In the Duckhouse
Yesterday I took my usual Friday jaunt for a book fix. As I turned on the busy street in front of the library I thought I was seeing things. Two fat white ducks were waddling officiously across the road, oblivious or at least unconcerned about the resulting traffic snarl. Joining the chorus of surrounding drivers I laughed right out loud.
It was at that moment I recalled the joy my son and his father had shared with our two pet ducks---and the ensuing heartache. My first blog incorporated a brief account of the duck story but didn't convey the complexity of the situation. I'd like to write about it now.
My husband Ben was brilliant, sensitive and emotionally crippled. His precarious and violent childhood with his mother in Russia was followed by rejection and ridicule by his father when the family was finally reunited in America after WWI. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Ben and I were brought together by propinquity and resignation. We were at the same place at the same time. I was fat. He was shy. We were lonely. It was a slow day. So we got married.
The early years after our son Jack was born were the best of our marriage. We were both happy to focus on our precious little boy. Although he seldom spoke to either of us, Ben did everything he could to give Jack the happiest childhood possible. When Jack was about three years old Ben brought home two ducks. Ben loved animals but had never been allowed to have a pet. He was determined Jack would.
Ben set about building a home for the two birds constructing a detailed and darling duckhouse complete with chimney, shutters and decorative paint job. He let Jack "help" with the entire project. I remember watching them out in the yard together; Ben uncharacteristically talking to Jack---explaining and even laughing. In the weeks that followed our little family shared many hours watching our ducks enjoy their fine new home. Ben was so happy he had provided something so wonderful for his son.
But it didn't last. One afternoon our bored and nosey neighbor showed up and announced she had called the Health Department to report a sanitation violation. Our ducks were barnyard poultry--nasty, dirty and unwelcome in our "refined" neighborhood. They would have to go.
We lived with my precious mother-in-law Sarah. She tried to make the best of things by suggesting she would take them to the kosher butcher to be shechted. At least the family could enjoy a tasty dinner of roast duck. After years of starvation in the Pale, Sarah simply couldn't imagine not using the meat. That was just common sense. But I'll bet you can guess the end of the story.
Sarah returned duckless from the butcher. Tears were streaming down her face as she explained her reasoning: how could we eat those ducks? We weren't starving and as she exclaimed in her thick Yiddish accent, " They didn't do anything, those ducks!"
It was very traumatic for me then but it is genuinely heartbreaking to remember now. In the end it wasn't about the ducks. It was about Sarah who had suffered so even though she and her child also "hadn't done anything." It was about a father who felt powerless to provide for and protect his family. And it was about a confused little boy who didn't stop visiting the deserted duckhouse until they took it away.