I wanted to take part in this as I thought it would be good for me to record some of my memories – these days I feel so forgetful sometimes. Life seems to hurtle by and the days come round again so quickly – so today I will tell you a simple story of something that happened when I was 8 years old. It’s a loooong entry – so forgive me if it is too long.
We had quite a menagerie when I was a child. I was used to cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, budgies, geese, chickens, and my favourite: ducks. Specifically they were Muscovy Ducks. Some people think that Muscovy Ducks are ugly, with their funny red faces, but I grew very attached to them and always thought they were lovely. Some other people confused them with geese. My uncle and (male) cousin took one look at our drake, Sir Francis Drake (aka Frankie), and turned tail and ran, leaving me bent double with laughter – and Frankie wondering what all the fuss was about.
At this time we had three: Frankie and two ducks, Sophie and Sonia. It transpired that Sophie had laid eggs. With my enthusiasm for ducks no one was allowed to eat the duck eggs (!) The chicken eggs were okay because there was no cockerel. I knew my stuff – if there was a drake, there were possible ducklings. And, there were.
Except one. One poor lonely egg, left in the nest. There was a tiny beak poking through the crack – but the duckling got no further. The other eggs all hatched, but not this one. It stayed there, with that tiny beak. Sophie eventually gave up, and took her ducklings off for food and water.
I was very distressed, and begged my dad to help it. He was very dubious. Still, we took the egg back to the kitchen. It had been so long in its state it was obvious it would get no further. We did the inadvisable, but last option, and helped to break the shell.
She lay, damp and weak. It was evening. We fixed up one of those red lamps and she lay inside an oversized ice cream tub. We left her overnight. My parents did not hold much hope for the weak little bird.
In the morning, I rushed downstairs to see what had become of our little one. My parents had carefully not looked over the edge of the tub (but they knew what was in there) – they knew what I wanted. I looked over the edge, and there she was, fluffy and bright eyed, staring up at me. Me. The first thing she saw. And the imprinting took place. I dubbed her ‘Lucky’.
After checking she was fed and watered, I was eager to see how she would respond. I went into our smaller sitting room (it was always called ‘the study’ – I think that must have been what it was originally). I placed her in the corner in front of the television and walked to the other side of the room. I turned to call her – but she was gone. I was aware of a soft, warm pressure on my foot, and looked down, to see her sitting on top of my shoe, looking up at me. I hadn’t needed to call her – she had followed me across the room.
Lucky slept in a woolly hat on top of a hot water bottle in the airing cupboard. She responded well to all of us, treating us all as family. There is a lovely photo of her standing on my brother David’s arm, peering up into his face, nose to nose.
It was summer, so I was off school. I would put out my ‘My Little Pony’ things and she would peer at herself in the mirror. I would pick her up and hold her against me in one cupped hand, using my thumb to stroke her head where it met her beak – this seemed to soothe all our ducklings – and she would close her eyes and nestle against me. She still liked to sit on my foot.
When I went back to school or couldn’t be with her, my mum would put her in the pocket of her apron, where she was perfectly happy. When she wanted me, she cried. Her cheeping would grow urgent and distressed, and had the ability of halting me in my tracks. I developed a maternal instinct – for a duck. One time we were going to visit my sister, then over an hour’s drive away. We had no choice but to take Lucky with us, in a cardboard box. We sat by the canal and had a picnic. A family outing, with a duckling in a cardboard box.
One day my parents gently explained to me that we just couldn’t keep her in the house forever. I was back at school, and she needed to be with the other ducks. It was a difficult transition – for the little duckling, and the little girl. We went one day up into the shed where the other ducks and her brothers and sisters. They happily wandered about. Lucky sat on my foot. Sophie tried to tuck her under her wings but Lucky would have none of it. My dad put her in the shed and we went out. We’d barely gone a few steps before the wild cheeping started. There was no way I couldn’t respond. I remember my feeling of utter distress. The attempt was a failure; I went back and got her. My dad was dubious about how she would cope with the shock of it all. But she did what she always did, and recovered.
In the end we would put Sophie and the other ducklings in our huge rabbit run on the front lawn. We would put Lucky in it for pockets of time, gradually increasing the period she was in there with the others. I would be within sight, but not reach. Initially she flung herself at the sides of the run, gripping it with her feet and flapping the tiny stumps that were her wings. I would have to rein myself in – resisting the urge to go to her. But she got used to it. So very quickly, I realise now, she adapted and immersed herself into her real family.
It got to the point where she was no tamer than the rest of them. The ducklings would all cope well with me scooping them up to hold them, but she did not come to me in the same way. She was a duck now. A real duck. It made me sad, though she was, of course, better off. I had to let her go.
Later, much later, I had to let her go again. It was my choice. The last of the others had gone, we now lived in a smaller garden and she was alone. I agreed she should go and be with other ducks – with more freedom of space. The new owners were almost as distressed as we were – ‘can’t you keep her?’ they asked, but I was adamant. In the car in the way home, a teenager now, I suddenly started to sob painfully. My parents would have turned round and gone back, but I refused. I had to let her go. I hope I was right – I hope she was happy. They said they would tell us if she ever had ducklings. We never heard anything, but I hope she did.
I always remember the feeling of her. The softness in my hands, the sound of her calling, the coolness of her webbed feet on my arms.
Lucky – the little duckling who defied the odds. She was only a duck – but she once believed an 8 year old girl was her mother.
Today: 4/10, medium