From as far back as I could remember I have loved animals. On one trip to the Bronx Zoo I saw a baby elephant and just had to bring it home with us. I cried when mom told me that I couldn’t have it. She told me that the baby needed its mother and if we took the baby home we’d have to take the mama too. She said she didn’t think they allowed elephants on the subway so we’d just better leave the elephants at the zoo and we could visit them there. It all made so much sense the way she explained it.
Since I couldn’t have an elephant of my own, my love of animals was diverted to more accessible critters. Mom was so patient and never turned away any of the strays I collected or the ones that “followed me home”.
At one time I had three cats – one named Chopped Meat, three dogs – Lady, a collie, Bullet a bulldog great dane cross and another nameless hound of the Heinz 57 variety, ten puppies, one pregnant snapping turtle I picked up from the side of the road on the way home from Bear Mountain and a fish tank with five hundred or so guppies. We always lost a few of those guppies down the toilet whenever we cleaned the tank. When I saw those little fish swirl down the toilet I wondered if they would get eaten by the baby alligators everyone knew lived in the New York sewers. Sometimes I’d catch a few and flush them down just to see if an alligator would come up the pipe looking for more.
One spring day just before Easter as I was walking home from school with a friend, we stopped at her place to see the baby ducks her father had brought home. They were so soft and adorable and when her dad asked me if I wanted one, I was thrilled.
I can’t say my mom was thrilled to see me bounding through the kitchen door with a duckling in hand, but, being the farm girl she was, took it in stride and let me keep it in a cardboard box in the cellar until daddy got home. Of course I had to make it feel right at home and find it something to eat. Ruminging through the kitchen cupboards I found a sleeve of soda biscuits and ran downstairs to feed my duck. He or she – never did figure that part out – gobbled them down so I called the duck Soda Biscuit.
That weekend daddy made an enclosure in the back yard for Soda Biscuit and I discovered that ducklings grow up to be ducks pretty fast – especially when fed a diet of soda biscuits.
Late that summer my aunt and uncle who lived on the farm outside Montreal came for a visit. I just couldn’t wait to show my cousins my pet duck. They grew up on a farm so they weren’t very impressed but I thought it was very cool that I had my own little barnyard right there in the Bronx.
After they left and I had said my goodbyes, I ran to the backyard to play and noticed that Soda Biscuit was missing. I ran screaming into the house, “Soda Biscuit’s gone!” Hysterically I insisted that we form a search party to find the duck. My mom calmed me down and told me that my duck had gone to live with my uncle Gerry on his farm. She said that ducks were not meant to live in the city and that Soda Biscuit would be happier on a farm where s/he could play with the other animals. I was sad to see Soda Biscuit go but I knew mom was right and knew I could visit Soda Biscuit next summer.
Summer turned into fall and fall into winter and at Christmas my uncle Gerry and family telephoned with their seasons greetings. The phone was passed around so we all could say hello and when it was my turn I asked my cousin, “How was Soda Biscuit?” “Delicious”, she said and I was horrified. I was kin to a bunch of cannibals!