Harry The Duck
Once upon a time, in a place far far away called Canberra, I was walking along a concrete creek. We called it a creek as it always had a small stream of water in it but it was probably an open storm water drain.
I was a pretty young fella in those days, probably about 11. My younger brother, Ian, was with me. We were returning home from the long gone Civic Theatre in town. No doubt we had been to a matinee session to watch a flick.
As was customary for him for many years, Ian had a packet of the now defunct “Marella Jubes”. These were a hard jelly lolly in fruit flavors covered with sugar. He loved them. I didn't mind them either but Ian was addicted.
Anyway, as we wandered along the creek we could see two giant cardboard boxes up ahead. Ian being high on sugar suggested we race to the cartons. So we did.
He won the race, of course.
They turned out to be big Kellogg's Corn Flakes packing boxes.. He looked in one and I looked in the other.
I sprang back with the speed of a startled Gazelle. I had seen something small and brown moving in the box. This being Australia, the country where everything is trying to kill you, retreating to a safer distance was understandable and wise.
Ian had seen me jump back and came around to stand next to me. I edged back to the box and bent over to peer in as the box was on it's side. There it was again. I had seen something and it was coming toward the opening of the box.
It stepped into the sunlight for all the world to see it.
It was a tiny duckling. It seemed quite friendly and keen on getting to know us. We were still a little afraid of it. Neither of us had ever seen one before, being city boys.
We wondered what we should do. It appeared that it had become lost and separated from its mother. We assumed it was hungry. We looked around but could not see anything for it to eat. By the same token, we had no clue what ducklings ate.
So we tossed a couple of Marella Jubes at it’s cute little webbed feet!. Yeah we were that dumb.
Even the duckling figured we were pretty dumb I think, it just looked at us kind of quizzically.
We figured we had done all we could do and headed off toward home again by climbing up the concrete wall and onto the Lyneham Primary School sports field. We heard some faint quacking behind us. We turned to find the duckling was waddling a meter or so behind us.
We continued to walk and it continued to follow. This happened all the way home and it was a considerable walk for a poor little duckling. It had to be at least 1.5 kilometers.
By now, of course, I was in love with the duckling and wanted to keep it forever.
I showed it to my parents and tentatively asked about keeping it. My father was incredibly unpredictable and impossible to ever figure out what he would say. Fortunately, he was in a good mood. Probably had already had a few beers. He seemed really happy to keep it and even named it Harry after a work colleague. I have no idea why they called their friend “Harry the Duck” but now that was the name of my duck.
No one could ever predict how my father would react in any given circumstances. So we were all very surprised when he actually made a large house for Harry.
Each night Harry would waddle into the custom built duck house and wait for me to bring dinner. We were pretty weird people and used to feed Harry diced up rib fillet steak. Harry gobbled it down.
In the mornings, it was also my job to feed Harry again and hose out the duck house. Ducks are pretty messy.
Breakfast was an Aussie favorite, a bowl of Weetbix and milk. Sans spoon, of course.
During the days, Harry would forage and eat insects and worms when my parents were doing gardening.
Harry loved the food and was growing like crazy into an adult. One morning I went and opened the door to the duck house and an egg rolled out. I was totally bewildered and it took a few seconds for me to figure things out. Harry was a girl!
Harry paid no attention to the egg and was pecking at my ankles to show her displeasure at being made to wait for her breakfast.
I put her food down so she could race over to it and began gobbling it down, as was her fashion.. I picked up the egg and ran inside to show the family.
Everyone was surprised. Even my father, who was quite pleased that now there would be duck eggs to eat. Harry was now, apparently, earning her keep.
On school days, after I had wandered out on my fairly long walk to school, Harry would be hungry again. She was a voracious eater. She would waddle over to the back steps of the house. There she would climb up the 7 steps and bang on the wooden door with her bill.
She would do this unrelentingly until Mum opened the door. Harry would then grab Mums’ sock and attempt to pull her out of the house. Now to be fair, my mum was a big softy, most of the time.
She knew darn well what Harry wanted and always obliged. As Mum walked down the steps and onto the lawn, Harry kept grabbing her sock and guiding Mum toward the gardening spade. No matter where in the yard the spade was, that’s where Harry dragged Mum.
Digging for worms was now a part of Mums’ morning ritual.
Whenever I was not at school, Harry would follow me around like a puppy. Not just in our yard but she would also follow me to all my friends houses. My best friend, Paul, lived on the corner and had a big house and a large yard. I’ve learned subsequently that none of these things are as large as you thought when you view them with adult eyes.
Anyway, one day she followed me down to Pauls house and into his backyard where they had a fairly decent fish pond. Pauls father was very handy with his hands and was always building something or gardening. Gardening was a big thing back then. No TV, Netflix or Internet to turn us into mindless sloths.
I figured Harry, being a duck, would love a swim in the pond. I was confused by her lack of action when taken to the pond. She showed no interest in it at all. She was more interested in the surrounding gardens which were sure to have insects and worms.
Picking her up I gently moved her to be hovering above the pond water. Her feet were cycling in the air, seeking some sort of safe purchase. I lowered her so her webbed feet were touching the water. Now she seems quite uneasy. I lowered her further until her underbelly was lying on the waters surface.
Now her panic increased substantially. Her wings were flapping, her legs kicking like crazy, her eyes bulging and the noisy, alarmed quacking had never been heard before!
I quickly moved her to a shallow area near the edge of the pond. As soon as she could feel her feet touching the bottom, she calmed down and was happy.
Now I knew the problem. Being an orphan, Harry had never been taught to swim by her Mother and so she was (understandably) afraid of the water. In the shallow water, she was fine and just tried floating, usually with one leg cocked ready to touch the bottom.
Harry and I were inseparable around the neighborhood. Wherever I went, Harry followed. I loved her like crazy.
One day, for reasons long forgotten, I was in a bad, angry mood. No doubt a decision by my parents had not gone my way. I was sitting on a log of wood at the woodpile. Harry was there as usual by my side.
She wasn’t used to not getting attention so gave me a friendly tap on the leg with her beak.
I was not in the mood and yelled at her.
She was afraid and took several quick steps away from me. I was suddenly in a tantrum and began chasing her. All over the yard.
She ran and half flew trying to escape from me and desperate to seek safety from this insane child relentlessly chasing her. I finally stopped and went inside.
Next day I let her out of her house but noticed she was standoffish. She was not excited and happy to see me that morning or any morning ever again.
From that day onward, she never followed me ever again.
I had a lot to learn about life.