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Author Biography: Mary Stolz, winner of ...
Author Biography: Mary Stolz, winner of the 1993 Kerlan Award for the body of her work, is the author of dozens of books that are perennial favorites of young readers, including two Newbery Honor Books, Belling the Tiger, illustrated by Beni Montresor, and The Noonday Friends. She lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Sergio Martinez was born and lives in Mexico City. He illustrated Weapons & Warfare by Milton Meltzer. His paintings have been exhibited in galleries around the world.
Though they still listen to baseball and go fishing, Thomas and his grandfather find life in their small house in Florida changed when Great-aunt Linzy comes to stay.
Thomas, standing beside his grandfather's chair, shivered and put his hands in his armpits.
"People think it's always warm in Florida, don't they, Grandfather?"
"People who don't live here might."
"It sure isn't warm this morning."
"Februaryl" Grandfather waved his hand. "A most unstable month. Would you like a fire?"
"That's a good idea."
Getting up, Grandfather opened the door of the cast-iron stove that stood on flagstones in a corner of their living room. With kindling and a couple of small logs from a brass bucket beside the stove, he soon had a merry blaze going.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yes," said Thomas, a bit crankily.
"Should've made one earlier, perhaps. Only I didn't think to."
"That's all right," said Thomas, relenting.
Grandfather was skinny and pretty old, but he never seemed to mind what the weather was like and never complained about it. He didn't say he wished it would get warmer, or cooler, or that the rain would go away, or the rain would come, the way most people did.
Now he didn't say he wished the fog would lift, though here it was-cold, gray, so thick that Thomas, still shivering a little, couldn't see through the window. Even Ringo, Thomas's cat, who usually wanted to stay outdoors in the morning, had sprinted back to the house after just a brief visit to the garden, where his duck, Ivan the Terrible, had come rushing out of the mist to greet him.
Ringo had greeted Ivan with a lick on the head, then left him outside, where he was still quacking and calling.
"Poor terrible Ivan," Thomas said."He's lonely. Do you suppose we should lethim in for a little bit?"
"Absolutely nod" said Grandfather. "I hive explained, more than once, that a duck is not a cat. There is no known way to house-train a duck."
Thomas shrugged. Ivan would make out okay in the yard, in the fog, and he, didnt really want to let him in the house. Actually, he didn't want Ivan, period. But there was no way to get rid of him.
He had come into their lives last spring, when Ringo had appeared one morning trailed by a tottery duckling.
"Lookit, Grandfather!" Thomas 'had shouted. "A little duck followed Ringo home! From the beach, I guess! Come see! Hurry!"
Grandfather, weeding in his stir-fry garden, straightened and walked over, carrying some collard greens. Pinching the tip of his nose, which he did when he was thinking, he studied a very small duckling covered with fluffy brown-and-yellow down. It kept toppling onto its bill, till it finally squatted in the grass, eyes fixed on Ringo. One of its wings looked odd to Thomas.
Ringo, looming over the duck, complained to Thomas. "Mewow!" he said. "This duck here followed me home! What am I going to do?" he cried, and twined around Thomas's leg.
"Well, well," said Grandfather. "We seem to have here a genuine case of imprinting."
"Huh?" said Thomas.
"I believe this is how it happened — " Grandfather began, and Thomas, who felt that his grandfather knew how just about everything happened, listened alertly.
"No doubt the mother of this fellow — if it's a fellow, we can't be sure of that yet — hatched her clutch down on the beach, and this one didn't get out of the shell on time. She assumed the egg was a dud and led the rest of her brood away to a freshwater pond."
"That wasn't so nice of her.
"Natural, Thomas, quite natural. She couldn't take chances with the rest of her family, waiting for an egg that might never hatch."
"So then what happened?"
"I'd say that after she left, this critter managed to peck its way into the world. And just then — along came Ringo! There are creatures — for some reason especially ducks. — that will take the first moving object they see for a parent. It's called 'imprinting.' The image they first see gets imprinted on their minds as the only one in the world to be followed. A newly hatched duckling will tag after a mechanical toy, if that's all it finds to attach itself to. Your duck here thinks Ringo is its mother. Father, I suppose. So it followed him home to us."
Thomas frowned. "That's sort of sad, isn't it?" When Grandfather said nothing, he asked, "What's wrong with its wing? It looks funny."
Grandfather hunkered down, put his vegetables to one side, and gently touched the maimed wing. "Hmmm. I think I know what happened."
Thomas smiled and waited. His grandfather didn't just give information. He told a story.
"Some little while ago, Thomas, a ghost crab was coming up through one of her many tunnels on the beach to scout for a bite of breakfast. She reached the entrance just as your duck here — or Ringo's duck, let's say — flopped out of the shell. Then — well then, alas and sad to say, she simply nipped off the tip of this wing. You can see how she got it, right to the first joint. I would say that Ringo appeared at that very moment. The crab ran back to safety, the duck looked at the cat, and 'Lo! and be whole!' as Krazy Kat used to say, imprinting occurred. I wonder what would have happened if the crab had appeared in time to be the first moving object to meet this duck's eyes?"
"Well, he wouldn't have followed a ghost crab down a tunnel, would he? Especially not one that had just bit off part of his wing."
"Still, it's curious to think about. A fowl imprinted on a crab. Probably would've been a first for Mother Nature."
"Does his wing hurt awfully bad?" Thomas asked, screwing up his face till his nose wrinkled and his eyes were almost closed. He always made faces at the thought of pain. Mostly his own, of course, but here was this poor little wounded duck right in front of him.
Posted February 20, 2000