Fine-feathered Easter

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have to at least consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.” — Douglas Adams

Americans do strange things to celebrate religious holidays. Consider Easter. There’s nothing particularly pious about hiding neon pink and blue plastic eggs in the back yard. And it’s not exactly Christian to give someone a milk-chocolate rabbit, especially if the recipient is on the South Beach diet.

But even more bewildering was the pair of live ducklings my uncle gave me for Easter when I was a child. I don’t recall the looks on my parents’ faces when my uncle handed me the cardboard box containing two fuzzy ducklings peeping at the tops of their tiny lungs. But I remember being told that I couldn’t keep them both.

A neighborhood playmate agreed to adopt one, but after a couple of weeks the poor thing was sent to her grandmother’s farm up north, where it became a holiday dinner entree the following year. For lack of a better idea, my parents bought a small swimming pool and reluctantly allowed me keep my duckling in our back yard.

Like most suburbanites, my mom and dad were totally clueless about livestock, so our new pet initially stirred up some gender confusion. As the weeks passed, the duck I had named Oliver matured and sprouted a mass of dazzling white feathers.

Raised on a farm in Scotland, my grandfather knew immediately that Oliver was really an Olivia.

“A male duck has a curl at the end of his tail,” Grandpa insisted. “The females have a plain tail like Oliver’s.” The tail story seemed far-fetched, at first, but it wasn’t long before Grandpa had indisputable evidence. One morning, Oliver left a large egg in the small shed where she slept. And from then on, we found a fresh egg in her bedding every day.

It took the neighbors a while to get used to having a duck in the ‘hood. Some were startled when they first heard Oliver’s daily wake-up quack at 7:00 a.m. Mrs. Ritchie, who lived behind us, says she still remembers watching the duck waddle next to me whenever I visited playmates around the block.

If her morning wake-up quack didn’t produce the desired result, Oliver would nibble at the screen on my bedroom window. When I appeared outside, she would bow and stretch her long neck in greeting, which always thrilled me. Later in the day, Oliver knew it was feeding time when she heard the sound of a spoon clanging on the side of a dish. Her dinner consisted mostly of dried corn from a nearby feed store, or a plate of finely chopped, hard-boiled eggs. For dessert she enjoyed the pansies in my mother’s garden.

Oliver wasn’t the easiest pet to care for, and today I wouldn’t recommend keeping a duck for a pet in the suburbs. Back-yard captivity isn’t fair to any creature that ordinarily thrives in a rural setting. (If you’re still not convinced, a phone call to our local Code Enforcement department confirmed that there’s an ordinance against keeping live ducks and chickens on residential property.)

So what happened to Oliver? At the end of her second summer, we returned from a family vacation to discover she had died in our back yard. The neighbor who was caring for her could only guess that she’d been attacked by a predatory animal.

Second only to the passing of my beloved Grandma Ruby, Oliver’s violent death was one of my first encounters with loss. I grieved for weeks. Her stay with us was brief but eventful, and it sparked my near-religious devotion to birds and animals. Years later, I can’t think of Easter without remembering her. — Cindy La Ferle

— This post appears in slightly different form in Writing Home. It was first published on Easter Sunday in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak; April 2004). —

P.S. My son is home for the Easter holiday, so I’ll be offline, spending time with my family. Happy Easter to all of you!

14 thoughts on “Fine-feathered Easter

  1. I love the image of Oliver bowing and stretching her neck in greeting. I suspect she had a lovely life there in your yard, and felt the love around her. Can’t ask for much more … Happy Easter.

  2. Love this. And wishing you a blessed weekend, Cindy.
    If you do have a chance to peek into blogland, I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate to Amazon, as a not anything to do with Christianity Easter thank you.

    love to you and your family

  3. TWO ducks as a gift for a child?!?!?! Your uncle is lucky if he was ever invited back to your house 🙂

    But what great memories you have about Oliver/Olivia. What did you do with the fresh eggs?

    I’m just back from Spring Break vacation and catching up. Enjoy your time with your son. I know what a treat that is for you.

    Happy Easter,

  4. Love and Happy Easter back to all of you! Hope you’re enjoying lovely weather, wherever you are… it’s been in the high 70s here in Michigan, and we’re all reveling in it. Easter is rarely this nice…

    Joanna, welcome back. We all missed you, and I can’t wait to catch up on Monday to read about your spring break. You asked about the duck eggs. We hard-boiled a few for Oliver, but also gave some to my Scottish grandfather, who lived nearby and considered them a delicacy.

  5. Oh Cindy ~ thank you for sharing such a sweet story. My heart broke for you at the loss of your precious Oliver …

    Happy Easter
    Happy Spring
    Happy Happy Everything
    (I wait all year to say that)

  6. We never had ducks but my younger brother had bunnies, that is until we took a little trip and he left them without water and a saltlick in the pen.
    Not a pretty sight to return to.
    Have a wonderful visit with your son and a lovely Easter.

    P.S. I am sooo enjoying your book.

  7. Cindy, I love the story about the duck who was part of your family. I think we have so much to learn from animals. I was really charmed by your story.

    And Happy Easter to you and your family.

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