouse smoothie to feed to the baby owl with an eyedropper, Mrs. Gorham agreed to let Jay keep the fledgling, not knowing at the time that the owl would be their housemate for the next 25 years!
When the mouse supply from the vet school ran short, Jay and his mom found a source for rats. However, when Mrs. Gorham found half a rat behind the davenport, she came up with a solution to give Hooligan a smaller rat portion. She froze the rats and then quartered them. At any given time, there were Baggies full of Hooligan’s proportioned dinners in the freezer.
Owls swallow their food whole and have a unique way of dealing with digestion. The portions of the prey that are not digestible — bones, teeth, feathers, fur — remain in the gizzard until formed into a pellet that the owl later spits up. Jay’s mother dutifully picked the pellets up so that Jay’s father didn’t step on one of the spiky things in the night.
Hooligan was part of the family. They could get him to hoot by hooting to him, “Whooo cooks for you? Whooo cooks for you all?” They laughed at the way he kept an eye on any dreaded fly that came near, turning his head nearly around to follow its flight. He loved to watch Petticoat Junction; maybe the train whistle sounded owlish.
A few years back, Dr. Gorham was telling this story to Laura and Casey Ruud while quaffing a beer one slow night at their brewery in Winthrop. Laura immediately thought they should name their new stout beer after the legendary owl: Hooligan Stout!
Jay received a phone call from his mom while he was in medical school back East with the news that Hooligan had passed away. Even today, I detected a fondness in Jay’s voice when he recalled that Hooligan was a “good pet.”
Karla, on the other hand, was not sorry that she never had to compete for Jay’s attention with a great horned owl after they were married!
Reminder: Mazama Community Club Autumn Potluck and Annual Meeting Saturday, (Oct. 26) at 5:30 p.m. at Mazama Community Club. This is a “Leave No Waste Behind” event, so bring non-disposable plates, cups, utensils, and napkins. Prize for the most creative dinner setting!
And, a sign posted on the new Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies store says it will be open for business on Nov. 2, after being closed a few days for moving. The huge hole in the ground next to the store is where the new septic tanks are being installed.
Next up: What does a community club do?