Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Story About Ralph

Sometimes you wake up grumpy. You slept hot; or a disturbing dream hangs on you like a bad suit; or joints that did their job in compliant silence when you were 23 are now whiny and demanding. Whatever. Grumpy. Obviously, the answer is ducklings.

We went down to the river around 6:30 this morning, thankful for a mottled sky and a nice breeze off the water.

We sat on a bench and talked about work and advertising and Harvey Weinstein (briefly, that), and then a mother duck and nine fluffy-bottomed ducklings pulled up alongside us.

Most of the ducklings, eager and well-behaved, tended to cluster close to their mother's tail feathers. Ralph, the nonconformist, would drift to the outer reaches of her tolerance before she sent him the universal maternal signal for "Get back here."

Now we became the Jane Goodalls of the Hudson River duckling set: We followed the family's progress as they moved toward and around the pier, the implacable mama and her erratic toddlers, their tiny flippers whirring under the water to keep up. 

It's a big world out there.

They negotiated obstacles…

…and then she got them to toe the line.

Finally it became clear that they were heading to this little cul-de-sac...

…where they lined up and pecked at the slimy green stuff (scientific term) growing on the concrete containment walls. Periodically the sloshing tides would lift the family nearly a foot, and they'd crane their necks for another bite...

…but Ralph went in search of a cheeseburger.

It all reminded me of The Story About Ping, the "beautiful young duck" who lived on "a boat with two wise eyes on the Yangtze river," and who got separated from his "mother and father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins" for one scary and eye-opening day.

My stained and well-loved 1933 edition.
Rather, my mother's edition, which I stole.
At six or seven or eight, I read Ping's story as a "Whew" tale—as in, "Whew, he got back to his family safely and he'll never do THAT again."

Now I think, Isn't there some lingering token from his day of misadventure—the look of awe, maybe, in the wide, wide eyes of his forty-two cousins as he describes the "big boats and little boats, fishing boats and beggars' boats, house boats and raft boats" that he saw on "the yellow waters of the Yangtze river?"

Keep paddling, Ralph. Ride the tides.

** Click any photo to enlarge and see slideshow.


Susan E. Goodman said...

Love you, Susan Champlin.

Susan Champlin said...

That might be my favorite blog comment ever, Susan Goodman. Love you, too.

LPC said...

Aw. That is lovely.

Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, LPC! xo

Marilyn said...

Go Ralph go! I too love you, Susan Champlin. And love to see you telling stories, as you should be. xo

Tragic Sandwich said...

I, too, grew up with Ping. In fact, I found it in a bookstore last week. And I confirmed my suspicion that the message of that book, ultimately, is that it's better to be beaten at home than to be beaten by strangers. It's a little unnerving.