On my tenth birthday, my dad gave me two ducks. Since they looked exactly alike, I called them Kate and Duplicate. My sisters said no. "Their names are Pete and Repeat," they said. I was outvoted three to one.

We bonded easily --- not my sisters and me, but me and the ducks. They would follow me around the yard: me, then Pete, then Repeat, in single file. When we tired of playing foot-soldier, we would head down to Pablo creek where we would wade under the loblolly pines, with moss hanging off the trees, in the cool shade (this was Florida, 1943; you didn't worry that your ten-year-old son was going to get murdered and dissected by strangers in the park).

Pete and Repeat followed me upstream, doing duck things in the water like nibbling at the weeds and eating the sand-flies and making muttering noises of contentment.

Their quacks should have given them away. Female ducks quack, noisily; male ducks just make a hoarse, whispery "wack" sound. By late summer, the two of them started leaving eggs here and there in their pen. They were, indeed, Kate and Duplicate, but you don't go around changing ducks' names in midstream. Unlike what you do with other pets, I ate all their babies, scrambled in butter, for breakfast: and I didn't feel like a cannibal.

One day when I was off playing softball with my friends the family Chesapeake Bay retriever suddenly remembered his calling. By the time I got home, Pete was a goner and Repeat was barely hanging on. We took him to the local vet, but in those days they had little in the way of duck-resuscitation equipment. That evening I buried the two of them down at the creekside and wet their gravestones with many a tear.

§     §     §

After all these years, you'd think I'd get over it, right? Not so. Recently, I was fiddling around looking up chickens in hyperspace and ended up at the FeatherSite, eyeing Silver Grey Dorkings and Silkies and Orpingtons and at one point I stumbled across pictures of some Indian Runner Ducks and there went my heart.

These guys looked just like Pete and her sister but they stood up tall, like they were trying to be penguins. I mean, imagine a duck standing straight, not hung close to the ground like all their other duck brothers and sisters.

[If you go to the link above, pay especial attention to my faves --- two Silver Runners, "Longine" and "Long John" (get it?) and a Blue yclept "Long Tall Sally."]

I fiddled around in the bowels of the Global Village for awhile and found that Metzer Farms in Gonzales, California sends out ducklets the day they are hatched, to be delivered by the P.O. They don't up and die on you because ducks (and chickens) can live without food or water for three days post-partum. It's a clever device thought up by their Darwinian ancestors to make it possible to survive in the wild, and hatcheries like Metzer make full use of it.

Nine of the Runners made it to my doorstep and I set them up in the bathroom on a card table with water and food and a 40-watt light-bulb to keep them warm which was a mistake because they kept me up all night drinking and laughing and telling each other noisy motherduck stories. They also made a disgusting mess in the wooden box that I had so lovingly created for them.

I started showing them to some of my friends, and some of my friends' kids. Then, when their parents were in the other room, I would ask the youngsters if they'd like to have one or two as a gift. By this subterfuge I managed to get rid of seven ducks in one week, and --- in the process --- managed to alienate several close friends who had to put up with a new and very raucous pooper-peeper in their homes.

The kids and I were very subtle about it. I coached them in their lines, lines like, "If you don't let me have these ducks right now I'm gonna hate you forever."

I kept two ducklets for old time's sakes, and they've grown like weeds and have taken over my back yard. They're less like ducks, however, and more like old ladies in a retirement home: they hate strangers --- even me --- and they bitch endlessly if they don't get fed exactly at six in the morning and six in the evening. In spite of this, they have the appetite of polled Herefords.

I'm thinking that by mistake they've sent me genetically engineered ducks. At six weeks, these guys stand almost twenty inches tall and I figure by Guy Fawkes' Day they'll be as tall as I am.

I've named them you-know-what in honor of my buddies from sixty years ago. However, and alas, there is no near-by creek to take them to and if there were I probably wouldn't do it anyway because I don't much fancy heading down the street with a couple of six-foot-tall Indian Runners in hot pursuit.

Furthermore, it's different now. As a kid I didn't notice things like flies and poop and the down-home astonishing stupidity of these ninnies. They're not like a Siamese that'll put the attic rats to death or a Weimaraner that you can train to roll over and play dead.

There is one compensation, though. As soon as they start delivering, I am going to be eating their progeny. Scrambled; in butter; with a bit of chives; served on toast.

--- L. W. Milam
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