© James J. Doyle 2012
“I thought for sure that goose had broken her leg.”
Grandpa leaned back, lifted his hands, put the fingers together and rubbed his chin.
The grandchildren sat on the floor in front of his chair.
“What was I going to do?” Grandpa continued. “Her mate wouldn’t let me get close. The gander kept lifting up, spreading his wings, honking and pecking whenever I tried to help.”
“What’s a gander?” Katelyn asked.
“The gander is the male and the goose is the female,” Grandpa answered.
“Haven’t you heard the phrase?” Grandma called from the kitchen. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
“What does that mean?” Finley asked.
“What’s good for the lady,” Grandpa answered, “is good for the man, too.”
“Does that mean. . . .” Katelyn was thinking hard, holding her head in her hands. “If Grandma likes it, you better like it too?”
“Smart girl, Katelyn.” Grandma’s eyes were on the pot she was stirring on the stove. “Let’s see you get out of that one, Grandpa.”
“Well, yes, back to the geese.” He fixed his eyes to the ceiling. “What was I going to do?”
Lowering his head to the wide-eyed children, Grandpa began again,
“Waco, that goose is hurt bad.” The 8-year-old boy had his arm around the shoulder of his German shepherd. “It must have happened when she landed.”
The boy glanced over at the new covering of ice on the pond and then back to the goose, where she sat low and unmoving in the snow.
“To help her, we’ve got to get by the gander.” The boy gazed hard into the big shepherd’s eyes. “We’ve got to split up.”
Pointing to the ground, he said, “Stay.”
The dog nodded and sat.
“I’ll circle around to the other side of the goose.” The boy was talking almost to himself, as he scanned the terrain.
Inclining his head to the dog, young James said, “When I give the signal, you start barking and charge the gander. Don’t hurt him. The bird is close to the pond. If he takes off, that should give us enough time to get the goose.”
James reached down and rubbed Waco’s neck. Rising up, he slogged off through the snow, making a wide arc to the far side of the goose.
The gander’s eyes followed the boy, back to the dog and then back at the boy. Swiveling its head back and forth, the male bird watched both dangers.
Positioned behind the goose, James waited a few seconds. Then, waving his arms in the air, he yelled, raced at the goose and stopped a half dozen yards in front of her.
The gander spun and moved to shield his mate from the new attack.
James jumped up and down and shouted, “Now, Waco. Charge!”
The German shepherd barked and dashed at the back of the gander.
Pivoting, the gander spread its wings wide and pecked at the dog.
James rushed forward, dove and slid through the snow to reach the goose.
The gander faced about to intercept the boy.
With the beak out of the way, Waco bent his head down and under the bird. Lifting up, the dog tossed the male goose into the air.
Startled and off balance, the gander spun and twisted, over the back of the dog, landing flat in the snow facing the pond.
Waco stood firm and barked as the big bird righted itself.
Jerking its head back, the gander saw the barking dog between him and his mate, the boy beside her. Heaving up and spreading his wings, the bird scrambled reluctantly across the snow and onto the ice, the wings beating heavily as he lifted into the air.
Waco chased to the edge of the pond, barking up at the airborne gander.
James carefully and quietly moved his arms around the goose.
Hurt and exhausted, she tried to stand but sank back into the snow. With a sigh, the goose bent her neck back against her body and placed her head beneath a wing.
The boy stood slowly as he cradled the heavy bird and started through the snow.
Honking in the sky, the gander circled and followed.
* * *
“It’s not broken, but it’s badly sprained.” The man cut the tape with a scissors and fixed the splint against the goose’s leg. “This bird needs water, food and rest.”
James’ dad was a veterinarian. They were next to the house in the barn where he saw patients and boarded the over-night animal guests.
“Keep her here in the stall for a few days,” his dad said. “The leg should heal. It may take a while for her to learn how to take off again. She may not be flying for a time.”
Putting his gear into the black bag, the vet turned to his son. “You did well, James. She would have died out there in the cold.”
At that moment, there was a tapping at the window in the stall and a low moan-like honking.
“Ah, the gander.” James’ Dad laughed as the male snow goose pecked the glass. “You’d better put some food out for that young man. My guess is he won’t leave. Snow geese mate for life.”
The veterinarian reached down and scratched behind the German shepherd’s ear.
“Keep Waco in your room tonight. No need to startle the gander. I think once he sees his mate is being treated well and he has something to eat, that male bird will relax and accept the situation. You know what they say, ‘What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.’ I always liked that saying.”
His hand on the door, James’ dad turned back to his son.
“I almost forgot in all the excitement. We have new neighbors. They moved into the farm on the far side of the pond. I met the father today. Young family, with a son. The boy’s name is Marshall. He’s about 10. Show him around when you get the chance. His dad said he wasn’t happy about the move.”
As the door closed, James heard his dad call back, “Take good care of that goose and the gander will be fine. You know what they say.”
* * *
Squatting next to the edge of the pond, a boy sent a rock sliding across the ice. A rottweiller stood beside him, the dog’s eyes wary.
Behind them, James said, “It should be ready for skating soon.” Waco sat quietly at his feet.
