‘Goose or gander’
A Short Story
By Lawrence Hebb
Childhood memories are golden, little treasures, snippets of information remembered from when times were ‘better’. The only trouble is that they are selective and we only remember what we seem to want to remember.
Of all of the treasured memories that I have of my childhood, one of my favourite is of one of my favourite pets, Billy.
Billy was an unusual pet, actually he never really considered himself a pet, he considered himself to be human, he was more like one of the family really, just a really odd shaped member of the family.
I was six years old when Billy appeared at our door, it wasn’t a big deal for me, but for Billy it was ‘life changing’. I knew from the start that we were going to have lots of fun together. However, there were those who didn’t see things my way. My little brother was one, up until Billy’s arrival he’d been the apple of everyone’s eye, the centre of all attention, all of a sudden that all changed overnight.
Grandad, a man of some means, owned land on the edge of town, most of the land was in the form of fields, four of them; complete with horses, sheep and geese.
I was four when Grandad had a stroke. It left him paralysed down the left side. But the hardest part was the fact that at fifty eight this man who was used to getting up at four am and walking miles to walk miles to work as a stonemason now could hardly walk let alone work.
Dad, an only child, got to look after the animals in the fields. All this as well as looking after his own family and keeping up his own business as a coal merchant. Every day Dad would go up the fields to feed them and make sure they were alright.
Grandma and Grandad lived right next door to the fields, but with the stroke, it fell to Dad to look after the animals.
One day, he came back from feeding the animals carrying a little bundle under his arm.
“What’s that Dad?” I’d been playing by the Kitchen door to the hall, he was at the other end, coming through the main door to the street.
“What’s what?” he replied with a twinkle in his eye.
“Under yer arm”.
“Oh this,” he stopped and held the bundle out with one arm. “Well what do you think it is?”.
“Is it a dog?” I guessed hopefully. I’d wanted a puppy for Christmas that year, but Mum and Dad had said that we couldn’t afford two dogs and Dinah, our Dog was a guard Dog for the coal yard
“No” he lowered the bundle and crouching down in the middle of the hall, began to pull back the blanket.
“It’s a duck” My sister was two years older than me and picked up on some things faster, I’d seen the webbed feet sticking out of the blanket, but I’d wanted a Puppy, and that was all I was thinking about.
“Close” Dad said and continued unwrapping “’e’s a goose”
At that moment the little thing let out a loud quack and tried to break free from the tender but strong grip Dad held him in. “He’s only ‘atched today and ‘is mum don’t like ‘im. She’s rejected ‘im”
You could have heard a pin drop as we stared at this tiny bundle of fluff in the hall. He couldn’t see as his eyes hadn’t opened yet, we found out that a goose’s eyes don’t open for the first few weeks as they aren’t fully formed when the chicks hatch, but then again Billy was to teach us many lessons.
Billy was a good teacher, he taught us many things about animals, not just about geese, but about the animal Kingdom. First, it really is a Kingdom and although Dogs and Cats think they are the top of the pecking order, they are only there because geese let them and he wasn’t going to give up the top spot so easily!
It takes ten weeks for a goose’s eyes to form from the time they hatch, and sure enough ten weeks later we woke one morning to find an all seeing goose in the house. He’d become family and as soon as he had sight he appointed himself the guardian of the family, especially of the three small funny shaped brothers and sister he seemed to have inherited, whether we wanted that or not was irrelevant to him!
The next thing he taught us was that when a goose opens it’s eyes it doesn’t actually know what a goose is supposed to look like and the first creature it sees is ‘Mum’
Billy’s first sighting of a living thing was of Mum cleaning out his den, so naturally he presumed that he was the same shape and species as the one doing the cleaning, he presumed that he too was Human!
We lived in a converted Inn, complete with stables, washrooms and upstairs. Mum kept busy all day cleaning and looking after the house. There were times she’d need to go upstairs and tidy up, when that happened Billy would sit at the bottom of the stairs and wail in the most horrendous fashion until she came down again; it didn’t matter that we might all be downstairs in the Kitchen, if Mum wasn’t there then he’d be wailing until she was!
This only stopped when the day came that Billy was finally big enough to climb the stairs, then nowhere was safe from him.
I was seven when I got the mumps, Mum decided to keep me off school and called the Doctor, in those days the Doctors still did house calls, in fact I think it was just after this that house calls stopped.
The door to the main street was slightly open, as it always was when we were home, anyone was welcome, and besides the inner door in the hall was closed.
“It’s only me Mrs Hebb” we heard the doctor call from outside just after he knocked on the door softly
“Hang on Doctor” Mum called back, I’ll just put the goose in the Kitchen” she scooped Billy up intending to lock him in there out of harms way. She didn’t want him running out on to the road.
Lesson three Billy taught was if you really want to make sure your property is safe then a goose is much better than even a Rottie or any other Dog.
The Doc was a town Doctor and while we weren’t farm people we’d lived on the edge of town and knew their ways, we were a mix and fully understood by neither.
Hearing “I’ll just put the goose in the kitchen” probably started his mouth watering as he thought of cooked goose, he began to open the door and enter, he was a very young and naive doctor.
Geese have very strong necks and small brains, when their nest is threatened they know only one response, to fight! Believe me, you don’t ever want to meet a goose in a fight. Personally I’d rather take on a pack of rotties than a goose in full battle order! They have been known to cripple a person with just one stab of the beak!
Billy was in Mum’s arms and not quite through the door into the kitchen when he spied and intruder. The doc had come through the door and had turned to close it when he heard a squawk from behind.
Looking up the hall he saw the source of the squawk heading right for him and not intending to stop anytime soon, realising the imminent danger he was in he flung the door open and began to run just a Billy connected.
Thankfully Billy wasn’t a full grown animal and didn’t do a lot of damage, apart from a bruised ego and a large red mark where he clobbered the doc, but there was a very human howl of pain and I didn’t get any treatment that day! In fact the next day I had to go to the doctor’s surgery as none of the other doctors would ‘take their lives in their own hands like that again’ (I also think they had a hard time believing the poor hapless GP)
Billy and I were to have many other adventures that year but eventually the time came when he was too big for us to keep at home and he had to go back to his flock. I can’t remember if I cried a lot (I’m sure I did some) but Dad said that Billy cried for days and then one morning he wasn’t there.
It was months before we saw him again but one morning we got the shock of our lives because all of a sudden he turned up again but this time with little goslings in tow, Billy had been a goose all along and not a gander.