Talking to the Animals: Martha and Petunia

On the way home from school one day, Mom took us to a pet store just for fun. In a box beneath a heat lamp were the cutest little yellow ducklings, quacking away in their little duckling voices. We fell in love with them immediately. “Oh please can we get one?” we begged Mom. “Please please please?” “Okay,” she said, “BUT JUST ONE.” So we brought it home and put it in the bathtub. It was very happy there, swimming around and making its little baby quackles. But then I started to worry, “What will Dad say when he gets home from work?” (Sometimes Dad wasn't always happy with the decisions Mom made.) As it got closer to 5 pm when Dad's bus was going to arrive, I got nervouser and nervouser. No, that isn't really a word! I should write “more and more nervous.” Anyway, you get my point. By the time Dad got home, you can imagine how my stomach was feeling: like it was full of butterflies! Okay, so Dad got home, put down his lunch pail, took off his coat, and said to us, “What is going on -- you all look funny.” As in funny-strange. The four of us kids were happy and scared at the same time, and I guess it showed on our faces. “Ummm...Dad….ummmm...we have something to show you.” “Okay, what is it?” “Go look in the bathtub.” So he did, and he started laughing! “That little guy looks lonely,” he said, “he needs a friend!” We all jumped into the van and went back to Rodney's Pets & Feed and Dad bought us another little duckling! I named one Martha and the other one Petunia, after two of my favorite books at the time (George & Martha, by James Marshall, and Petunia by Roger Duvoisin). We four loved Martha and Petunia, and they loved us. They followed us everywhere around the backyard. In the late afternoons, we crawled around on the ground, hunting for stalks of their favorite grass -- appropriately named “duck grass weed” -- to bring them. They always quacked “happy, thank you” as they ate it. That's the thing about ducks: their emotions and their words are the same. Their word for “happy” is the same as the happy sound they make and so they pretty much tell you how they feel and what's going on with them. One day, Dad brought home a large fiberglass airline shipping container and he used it to build a little rectangular pond in the backyard. Now they had a real place to swim, and we had our bathtub back. Martha and Petunia would slide into the water, wiggle their tails and quack “happy, swimming” that told us that they liked the water. Sometimes we filled up the Radio Flyer with water and gave them rides around the backyard. I honestly don't know if they liked that so much, because I can't remember the sound that they made while we were tugging them slowly around the yard. But being good sports, they tolerated it. Those days back then felt endless, but in reality they were all too brief. It's a good thing to grow up with animals, which I was lucky to do. Martha and Petunia still live in my heart, and to this day in my mind's ear, I can still hear the sounds they made and what they were saying to me. About the photo: my twin sisters with Martha and Petunia and the Radio Flyer, in our backyard circa 1970.

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Michael Kelso

Author of Crime/Mystery novels, and short hor...

Schellsburg, United States