In 1991, at 1 a.m. while I was driving home from the vet clinic where I worked in Ellisville back into the city, I saw what I thought was an alley cat in an alley about to pounce on a pigeon. It was the Monday morning after Easter Sunday.
Cursing pigeons, I flipped on my beams and dashed out of my car (in the rain, mind you) only to discover that it was a discarded and distressed Easter duckling, abandoned after the festivities (months later I found out his whole story, two decades later I am still too angry to describe the abuse).
I had that duck for 17 years. His name was Peacy, and I adopted a Cayuga duck which I named Onyx for his friend, who outlived him by one year.
The night that I got him, I had no one to call – it was 1 in the morning. I set my alarm and got up the next morning and called the Pekin Duck Fund (now non-existent except for me, its sole remaining member, and we no longer maintain a line and I have no resources, so for all intents and purposes, domestic waterfowl rescue in St. Louis is defunct).
But that morning, I called the hotline and got Helen Stader. She was retired, and devoted, and a talker, and spent an age telling me how to take care of this babe. As the months went by, when I quit taking him to the vet clinic every day where I worked, I would take him to “Duckie Day Care” at her house, she was tolerant of my every-10-minute phone call consults to check on him.
He got his first Big Pool Swimming Lessons there, and she even adopted (ya, roight) him from me. My husband took the day off work and took me on my first and only (sad to say … ) Metro-Link ride downtown to lunch to distract me from my grief of loss. I almost missed that day at work at the vet clinic. I went, but when I got off that night, I had to call Helen and tell her that I just could not do it. She replied in her deep and matter-of-fact tone: “I know, that is why he is already in his carrier and he is waiting by the front door for you.”
Helen saw me through death and loss, divorce, the death of Peacy and Onyx in their teens, happy new jobs, life’s bubbles, and up’s and downs. We had a very active and close domestic waterfowl rescue community. She cheered me on when I left the vet practice and started my own behaviour practice. She was hands down in favour of my Canada goose management company when I started that. She was known as the Carondolette Park Duck Lady for her daily feeding and tending of the birds there; I helped her rescue for many, many years.
I could count on Helen as a friend for anything.
Nine months ago, I moved a block away back into our old neighbourhood and have been meaning to drop by and check in on her, it has been way too long, and let her know that I am back, and last night I got word that she had died.
I am devastated, but the grief is self-deserving. A lesson of procrastination – IF I had not waited, IF I had only called her sooner, IF I had been more in touch …
My life is richer for knowing her, I hope that I help others better through the lessons that I learned from her, she was flawless, here is her obituary.
Helen, our domestic waterfowl cannot fly, so I cannot wish that you soar on wings with them, but may you at least take the joy that they take in their frantically delightful water baths in Heaven with our little feathered friends (and others, who may not like to get so wet).