Mom’s Duck

Mom’s Duck

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

Mom’s Duck

God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.

Jewish Proverb

My mother always had a soft spot for those less fortunate than she was. Mom would find a stray dog and take it to the pound, only to return with three more. She’d shun luncheon invitations with other housewives, preferring instead to become fast friends with the house painter or her beautician. She’d troll the church congregation every Sunday for anyone unattached who might be in need of a dinner invitation, or worse yet, a place to stay.

The fact was that Mom opened her heart and our home to anything that breathed. She was the Dolly Madison of the downtrodden, and by the time I was thirteen, we had eight pets, five foster children and several other unofficial kids and/or adults living with our family. My sister, brother and I came to call ourselves “The Three Originals.”

I admit, my sister and I felt slightly displaced by all this.

We referred to these recipients of Mom’s generosity as her “basket cases.” And although in later years I came to admire and even emulate the compassion Mom taught us to have for others, there was one time when all of us agreed that Mom had carried her kindness too far. This was the day she allowed a duck to follow her home.

As she tells the story, she was out walking the dogs in the woods near our house one afternoon when a large white duck with a huge red wart-like growth on his bill “happened” upon them. Mom claims only to have shown concern for a poor, lost duck out of water. All we knew was that by the time the hiking party reached home, the duck was in love with Mom, and our household would never be the same.

The duck, whom we named Harry, had such a thing for Mom that it was embarrassing. Whenever he saw her, he’d fly over, sit on her lap and make low quacking noises or nibble at her hair. Like a faithful dog waiting for its master, he’d sit outside on the deck all day, loyally watching for her arrivals and departures.

Not that he didn’t try to get inside the house. An open door to Harry meant an open invitation. Any chance he could, he’d rush in and waddle around in an agitated state, annoying cats, dogs and humans until he’d located Mom.

His peskiness aside, all that attention Harry showered on Mom would have been okay with the rest of us except for one unfortunate fact: While Harry adored my mother, he hated the rest of us.

Being a family of mostly strays ourselves, we tried to get along with him. It was pointless. Harry considered us threats and would hiss, poke and chase us at every opportunity.

Our yard became unsafe for visitors. Whenever anyone approached the house, Harry would swoop over and try to scare them off. We started referring to Harry as our “watchduck.” He particularly hated flapping trousers, and would hang on to pant legs with the determination of a pit bull. He could nip, too, and many of us had red welts on our arms to prove it.

One afternoon, my father became particularly upset with Harry after he kept interfering with Dad’s attempts to mow the lawn. In desperation, Dad turned an empty garbage pail on top of Harry and promptly forgot about him until the next morning, when Mom noticed him missing. “Albert, how could you?” she cried after he’d confessed. She rushed outside and pulled the garbage pail off Harry, who staggered onto the lawn, still with us, but barely.

“Honey, we’ve got to do something about that duck,” Dad said. “He’s a nuisance.”

“But he’s happy here,” Mom answered. “He’s found a home.” Not long after, Harry committed his final act of treason.

My future brother-in-law, Maurice, was living with us for the summer while putting himself through college. He had a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. One afternoon, Maurice returned home early and realized that he was locked out of the house.

After unsuccessfully trying all the doors, he noticed an open window on the second floor, directly above our driveway. Being a smart guy, he decided to park his car underneath the window, then stand on the roof of his car and pull himself up through the window.

Maurice was hanging by his arms from the window ledge when he heard a loud flapping noise behind him. He turned and saw Harry flying toward him with the speed of a fighter-bomber. Maurice screamed and let go. He bounced off his car roof and onto the driveway.

The next morning, my dad drove Harry to a large pond several miles from our house and dropped him off. He told Mom that this pond had a lot of ducks and that Harry would be happy there. Mom reluctantly agreed, but not before cruising past the pond to check it out. She reported back that Harry seemed happy, even though he was by himself on the far side of the pond.

For about a month, our house returned to normal. Then one day, Mom decided to go visit Harry and see how he was doing.

When we drove up to the pond, we saw lots of ducks, but no Harry. Mom quickly jumped out of the car. “Where could he be?”

On the far side of the pond, up on a muddy section of the hill, one of my sisters noticed Harry, dirty and bedraggled. “There he is!” she pointed. Mom gasped and stretched out her arms. “Harry!” she called out.

Harry wearily lifted his head. When he saw Mom, he let out a squawk and started hobbling toward her.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Mom cried.

Harry and my mother raced into each other’s arms like long-lost lovers. They kissed; they hugged; they made small talk.

After their reunion, Mom checked Harry over. “What’s happened to you?” she asked. “You’re so thin!”

My sister, who had been standing quietly with the rest of us, nodded wisely. “Even ducks don’t like him,” she observed. “They kicked him out of the pond.”

“Then he’s coming back with us,” Mom declared. “Everyone deserves a loving home.”

No one said much in the car, not even Harry. I think he was feeling apologetic.

We tried to make the best of it, and for the next few days, Harry was on his best behavior. By the end of the week, though, he was back to his old habits. Even Mom could see that we had to do something.

Within days, one of my brothers came home with exciting news. He’d just seen a pond with ducks in it that looked exactly like Harry—big, white and with ugly red growths across their bills.

We couldn’t believe it. All this time we’d thought Harry was an original. Would he be happy among his own kind?

Trying not to expect too much, we loaded Harry into the car (he sat on Mom’s lap) and drove him to the new pond. Mom gently carried him over to the area where the other ducks were nibbling on weeds and paddling around. She launched him into the water. Right away, Harry began clucking and chatting and making friends.

We left him there. On the way home, we couldn’t stop talking about how easily the other ducks had accepted Harry. Was it because he looked like them? Probably. But that still didn’t explain Harry’s affection for Mom.

We guessed that Harry had once lived with these ducks but had somehow become separated from them. Then Mom had discovered him wandering in the woods, lost and alone. No wonder he fell in love with her. She had rescued him.

On our next visit, Harry had a new girlfriend. This one had feathers and a red, warty face. Harry hardly gave Mom a second glance. I don’t think she minded, though. There were plenty more souls in the world to rescue. Besides, as Mom had said, Harry deserved a loving home. To everyone’s relief, he’d finally found one.

Page McBrier

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