Herbie's Corner


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Herbie's Corner
By Bobby Neal Winters

We think Herbie was a mallard. It is hard to tell when they are so young. We don't even know that he was a he; that is the way it is with ducks. He turned up in our yard unannounced on Thursday morning as my wife was on her way to work. There, in the yard, by himself, with our three cats somewhere in the background. We live a few blocks north of Lakeside Park, where there are several families of ducks at any given time, and everyone once in a while one just turns up.

He peeped and got the attention of my wife who found a box for him and some water. We are programmed to like baby-shaped things, even when they are wild animals. It is hardwired in us, part of our natures, and it is good.

I didn't say anything, though somehow I knew he would die, but I knew my wife would have to try to save him. It was the same the last time a duck came into our home.

This was several years ago when my two older children were small, and the little one wasn't even around yet. The duck turned up, we put it in a box, and one morning when I was keeping the kids and Jean was away, the duckling began to die.

The children were crying, "Do something Daddy! Do something!"

I loaded us all up in my truck, duck, box and all, and headed for Lakeside Park. When we got there, I got out with the duckling in hand and found a duck family unit. My idea was to blend the sick duckling in with the family in hopes that the mother would adopt it. In retrospect, this notion seems utterly ridiculous, but at the time, with my children crying for Daddy to do something, it seemed to make sense.

In any case, I had no other hope.

It was then I learned something about ducks I had not known. Ducks eat their own.

The adults in the group began pecking at the duckling I had tried to introduce into their family.

"What are they doing, Daddy?" a small voice asked.

"They are kissing it," I said. "Let's go home now."

And so I carried this knowledge with me, and when my wife got home from work and asked me, "Should we take Herbie down to Lakeside Park to see if we can find his family?" I said, "No."

Anyway, by that time, Herbie had imprinted on my middle daughter, who held it to her bosom and stroked it. My wife had bought it some duck food on the way home from work and found and old feather duster for it to sleep with.

Sometime during the morning, my middle daughter, AKA "Mother Duck," discovered Herbie found the beeping sound the portable phone makes when you press the numbers to be soothing.

They played with him yesterday afternoon. Last night we gave it my eldest daughter's bedroom because she is away with a church group, and today they played with him some more. He seemed fine until late afternoon. He had been put in his room for a nap, but when my middle daughter, his only mother, went to check on him he was acting weak. His legs wouldn't hold him up.

My wife got home and assumed his care. He was cold, so she held him in the palm of her hand to warm him, and we tried to get him to eat some eggs and bread, but he died within the hour. Alive one minute, dead the next, it is always like that.

I dug a shoebox-sized hole in the corner of the yard against the alley but away from the garbage cans, and we put Herbie to rest, in a shoebox with his feather duster, in Herbie's corner of the yard.