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When I was a relatively small child (spring of third grade) we got our first batch of chickens. About half of them were eating birds, Cornish Cross, and the other half were assorted layers and interesting-looking chickens. The next year, we got some ducks and geese. (FatherSir was surprised when he came back from his trip to Russia.) I think it was the year after that when we got the banties.

Chief among the banties were Patches and the Bantam Bantam. We'd gotten an incubator, and hatched out some chicks. There was one very small egg that our virtual aunt had pulled out of her refrigerator for us, from her crotchety hen Scratch. That egg was having some trouble hatching. So FatherSir, and the tweezers, helped out, and the Bantam Bantam was hatched. She grew up to be a round, brown hen, very small, very industrious. Patches was from our batch of banties that we bought as chicks from one of the feed stores, and went from a patchy adolescent to a lovely, shining, feather-footed Rooster In Charge Of Things quickly.

Patches was in charge of the flock (or at least he thought he was in charge) and the Bantam Bantam was the lead banty hen. (The big chickens and the banties didn't flock together very well.) They were frequent mates, and preferred each other's company. swallowtayle decided that they should get married, perhaps because some friends of the family had just gotten married. Our kid-logic was that if people got married because they loved each other and were living together and were having babies and hopping-on-top, then birds should be able to have a party for that as well.

Mama had helped us with chicken clothes before, and she created a beautiful dress for the Bantam Bantam. The bride, a round brown hen with black lacing on her feathers, touches of gold in her hackle, and a neat rose-comb, wore white with cream patterns, trimmed with lace. The groom, a Cochin with an iridescent black tail, cream hackles, cream and rust saddle feathers, a black breast, and a gigantic comb, had a black felt vest.

There were guests, and a cake. FatherSir performed the ceremony. As I recall, the groom's vows included that he was supposed to be a good flock leader and watch for danger, and look for good stuff to eat, and call his wife over to eat some, and not eat all of it before she got there. The bride was supposed to lay eggs, sit on eggs, scratch for food for chicks as well as herself, and also watch for danger.

The happy couple got to eat the top layer of the cake, which was a small chunk of cornbread. Their marriage worked out well. They had one child, a problem rooster named Calamity, but they were quite satisfied with each other and were quite happy for the balance of their lives.


Then there was the duck wedding. We'd originally gotten two ducks, Dabble and Paddle. Paddle died, for reasons that are now obscure to me, and when swallowtayle wanted ducklings, we got a drake from our virtual aunt, a handsome fellow named Tad.

Of course, nothing would do but to have a duck wedding. Mama was convinced to make a wedding dress for Dabble, a much more elaborate one than the Bantam Bantam's, because while the Bantam Bantam was able to wear a simple cone-shaped dress stuck over her head, and still be able to almost walk, Dabble was much more low-slung. Mama engineered it, though, and even made a veil. Dabble didn't mind the dress so much, but hated the veil. Tad had a suit as well, and FatherSir again officiated.

The ducks did not work out so well as a couple. Everything was fine until the children came along. Dabble sat on a clutch of eggs, and had a very strong nesting and setting instinct, but didn't know what to do with the ducklings. Her neighbors, the geese, were very interested in the proceedings. Friendly, the goose, a tall African, looked very hopeful when she heard the peeping, and ducked into the goose house to check if there were any goslings for her, but came out honking mournfully. When the ducks and geese were let loose to wander around, Friendly would try to help keep them in line. Tad wasn't sure what to make of all of it, and Dabble wasn't interested. So the geese got to adopt the ducklings. I'm not entirely sure what Toulouse (the gander) thought of all of it, but he wearily and haughtily backed up his mate. (The geese never had a wedding, because they were not particularly good birds for kids to play with, and it was irrelevant to them anyway.)

When the ducklings started getting their adult plumage, the drake, their father, abruptly took sinister interest in them. He'd already been making a pest of himself to the other ladies -- he'd been chasing Friendly around, flying after her while she ran from him in terror, and he'd been trying to mount the round brown Bantam Bantam (perhaps mistaking her for a duck, since his wife was nearly the same shape and color). Now, he started beating the young drakes savagely, and harrassing the young ducks, his daughters, in the same way he'd been pestering the Bantam Bantam.

Toulouse and Friendly took exception to this. Toulouse would hiss and take a swipe at him every time he got too close, but when Friendly caught Tad bothering his children one day, she got mad, and Tad was lucky to have escaped when he did.

Tad and Dabble probably should have separated or gotten a divorce.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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