Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Duck: Memories Stirred

I painted this little guy in a Watercolor Workshop some three years ago now. The story it stirred up is entirely true and follows. 

My first stuffed animal was a duck. He was of a size that would seem large to a child and medium small to an adult. He had a sort of peachy colored beak. I must have had him for some time already because I remember him being a lovingly faded yellow with a pilled furry hide. His wings were small on either side of his still plump little body, more like those of a chick than a duck and even I knew they would never carry him anywhere. I often held him close by the base of his rather stubby neck which seemed to consist of half his body and was the perfect size for a child’s hand. It did seem wrong to hold an animal by its neck so I would try to cradle him in my arms but that never seemed to work. He mostly lived on my bed and I liked his colorings.

I’m pretty sure the duck came to me in Holland where I lived until I was about 7 and if I ever named him, I do not remember it. In my native Holland, he was mijn eendje, my small duck, and later became mon canard in French. I actually doubt he was my first stuffed animal and he was certainly not my last. In my mind’s eye, I see dolls lining the wall on my bed. But he was without equal and except for a doll that I have seen myself holding in a photograph, I remember none else. 

He had shared with me the difficulties of moving to another country so stridently different from our own that it was difficult to appreciate. It was my mother’s country and my father was not there with us.  I’m sure that these French people also loved their children but it did not seem so to me. 

Here, I had had to trade the open, mostly decorative, brick wall around our our grassy front lawn in Holland for a closed high rise wrought iron fence, complete with forbidding spikes and a gravel yard. Many of these fences were lined with metal sheets for privacy. Ours was mercifully see-through but nonetheless it kept us and our house under lock and key at all times with one of those huge near medieval looking keys. 

Furthermore, gone was my favorite gouda cheese, the good sandwich breads, dark, medium and white; gone were the lovely cold cuts for breakfast and lunch. No more white bread with butter and marmite, no more chocolate sprinkles on toast, no more peanut butter on brown bread. Even worse, gone was the delectable black licorice of my fatherland. I was in France now and had to learn to a new language. But Duck was with me. 

No wonder, come to think of it, no wonder I never liked the story of Peter and the Wolf! I had once been given an LP record album of the story together with an illustrated book. Oh, I was told as child, you’ll love it, it’s a classic... You can guess where this is going. I remember being terribly reluctant to play it but in the end, familial duty prevailed and I grimly set to the task. 

I began listening and reading, quite an odd combination I thought, at least I was old enough to manage our little portable record player on my own. It looked like a square suitcase and when you opened it, one side was the speaker and the other the turntable. We loved it. Well anyway, it didn’t take long before the music went into a blood curdling crescendo and then it happened: the wolf ate the duck!!! I couldn’t believe it! Why would anyone in their right mind think this was enjoyable! To make matter worse, the accompanying illustration showed a cross section of the wolf and his stomach containing the duck!! Enough! I slammed the book shut, never to open it again. Wild horses couldn’t have made me. I turned off the record player before even lifting off the arm. I wanted nothing more to do with the book, the record, the wolf, the duck or Peter.

And now for the rest of the story.

Fast forward some 40 years. I am having a delicious breakfast of soft boiled egg, gouda cheese on brown bread, cold cuts and black tea. My husband, the American, always prefers cereal but was at this moment he is standing at the sink, his back turned. I am now telling him about it, I cannot remember how on earth it came up, probably because I had painted this duck and it brought back a flood of memories, which I then shared with him. 

“You never finished the story?” he interrupted, turning around incredulously. I must have stared blankly: “You don’t know what happened to the duck?” he repeated as if I hadn’t understood him the first time. “No, I didn’t, and as for what happened to the duck, he was in the wolf’s stomach, what more could there be to know” I replied defensively. 

“No, you need to know what happened” he insisted with a smile. I have always known him to be a man who sees the cup as being half full so I wasn’t so sure but I listened. He happily went on to explain that the wolf was pursued and caught, his stomach was cut open and the duck was restored to Peter. Great story. He was smiling openly now. I thought about it as he turned back to the sink. Well, ok, maybe I should have kept reading... but.. how unlikely, I mean the wolf ate him, what about that, what about teeth, digestive juices... The cross section illustration in the book just did not look believable: the duck in one piece inside the wolf... I mean really!

To this day I read the last page of any book before starting it except maybe Agatha Christie and to this day I remain unconvinced about Peter’s duck. However I have accepted the facts and do feel a tad mollified. The author had given a good ending to a disastrous story. Good... but unlikely. That said, my own duck, though no longer with me,  will ever live on in my fond memory

The End 

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