Our goose days were not so ducky

Wanna visualize "cozy"? That's a real estate term for our home in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley in the 1960s. A small, earth-toned stucco house, it squatted on a postage-stamp lot with its window-eyes covered by ubiquitous ivy. Its backyard was enclosed in high block walls of San Quentin Modern. Hardly the setting for farm animals, I felt.

However, the family democracy decided on a goose for a pet, so we purchased a young gander (so the farmer-expert said), naming him George Washington because of his presidential strut. Unfortunately, he came without an instruction manual.

Lesson No. 1 was that a real goose is not that cute, beribboned bird parading across country- kitchen wallpaper. The real thing is not user-friendly, sounds like a wheezing Model A Ford in a traffic jam, chases kids, and dirties up the patio. And it bites.

George's first egg (some farmer-expert) came about three months later, and was the size of a goose egg, which is no joke, folks. One egg would have fed our entire family of five, had they been game. But they weren't game, because it was. Gamey. The kids took one bite, gagged, and firmly took a stand against eating goose eggs. So tell that to George.

Eggs rolled out of her with alarming regularity. One week later, eggs were rolling out of the refrigerator, too. Frantically I baked cakes, created quiches, whipped meringue, blew eggs, dyed the shells, and added egg to the shampoo. I made paints, washed my hair daily, and added protein to the dog's dinners. I was running out of ideas.

Surreptitiously I started scrambling a goose egg together with two hen eggs and lots of cheese and onions. Daily. At first the kids were suspicious, but they ate. All's well and balanced at this point. Enter Grandma.

"My friend's farm is being torn down to make way for a freeway," she mentioned. "Let's visit one last time." So we did, and they had ducklings. We got two, both yellow and brown-tipped, and of course adorable.

Months later they were a male and female, and very adult mallards.

Priscilla, the female, built a nest and laid 10 eggs under the mock orange. Two days later, George, now Mother Goose, hijacked the nest and sat on it for three weeks, leaving our patio clean for the first time in a year. (No eggs, either!)

Poor Priscilla was very upset, but eventually she got herself together and with her mate, Vanilla, produced a family of 10 baby ducklings in our 20-by-50-foot backyard.

Actually, our 20-by-50-foot flooded dirt-patch is more accurate. Ducks really do like water. (They also solved our snail problem. Priscilla and Vanilla were absolute snail-eating machines.)

George's brood never did hatch. Perhaps her weight was too much for the small eggs. Deserting maternity, she now played rooster, and would honk at the first rays of the sun. Our elderly Polish-emigrant neighbor, peered over the wall on a rickety ladder one morning screeching, "Ann, you think you live on a farm! First a goose. Now ducks. Next you'll have a cow!"

It was time to scale down. We had to get rid of the birds. The kids, of course, screeched until I confessed to the scrambled-egg caper. I also explained how George really needed a boyfriend. (They had been very saddened when George had lost her "family." But imagine my bird population if she hadn't.)

George went back to the farm. Then I called the parks department and was told I had better not dump my ducks on them. But a realistic employee added that we might try Reseda Lake.

The day arrived. To transport the ducks, my kids and I had saved up paper grocery sacks. We'd corner a bird, throw a towel over him, and pop him into a bag, securing the top with a rubber band. An hour later, we were headed down the freeway for the target lake when the bags began to dissolve.

With hysterical squeals, my kids, anchored by seat belts, grabbed for ducks, while the birds flapped wildly at the windows. There was no pulling over. We were in the fast lane with the driver laughing like a maniac, and cars nearly running into us, as their drivers gaped, open-mouthed.

"Sit very still," I croaked, back-handing a duck out of my vision.

Chaos subsided somewhat but never quit, as we slalomed through the traffic to the lake. Picking up Priscilla and Vanilla, we pied-pipered the young to the water and watched them swim off with many indignant squawks.

Whew!

That was the end of the bird saga, which was followed by the more mundane collection of puppies and kittens.

Still, I think of our bird years and wonder if George's maternal madness has been satiated. I also wonder where the progeny of our mallard pair are. Maybe the babies, too, have a developed taste for escargot.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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