Pokey the Duck

Back in the day, before standardized tests and common core requirements, before making college plans in kindergarten and class rank in grade one, there was a boy and a duck. And they loved each other. This is a story about them.

Mrs. Tormey’s class was filled with animals and activity. There were guinea pigs and turtles, chickens hatching from eggs and mealworms growing into beetles. In her second grade, students learned about birth and death. They learned how mothers fed their young. They had naming contests when new guinea pigs were born.  They struggled through math problems while incubating eggs. None of it was standard. None of it was common. But it was all good.

Joe was that boy in Mrs. Tormey’s class who loved the animals more than most. He’s a man now. Pushing 40, I think. I don’t know much about him. Nothing more than what I can gather from his Facebook page. I know he is a teacher. And a coach. And it looks like he’s a good dad who loves his kids. He looks happy, Joe does. I think he is. Mrs. Tormey would like that.

Joe wrote to me when she passed. He told me stories of his favorite teacher. He told me she taught him to love nature and animals. He gave me great details about life in her classroom.

And he told me about Pokey the Duck. When he did, I am sure the spirit of Mrs. Tormey smiled.

I had heard of Pokey, I think. I knew he existed, sort of.  And if I try really hard, I can recall stories about this particular classroom pet. But I didn’t know him the way Joe did. I can only imagine their lives together. If I were to guess, it would go something like this:

Joe’s mom was one of those ladies who couldn’t say no to her son. This can’t-say-no-ness worked well for Joe. And for Mrs. Tormey, who was constantly in need of a home for the many animals born in class 2T. Although there was room in her heart, there was never room enough in the classroom.

It started with guinea pig-sitting during the Christmas holidays. Joe won the class lottery, which allowed him to bring the pig home during the school break. When Mrs. Tormey showed up at the door with the cage and food and furry friend, Joe’s mom said no. Joe said please. Joe’s mom said yes. And yes again.  To bunnies and geese, chickens. Even a goat. Well, not the goat. She had her limits.

Then came Pokey the Duck.

Pokey was hatched in Mrs. Tormey’s classroom. The chicken eggs came from a local farmer. A farmer happy to supply eggs  for her classroom incubator. And once, just once, the farmer threw in a duck egg, too, because why not?

When Pokey was born, he was big and awkward and nothing like the sweet little chickens that surrounded him. He started slow, but soon became too active to be kept in a classroom. And the farmer, who eagerly took back those hatched chickens, had no need for a duck.

And so Mrs. Tormey thought of Joe. And Joe said yes. His mom, as usual, gave in.

Pokey imprinted on Joe. I did not know what this meant. I remember Mrs. Tormey telling me about it but I never really listened. I recently looked it up. Youtube.

By imprinting, Pokey believed he was Joe’s child. Not a pet. Not a house guest. But a devoted and loving child. He waddled along after Joe. He followed him around the house, around the yard. One day, Joe told me, Pokey followed him right up to the school bus. And hopped on. Joe told Pokey to go home. The school bus had rules and they did not include the transportation of ducks. Imprint or no.

I love that memory. That Mary-Had-A-Little-Lamb memory. And I can see Joe, with his dirty knees and untucked shirt, in need of a haircut and maybe a good scrubbing. I imagine Joe standing on that second step of his school bus, telling Pokey the duck that he had it all wrong. And I can see Pokey, waddling away, looking over that sad duck shoulder, or whatever it is a duck looks over. Heading back home.

The story ends there. At least the telling of it. I don’t know anything more about Pokey’s life. Or Joe’s. And although Joe probably visited that second grade classroom from time to time, he didn’t know much about Mrs. Tormey’s life either. How she raised three children and nine grandchildren. How she loved to square dance and have backyard parties. How she went on long walks and bike rides. How she traveled around the country, visiting her children. And elder hostels. And then how she got sick. And had most of her memories ripped from her.

Mrs. Tormey didn’t know much about Joe either. That he grew up to be a teacher. And a coach. A husband and a father. An animal lover and a nature lover. Mrs. Tormey would like this grown up Joe. She would like to meet him. And hear of his classroom. His students. And she and Joe, they’d talk about Pokey. Pokey the Duck.

He’d tell her. I know he would. How one teacher, one fabulous Mrs. Tormey, in one very busy, animal-filled classroom, changed the life of a little boy. Named Joe.

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