Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grandma's Duck Egg

or, Life's Like That

My four-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, called and asked, "What did you do today, Grandma?"

"I wrote a story and it has YOU in it. Would you like to hear it?"

"No," she said, "because I have all kinds of stuff to tell you." here it is; maybe your mommy will read it to you.

“My friend laid a hot water bottle on top of my kitchen counter and set a shoe box on top of that,” said Grandma.

“Then my friend opened the box to show me what was inside, and said, ‘It’s a duck egg, and it’s pipping.’” Just as she said that, a tiny voice from inside the egg said, ‘Pip!’ She pointed to a tiny hole in the egg, from which the rounded tip of a beak was sticking out.”

“What was your friend’s name?” asked Ryan.

“Her name was Dorcas. And she lived…”

“Dorcas! What kind of a name is that? Dorcas!”

“It’s a beautiful Greek name that means antelope or gazelle. A little like Giselle in French.”

“I was Giselle last year for Halloween,” said Kelly.

“Yes, precious, I remember. Anyway, my friend Dorcas lived on a farm in a sun-dappled valley, in a modern log cabin with a mountain stream running beside it, with her husband and several dogs and a cat that used to follow the husband around like a dog, and all kinds of other animals, both wild and domestic.”

Dorcas said, “The mother duck already has thirteen other newly-hatched babies to look after, and she can’t be sitting on this egg any more. Last year when this happened I tried putting an unhatched egg in the henhouse, but the results of that were maybe not the best…”

“What happened?” I asked Dorcas.

“Well, the hen didn’t know the difference between her own eggs and the duck egg, so she sat on them all and they all hatched. But then the duckling kept going down to the stream for a swim, and the mother hen would pitch a conniption fit every time. And whenever it rained, that poor hen would stand in the door of the henhouse and frantically call for her little duckling to come in and he never would – He loved the rain! – so, although it he didn’t mind having a chicken for a mother, and it was kind of fun for us to watch, it was excessively hard on the hen. So I wondered if, this time, you’d like to do the honors.”

“What do I have to do?”

“It’s easy. Just keep the egg warm.”

“How warm?”

“A hundred degrees,” said Dorcas, “and that part is very important. You want to keep it right at a hundred degrees. Do you have a thermometer?”


What I didn’t have was an incubator. Or a heating pad. There was, however, a brand new, electric blanket in my closet. I hauled it out, still in its box, and plugged it in.

“Oh, and keep the egg moist,” said my friend. “You don’t want it to dry out.” She showed me how to wrap a wet paper towel around the egg. We stuck the thermometer next to it and then wrapped the whole assembly in aluminum foil, to preserve the blanket from getting wet. We put it all in between the folds of the electric blanket in the box. Then my friend went home.

“My mommy has a thermometer,” said Sydney, “and she takes my temperature with it when I’m sick. Eee-yew! Do you – “

“Yes, I know, sweetheart. But this thermometer was simply put right beside the egg.”

“But the problem," said Kelly, who was seven years old, "is how high to turn the electric blanket to keep the egg at a hundred degrees?”

“Well, I didn’t know how to do that,” said Grandma. “So after fifteen minutes, I had to check the thermometer. It read 104. I turned down the dial and set a kitchen timer to go off in another 15 minutes. This time, the thermometer said 97. I turned the dial up again, not as far as it had been before, and fifteen minutes later, I checked again.

“But every time I checked, the temperature was either too hot or too cold. The blanket simply would not hold a temperature of a hundred degrees, no matter what I did. After three hours, I resigned myself to having to adjust the dial every 15 minutes.

“We’d been invited to a friend’s house for dinner that night; there was nothing to do but take the blanket with us, in its box, with the egg and the wet paper towel and the thermometer and the foil all inside. Every fifteen minutes I had to excuse myself from the table, open up that blanket, unwrap the egg a little, read the thermometer, wrap up the egg again and put it all back, and readjust the dial.

“Back home again after supper, I realized it wouldn’t do to keep Grandpa awake all night checking on this silly egg…”

“So you slept on the couch,” said Connor.

“How did you know?”

“Because that’s how the story goes! You got a blanket and a clock and you slept on the couch.”

“Yes, that’s what I did. And that clock had a snooze alarm, which means it rang every few minutes. And every time it did, I’d check the egg’s temperature and turn that silly dial up or down a little bit. And this went on all night, until it was nearly morning. And then I picked up the egg to take the thermometer out – and the egg and my heart both broke. Yes, that egg shattered into a thousand pieces. And I was so sad I would have cried if I hadn’t been too tired to cry. Here I’d spent all afternoon, all evening, and all night, trying to take care of this egg, only to break it in the end! I was so upset I couldn’t even bear to look at it. I shoved the whole mess back under the electric blanket in the box and went back to sleep.”

“Oh, no!” Ryan wailed, his face turning cloudy.

“But GRANDMA…” said Kelly, lifting her shoulders and spreading her hands out wide.

“I know, my sweet, I know. I’m getting to that. I was very, very sleepy and if you ever try not sleeping for a whole night, you’ll find out that your brain doesn’t work very well after that. So it wasn’t until the clock rang again (because I’d forgotten to turn off the snooze alarm) that I woke up and thought some more. The first thing I thought was, I should throw the broken egg away so I wouldn’t have to keep seeing it and feeling sad. But then, with a wild hope, I thought, Hey, wait a minute! So the egg broke, but isn’t that what was supposed to happen? Because how could the baby duck come out if the egg didn’t break? So I said to myself, ‘That egg didn’t break, it hatched!’ So, very carefully, I pulled back the top of the electric blanket, and what do you think I saw?”

“A duckie!” said Sydney, clapping her hands.

“That’s right, my darling, a fluffy, soft, yellow duckling. He opened his eyes and raised his head and said, ‘Mama!’”

“No, he didn’t,” said Connor. He said, ‘Quack!’”

“Well, my dear, that’s exactly what it sounded like, but I knew that what it really meant was, ‘Mama!’”

“Did he live happily ever after, Grandma?” Sydney wanted to know.

“Yes,” said Connor, nodding vigorously, “he did. When he was old enough, he went back to his real mother in the sun-dabbled valley, and he swam in the mountain stream by the log cabin and waddled all over the farm and played with his thirteen brothers and sisters, and was very, very happy.”

“Very, very happy all his days,” Grandma said.

“THE END!” said Ryan. “Tell us another story, Grandma!”

The story (for once) is true. What isn't true is that my grandchildren have ever yet heard it.


elizabeth said...

Fun! Hope the Grandkids get to hear this story sometime...

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

What a gorgeous story !