Not for nothing did the band play “Old McDonald” at my baby sister’s wedding. From as far back as I can remember, my family had farm pets somewhere in our backyard. We went through cows, sheep, goats, ducks and chickens. Not always together, but meandering in and out of our childhood, grazing a bit, then moving on, becoming part of the folklore of ‘that clan who has farm animals as pets.’
When my father finally retired from his day job, it was time for him to have his cherished dream of a full farm. No more relegated to occasional animal-in-the-backyard kind of farming, my parents bought a piece of property in New Jersey that was actually a farm. They then proceeded to fill the property with varied animals and planted a vegetable patch for bunnies to raid.
I went to visit my parents’ farm with a group of teenagers at one point at the same time of the arrival of baby chicks and ducks. A couple hundred little yellow fluff balls ran hither and thither underfoot in the barn and yard. One of these little ducklings, however, could not run like the others. He had been born blind in one eye, which led him to walk and swim in circles only. He looked like a crazed yellow plush windup toy spinning in place. The other ducks kept pecking at him, trying to kill him. Animals are inherently cruel to peers with disabilities, quickly killing any of their weaker clan. Having known this about animals from the time I was young, I wasn’t surprised by the cruelty of the ducks to their blind brother, but the teenagers were horrified. They quickly rescued the blind mite, dubbing him Mr. Peep in tribute to his never-ceasing shrill laments. We tried conditioning the other ducks to Mr. Peep by sequestering him with only one or two other ducks, hoping in smaller groups they would not attack him. Yet, as soon as Mr. Peep was put down on the ground near a healthy duck, the duck, small as it was, turned fierce, using beak as weapon against Mr. Peep.
I took Mr. Peep inside my parents’ home to shelter him. I knew my mother had brought in baby goats to nurse during the long winter, and assumed she would have no objection to this little critter on her enclosed porch. My mother, however, was not that keen about having a blind-in-one-eye duck remaining within her living confines, especially one with as shrill a voice as Mr. Peep. The girls who had come to the farm with me begged for permission to bring Mr. Peep back to the City and have him move in with me. The only pets I can abide in my city apartment are dust bunnies, kept safely under beds and dressers. My mother, it seemed, would be stuck with Mr. Peep.
It wasn’t long before my mother found a way to unload Mr. Peep. Her assistant at work had small children and was looking for a pet for them. By the next day, Mr. Peep was happily ensconced as family pet.
The rest of the ducks waddled about, paddled about the baby pool set up for them, and slowly became plumper. From yellow down to white sleek feathers, their bodies transformed into healthy adulthood. Summer passed and the first leaves began dropping signs of impending winter. It was time for the ducks to head to their destined mission and become duck ala’ orange, tickling the palate of some diner. Rounded up, the ducks were marched, right off to the butcher, and then on to meet duck sauce.
Mr. Peep, however, lives within a home in New Jersey, the cherished pet of some children. His disability saved him. On slow conversation days, we sometimes recall Mr. Peep. He has become fodder for amusement, but also of philosophical contemplation. Many a time I’ve found myself discussing how his disability, which seemed like a hard challenge, in the end saved him from becoming duck ala orange. When life seems “unfair” I can now greet it with a solemn “peep, peep” to remind myself we have no idea how life unfolds. What we perceive as being “unfairness”, sometimes, might just end up being our saving grace.