I probably caused my poor father endless hours of distress while I was growing up. I was always hatching some plan to get myself a pet, but they would never be common pets. Once I sent off for an exotic pets catalog out of Okoboji, Iowa and was determined to get one of the Gibbon monkeys they had for sale. I don't even remember the price of the monkey, but cost was my smallest concern. The bigger obstacle was convincing my father that we needed a monkey in our home. I understand now why he didn't want a monkey.
Then there was the three year stretch I dreamt of owning a horse. My father told me we had no place to keep a horse and I would point out to him the large field behind our property. It didn't matter to me that the field belonged to the Amana Society and Charolais bulls grazed there. It was the perfect location. I would just tie up my horse in that field when I wasn't riding it. The horse never happened either, and I understand now why he didn't want a horse.
During a family vacation one summer to the Twin Cities I found a "disarmed" skunk in a store in downtown Minneapolis (I can promise you, there are no longer any skunks for sale in downtown Minneapolis). It was $25 -- such a deal I thought. But my father wouldn't let me buy the skunk. The skunk was followed by a desire to own a chinchilla. My desires were endless. "Pets" that I found and brought home, like the large snapping turtle or the small mouse that I purchased at Woolworth's, were released into the wild at night while I slept, after my mother heard they could possibly carry salmonella.
But the one pet I did bring home and everyone fell in love with was Otto. In the spring of my junior year in high school I somehow acquired three Mallard eggs. With the help of my science teacher the eggs were placed inside an incubator at school. Of the three eggs, one hatched and I named the duck Otto.
The following summer Otto and I were inseparable. When I walked up the hill to the post office each morning to get our mail, Otto walked with me quacking the entire way. In the afternoons we'd walk down to the creek behind our house, in the field where the Charolais bulls grazed. Otto would take a dip, paddle around for awhile, and when Otto had enough we'd walk back home.
We also discovered that summer that Otto was not a he, but a she. Otto began laying eggs that were fought over by my aunt next door and the old man across the street. When Mr. Fritsche heard there were duck eggs in the neighborhood he showed up every day demanding we give him what we had, considering duck eggs to be the best eggs on earth. My aunt on the other hand wanted the eggs for the "funeral cakes" she always seemed to be baking, telling me they made better cakes than chicken eggs. At the same time, my aunt made it very clear she wanted no one else to know what her secret ingredient was.
So... you probably think I'll end this remembrance with a recipe for duck. No, I won't do that. But it's not a happy ending, either. After making it through the winter, using hay bales to keep Otto warm in a small workshop behind our house, we needed to make a decision on where Otto would go when I went away to college. As much as my parents (my mother especially) loved Otto, they were not interested in the full-time care of my duck. I reluctantly gave Otto to the boy across the street who promised me my duck would be given the best care possible. The first time I returned home from college I received a call asking if I'd like to come over and see Otto. After hanging up the phone I couldn't get there fast enough and thought it odd that I was being led inside the house. As much as we had loved Otto she never would have lived indoors with us. And as I soon learned it wasn't the case there either. Otto was sitting motionless on top of the television, apparently the taxidermied victim of an encounter with an outdoor cat. Needless to say, I never visited again.
I can't help but think about Otto this spring and how special she was. Mallards seem to be everywhere in St. Paul when I'm driving or walking, and one in particular almost gave me the opportunity to pet it... I wonder how Pipi would feel about a duck moving in?
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