“What?” The older boy stood quickly and faced around. “Who are you?’
“My name’s James and this is my dog Waco. We live on the farm over there.” He pointed to where they could just see the roof of the barn above the hill.
“Yeah, my dad told me.” The boy made a face. “And he probably told your dad my name is Marshall.”
“He said you just moved in.”
“My parents did. I’m here with my dog.” Marshall bent down and rubbed the shoulder of the rottweiler.
“What’s your dog’s name?” James asked.
When the boy ignored him, James said, “I can show you around. There’s an old wood off beyond the pond that’s fun exploring.” Smiling he added, “Mom was making cookies when I left. We could stop by the house on the way back.”
Straightening up, Marshall tilted his head and studied the younger boy and his dog. He took a deep breath and sighed.
“No. . . .” The older boy’s voice was low and tentative.
Gazing off, Marshall’s tightened his jaw and narrowed his eyes.
“No!” he clipped. The statement was fixed and almost shouted. “I don’t need you to show me around.” Marshall glared at the younger boy. “And I don’t want you or your dog on our side of the pond.” Pushing the rottweiler forward, he added, “Or my dog Caesar will show you what a real dog can do.”
James noticed that Caesar made no sound as he looked balefully at them. Pointing his nose toward the German shepherd, the rottweiler rolled his eyes back to his master in a look of concern and disbelief.
“My dad says,” James ventured slowly, “that both farms have an easement to use the pond and access to the lands around it.” Smiling, the younger boy spoke faster, the excitement growing in his voice. “The ice really is getting thicker. We could set up a rink for hockey. I’ve got sticks and a puck back at the house.”
Marshall knew James was right about the pond. His dad had mentioned the easement. On top of that, he loved hockey, skating whenever he got the chance. He moved from foot to foot. He was unhappy. Still, skating. . . .
“Maybe. . . .” Marshall began.
Wait, what was he doing? He didn’t belong here and he wasn’t going to be pushed around by some little farm kid.
“No.” Marshall stomped his boot. “Make your own rink.”
With a jerk of his head, Marshall turned and kicked snow into the air.
“Come on, Caesar, we’ve got real stuff to do.”
The rottweiler lumbered glumly after his master, tossing a longing backward glance to Waco.
* * *
“She’s ready for a test flight.”
The veterinarian had removed the bandage and examined the leg.
“What should I do?” young James asked.
“Open the barn door first and then the stall. Let this goose find her legs and her partner.” They could hear the gander pecking on the outside of the door. “My guess is she’ll be as happy to see that gander as he will be to see her. The two of them will likely head down to the pond to celebrate with a flight. It may take this goose a couple tries on the ice for her to find the rhythm and get a good enough run to lift into the air.”
James’ dad rolled down his sleeves, put a hand on his chin in his reflective way and faced his son.
“Have you seen that neighbor boy since we talked? What’s it been? About a week?”
“I’ve seen his tracks around the pond. A couple times he’s been off across the fields. When I wave, he turns and walks away with his dog.”
“Shame. Well, give him some time. His dad and mom are good people.”
“I think his dog Caesar likes Waco,” James added.
The veterinarian laughed. “We all like Waco. Who knows? Maybe those dogs will help you two get together.” He glanced at his wrist watch. “Enough, I’ve got a patient in a few minutes. I’ll leave it to you and Waco to chaperon the goose and the gander on their adventure.”
Walking toward the small heated office built into the side of the barn, James’ dad called back, “Don’t worry if she slips and slides some. I’m here if you need me.”
* * *
“She’s going to make it, Waco.”
On the ice, the goose had started her run.
“She’s not slipping. The wings are out. She’s almost up.”
Circling the pond, the gander watched and waited for his mate.
Now the boy was on his toes. His arms were wide and moving like wings.
“Come on, come on. You can do it,” he shouted. “You’re almost there.”
One webbed foot slipped and splayed wide.
The snow goose spun and slid across the ice.
Crashing into the snow on the far bank, she turned over and started to rise.
On the hill overlooking the pond, James saw Marshall and Caesar.
The rottweiler leaped and pushed through the snow, barking.
Marshall followed, down toward the bird.
The goose righted herself, stood unsteadily and honked.
In the air, the gander banked and dove low, coming in to land.
“We need to get over there, Waco.”
James started running across the ice.
Racing past his master, the shepherd reached the far side and vaulted onto the bank.
“I’m coming,” James shouted.
Something shifted under his feet, tripping him.
He reached out a hand, heard the “cracking” and started to fall.
“Help!” he screamed as his body broke through the ice and into the frigid water.
Closing his mouth, the boy sank.
He reached a hand up, surfaced for a moment, flailing.
Going under again, James felt fur, grabbed and hung on.
As he was dragged up, he saw Waco’s head, reached his other hand and grasped her back.
With the boy’s weight pulling her down, the German shepherd struggled to make progress through the broken ice and freezing water.
From the shore came the command, “Go, Caesar. Go!”
There was a splash and a dark shape paddling in the water.
Swimming around behind the boy, the big rottweiler put his head down and pushed.
It was enough.
