She loved that duck. I’m not sure if Fussy was a boy or a girl and I’m not sure if she even knew. But she loved that duck. Every time she said the name it was like a tire losing air. Her top teeth would jut out slightly and then plant themselves solidly on her lower lip, creating a wind tunnel for the over exaggerated F. Fussy would waddle behind her as she made her way around the backyard garden of the house in the Woodstock neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Long before raising chickens, growing heirloom this and that, and city based homesteading was as hip as wearing skinny jeans and a handlebar mustache, my grandparents were managing their own food supply. My mom couldn’t recall where she had gotten the duck, but it was her friend and pet.
This first time I heard about Fussy was after Mom had the heart attack that turned her brain into a sieve incapable of hanging onto new memories for more than a couple of minutes. Looking back on it now, it almost seems like the injury served to make the old and buried memories more accessible because Mom would bring up stuff out of the blue that no one had ever heard before. It was like a game of Keno, but instead of the board popping with the light of newly added numbers, her mind would ping here and there with long forgotten remembrances. Or, maybe the injury just made her more able to share. Less restricted. Less worried about implications. When she talked about Fussy, I was transported back in time, feeling as if I was seeing my Mom as her 7 year old self talk about her beloved duck. Her eyes lit up and she smiled, remembering how Fussy would follow her everywhere, “but never into the garden”. “Fussy always knew to stay outside the gate while I went in and picked some snap peas for us” she would say in a much higher octave than her own and with that childlike cadence that had become her new normal. “Fussy was the best duck” she stated as sadness took over her face. “What’s wrong Mom?” I asked. “My dad gave Fussy to the priest” she answered with all of the earlier sweetness and happiness now missing. “You mean the duck went to live at the church?” I asked almost begging. “No, the priest had Fussy for dinner.” she responded quietly and with tears forming in her eyes. “What the fuck!” is all I could manage to say. “That is just the way it was back then” she reminded me in her almost-mom-again way. “What, you mean people just handed over their child’s pet for the priest to eat like it was no big deal?”
I can now understand why the brain jumps in on our behalf to protect us from history. I understand why, when she was fully competent and able to exercise some control over the brain to mouth connection, my mom never told this story. As I write this today, years and years removed from her recounting of her and Fussy’s story,it is painful. When she told Fussy’s story as well as many others equally as new and shocking, it’s as if the part of the her brain that was the decider of what stories should make it all the way to the mouth had shut down due to the injury,allowing her,or maybe even urging her,to share them. Maybe she was just tired of holding on to them,or maybe she just simply had no real say in them being spoken.