Meet K and Andy, my two-week-old goslings.
What did you ask? Why geese? I know. It really doesn’t make sense.
In a way, these goslings are my “pet goat.” When I was a child and our family was living in the tidy suburbs, our father, raised in the big city, indulged a longstanding desire and bought himself — a goat. The more I think about it now, the more nonsensical this lark of Dad’s seems. I find it hard to imagine our mother’s thoughts. Mom was the rural, practical girl who was handy with animals. Dad’s involvement with our pets was limited to opening the back door to let them in and out of the house. It would be as if my DH brought home an alligator, saying he always wanted one. I don’t remember Dad’s goat myself — I believe its stay was brief — but I grew up hearing the stories and feeling sad that by the time I was old enough to take notice, Dad had outgrown such impulsive flights of fancy.
However, in a similar way I have always yearned for geese. To me, geese are an inextricable part of a farm. And that is due to E.B. White. I have many favorite authors but none has shaped my life like White.
When our mother read Charlotte’s Web to me in 1964 I instantly recognized a world I wanted to be part of. (Only many years later would I realize White was describing North Brooklin, Maine, in the 1940s, a world already gone.) Sitting on an overturned bucket in Zuckerman’s barn seemed far more alluring to me than waiting my turn on Connecticut tennis courts.
Geese were major characters in Charlotte’s Web and figured throughout White’s letters and essays. He kept geese all his life, late into his eighties after all his other farm animals had departed. He was entertained by his geese: he said he kept them for “comic relief.”
Some of the comedy may have come in watching his domestic staff try to avoid them. (White, like many gentle people of my acquaintance, seemed to get a kick out of difficult pets. His grumpy terrier, Jones, was, he noted happily, “a perfectly terrible dog.”)
“Geese are friends to no one,” White wrote, “they badmouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get used to their ingratitude and false accusations.” In fact, it’s clear he loved them. Reading White, I absorbed the idea that a farm was hardly a farm without geese.
I believe White’s geese were white Embdens. Long ago I researched goose breeds and decided that someday I would have Pilgrims, somewhat smaller, gentler in disposition, and unlike most breeds, dimorphic by color: the ganders are white and the geese grey.
I have tried to find Pilgrims for a decade but they are relatively rare. Though I could easily have purchased goslings from a catalog, I had no interest in an instant flock of fifteen. Pilgrim geese on Craigslist were always too expensive, too far away, or both. Eight years ago I tried buying hatching eggs by mail, an escapade that did not end well.
Thus, when I saw an ad for a pair of Pilgrim goslings nearby, I never hesitated. And when the seller replied by email that her parent geese were named Theophrastus and Penelope, I was sure it was meant to be. (I could figure out Penelope, the faithful wife in The Odyssey, but had to look up Theophrastus — he was a Greek philosopher, heir to Aristotle.)
I met Pat, the goose owner, at the Cooperative Extension office. Pat is eighty years old and vigorous, with short white hair and smiling eyes. She wore blue jeans and sneakers. She told me about digging in her garden with her geese grazing beside her. She and Theo, her gander, were particularly attached. Pat hated to sell off the two babies — which were in a cardboard perennial plant box in her car — but she didn’t have the space to manage multiple ganders.
I couldn’t have imagined anyone I would rather buy geese from. I told Pat I hoped to be just like her when I grew up.
So now at last, in middle age, I am a goose girl. The two goslings are very nervous, scuttling away from me in their brooder, whistling in fright. But I am sure they will settle down. I pull fresh grass for them twice a day and it shouldn’t be long before they are brave enough to take it from my hands.
Given the origins of my desire, I have named the goslings for E. B. White and his wife, Katharine, who were known to each other as “Andy” and “K.”
It makes me very happy to think that my little farm will have a white goose named Andy White. I even think it might amuse E. B., too.