Waco broke through the floating ice and paddled for shore, pulling the clinging boy as Caesar pushed.
His boots in the water, Marshall reached down for James’ wrists.
The echoing voice in James’ ears seemed far away.
“Hold on. It’s a fireman’s carry. I learned it in Boy Scouts.”
Marshall pulled the smaller boy up, over and across his shoulders.
Bent over and walking as fast as he could toward James’ house, Marshall yelled at the dogs.
“Go! Get help!”
Waco took off running with Caesar at her side, both dogs barking loudly.
The geese honked and followed as Marshall trudged up the bank, the weight of the unmoving younger boy nearly doubling him to the ground.
* * *
“I’ll take him.” James’ Dad lifted his son into his arms as Marshall fell to his knees. “Run to the house. Door’s open. Tell Mother to get blankets. Lots of blankets.”
Marshall nodded, got himself up and ran shakily to the steps and up to the front door.
* * *
In the big arm chair in front of a roaring fire, young James rested with his feet up. He was covered in blankets and cushioned by pillows. His mom placed a cup of steaming hot chocolate into two hands that extended out from the folds of the afghan.
“Tanks,” the boy mumbled, moving his jaw to get the words right. “Sill, hard to taak.”
His dad placed a hand on James’ shoulder.
“You’re all right,” the veterinarian confirmed. “Just a bit chilled. Some minor shock, but it passed quickly once we bundled you up. No frostbite. I checked you over myself, and I’m the doctor.”
James’ dad turned his head to the older boy sitting on the floor between the dogs.
“You saved my son’s life. Thank you.”
Marshall gave a small smile back to the father and a questioning glance to the son.
“Yes-s.” James nodded to the older boy. “Thank you, Marshall,” he stated clearly, with some effort and a small laugh at his success in enunciation.
“Thank you, young man,” James’ mother said as she passed a cup of hot chocolate to Marshall.
“Mother, we have plenty of food,” James’ dad began. “What say we ask Marshall and his parents to join us for the Thanksgiving feast? It’s just a few days off.”
“Yes.” She glanced at the older boy. “I’ve been wanting to meet your mom. Would that be okay?”
“Sure. I mean, Thank you. I need to check with my parents. . . .”
“I can do that,” James’ father volunteered. “I’ll call over to your farm right now and extend the invitation. And while I’m on the phone, I’ll tell your parents that they have a real hero for a son.”
“N-not me,” Marshall stumbled. “Waco and Caesar did the rescuing. I’m no hero.”
Noise rattled the window behind Marshall’s head, interrupting his protests.
Stretching and swaying their necks to see through the frosted glass, the goose and the gander pecked and honked.
At the sight and sound of the snow geese, young James, his dad and mom, and Marshall laughed and clapped.
Joining in, the two dogs barked happily together.
With the added encouragement, the goose and the gander pecked even more and honked even louder, raising such a ruckus that James’ mom thought they might break the panes.
“There you have it,” James’ dad announced over the din, holding his sides to keep from laughing. “The geese have joined their voices with ours in loud and sustained agreement. You are a hero by the mutual acclaim of all here assembled.”
Smiling and sitting back in his chair, Grandpa James added, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Grandpa raised his hands and ended with the fingers spread wide with a flourish. “And everyone who agrees with them!”
“Grandpa?” Katelyn asked, thinking hard, with her head between her hands again. “Is Marshall Uncle Marshall?”
“The very same.” Grandpa James looked at the grandfather clock across the room. “In fact, he should be here very soon to join us for our feast.”
“And, Grandpa?” Katelyn hadn’t changed her position. “Did the dogs get married?”
“Well, remember those puppies you played with when we visited Uncle Marshall’s farm?”
“Those are the great-great-great grandchildren of Waco and Caesar.”
“Grandpa?” Finley asked. “The goose and the gander, what happened to them?”
“Now, that is interesting. Every winter, a pair of snow geese returns to the pond. When I was a boy, it was the original two for many years. Then one year, it was another pair. The second pair had just a little blue coloring, which can happen with snow geese. Those two flew back until I left for college. Uncle Marshall says a pair stops by each year.”
“Do the dogs chase them?” Concern was in Finley’s eyes.
“Even more interesting and quite wonderful. They don’t chase. They play. The geese honk and the dogs bark. They tag each other and hide. At night, they all sleep together in the barn. Then, one warm sunny spring day, the goose and the gander fly off. The next year, when they return, they all behave as if the geese had never left. Can you imagine that?”
“Yes, we can,” Katelyn answered, smiling at her sister.
“You can?” Grandpa James was curious.
“Yes, Grandpa, because. . . .” Katelyn moved her finger in sing-song fashion as Finley joined in. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” The girls stood and ended with their arms thrown wide with a flourish. “And everyone who agrees with them!”
“Smart girls.” Grandma Mary laughed from the kitchen. “I bet you can’t beat that one, Grandpa.”
To which Grandpa James nodded in silent agreement, because he couldn’t and wouldn’t even want to try, certainly not with the Thanksgiving feast about to be served by Grandma Mary.
What’s good for the goose is very good for the gander.
Don’t you agree?
Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!!