A Duck Tale
by Letty Owings*
A park with a few scrub trees and a trickling brook was located across the street from one of the clap-trap rentals we called home during our days in Atlanta. To call the area a park was a stretch. When builders rushed to put up tiny houses built from old army barracks, the small ravine was too costly to fill in, so what better name than a “park.”
One morning a few domestic ducks paddled around in the stream. How they arrived, nobody knew. Probably they were Easter ducklings who grew past their cute stage. We joined the neighbors in feeding them bread scraps and the like. They seemed totally content with their new living situation, until one morning folks in the neighborhood woke to a shocking sight. During the night something- probably dogs- ripped and tore all the ducks into a heap of dead ducks and bloody feathers. With a closer look, my husband Ray noticed one duck was still alive. That discovery opened the duck chapter in our lives.
Ray carried the bleeding duck to our kitchen. I fetched needle and thread. With the three kids and I as the observation team, he sewed up the duck. So far, so good, but a serious problem remained. The duck could not lift his head even a bit. That meant he had to be hand fed both day and night, since he was too weak to go long without nourishment. Getting up nights was not a strange routine for me. We never had a kid who slept through the night until they were school age or thereabouts. I used to listen to the bragging of young mothers who claimed their babies slept through the night as soon as they popped out. I never had such luck, so feeding pablum to a duck at all hours fit my schedule.
Since ducky-lucky was by then at home on rags spread on the kitchen floor, feeding consisted of raising his head and squirting baby cereal down his throat. He was always a cooperative patient. How long it was before he could raise his head and eat on his own and stand on his wobbly legs, I do not remember.
After he learned to eat and to walk, we let him explore the back step and then the back yard. As soon as he got to full duck strength, he designated the unfenced back yard as his territory. He chased off curious neighbor dogs. He found his voice and squawked loud and clear. Wing flapping and a show of force came with loud honking. When he expanded his territory to the neighbors, we knew it was time to let him be a duck again.
We dreaded what we assumed would be a sad and difficult parting. How wrong we were! We took him to a lovely state park where ducks swam in the lake. Our duck took a mighty leap down the bank, half running, half flying to join his kin. With a loud quacking welcome, he became part of the flock waiting for him. In moments, we could not distinguish him from the rest. This was the ideal way to end our duck story- to cherish our time with him and to know he got to be a duck again.
*Letty and Ray, ages 89 and 91, live in Seattle.
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