Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dad and Charlie

In a recent edition of Assignment America on the CBS Evening News, Steve Hartman told the heart-warming tale of Dominic and Maria...

This story brought back a lot of memories for me. Memories of growing up on the farm and of a certain gander...

Just over 40 years ago, my maternal grandfather was writing the family history and decided to tell the story about my dad and a certain gander we once had on the farm. I really like the way my grandpa wrote this story, so I’m going to share his words with you before I add my own recollections. With the exception of removing our family surname and referring to my father by his initial only, the story is exactly as my grandfather wrote it:

“An amazing and touching episode which occurred on the family farm in 1969 probably should be included in the epistle. The family is very fond of fowl and in order to have a well stocked freezer, they grow their own chickens, ducks and geese. In the spring, they had a gander and a goose. Somehow the goose got mixed up with the pigs and got killed. Naturally, the gander was exceedingly perturbed. When L buried the goose, the gander seemed to blame L for the mishap. L caught the gander, stroked his (the ganders) head and talked soothingly at some considerable length until the gander seemed to be mollified. From then on the gander, which they called Charlie, followed L wherever he could. Charlie demonstrated at every opportunity that L was his one and only friend in the cruel world. Often Charlie would honk outside the bedroom window. If Charlie was not near the house when L went outside and called, Charlie came with a wide open throttle. Charlie appeared to feel that everyone except L was the enemy and would attempt to chase them away.

One day when they were sitting outside, Charlie kept bringing grass etc. and laying it at L’s feet. Eventually, the obvious became apparent - Charlie wanted L to build a nest. L consolingly explained to Charlie that at this time of the year he just couldn’t take time to set on a nest.

Every effort was made to locate a mate for Charlie. Eventually the only one available was obtained. She certainly was not a luscious of goose pulchritrude. Charlie would have nothing to do with her at first. She was named Cleo, probably short for Cleopatra. After a few weeks, Charlie seemed to overcome his antipathy towards Cleo and apparently concluded that she was better than no mate at all.

Cleo built a nest across the creek and in due course nine goslings were hatched. One did not survive. If you are still with us, we will leave you to imagine Charlie’s pride and joy in his family. He became the ideal father. He remembers L as his only friend in time of dire need.”

Now for my recollections. Let me begin by saying that I’ve never been fond of geese. They are actually a very majestic bird in flight and the feathers of the northern varieties. make an excellent down duvet! I don’t mind seeing them flying overhead, but their honking can be very loud and annoying. Even the taste of goose meat is not appealing to me. I prefer chicken. But most of all, I disliked the birds being a part of our farm.

Charlie and dad really did have a unique bond. When Charlie would honk under the bedroom window, dad would either go to the window or yell from the bed for him to go back to sleep or tell Charlie that he would see him later. Sometimes hearing dad’s voice was enough to calm his ruffled feathers and other times he wouldn’t settle down till dad went outside and spent some time with him.

We had a small motor boat that we would use on the creek from time to time or to get around the farm during flooding. Charlie would swim alongside the boat honking at dad the whole time. Being a domestic goose, Charlie wasn’t able to fly but he did get a bit of air when he got enough speed while chasing various vehicles. That could be a bit unnerving to drivers or to anyone sitting next to open windows! Some of our family and friends claimed that we really didn’t need a dog since we had Charlie as he wouldn’t let anybody except dad out of a vehicle without alerting anyone within earshot of his loud honking.

As grandpa noted, Charlie was very protective of dad. In his mind, dad was his only friend and no one got near him if he had any say in the matter. That included mom and I. If dad wasn’t around when I was getting on or off the school bus, then mom would walk out the lane with me or meet me as I got off the bus in the afternoon. She was armed with a broom stick to scare off the gander guard.

Oh, how I hated that gander! He could be downright vicious! Charlie would try and nip at our legs or heels as we walked. If he saw us outside he’d start running towards us. If he got enough speed up he would become airborne for at least a few feet. He’d chase me when I rode my bike if dad wasn’t around. Trust me, having a honking, angry, wing flapping gander coming straight at you was not a pleasant experience!

For Charlie, I think it was partly a game and partly protecting his territory. Even if dad was around, he would still use that snarling hiss of his or honk loudly at anyone who was nearby. If we were entertaining anyone outside for any length of time, dad would put Charlie in the barn or one of the sheds. Charlie voiced his protest but at least he wasn’t chasing us or our company.

Charlie did calm down a bit once he and Cleo finally got together but he still didn’t really like anyone else being around either him or dad. Cleo didn’t take to kindly to most of us either. The goslings were quite cute – until they grew up. Granted they all made a handsome family – at a distance!

As with all farm livestock, Charlie, Cleo and family were eventually ... hmm ... how shall I put this ... “Dressed for the freezer”! Dad was a bit sad to see them go, but being a lifelong farmer, he knew the inevitable must happen at some point. The rest of us, were just glad that it was once again safe to go outside without a broomstick in hand.

Over the winter, whenever goose was on the menu, we would wonder out loud if this was Charlie. Of course, we never knew for sure, but there was that one bird that was particularly tough......


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