A Not So Fond Remembrance of a Memorable Bird

Nov 15, 2013

Goosifer
Credit Amy Bennett Williams

News-Press story teller Amy Bennett’s Williams pet menagerie recently suffered a loss. With mixed emotions she recalls life with “Goosifer”.

For the first time in nearly seven years, I can't call myself a gozzard.

This makes me sad, because gozzard was one of the few quaintly antiquated job titles like mercer, chandler or wainwright I'd ever been able to legitimately claim, and I'll miss it. But I won't miss a gozzard's work — goose-tending.

You don't need any advice from me, but here's some anyway: Do not get geese. I did, and I'm here to tell you, it was a huge mistake.

Don't even look at goslings. And if you do, resist the urge to pick them up, to see if that sunflower down is as soft as it looks. Don't learn what it feels like when those round baby bills nibble your fingers. Pay no attention to their warbly pleas to be held. And if you do pick one up, pay no mind to how they quiet and snuggle into your cupped hands once you do.

Above all, do not get used to their constant prattle. It never stops; it only changes. As they grow older, that sweet chicky chatter becomes incessant gabbling.

Don't ever let goslings near your kids, because your kids will learn that the goslings will follow them in formation anywhere they go. It's not cute; it's a warning. As adults, the geese will want to be wherever you are too. And that's not a good thing, because geese are not good things. Not good at all.

Alas, there was no one to warn me, so when my boys fell in love with a trio of bubble-headed, bright-eyed goslings in Futral's Feed Store, I figured, sure – why not?

When one of the three goslings somehow got its head caught between cage bars and hurt its neck, Roger gently extricated it, then carried it around inside his T-shirt for days until it stopped wobbling and could once again eat on its own.

That goose never did straighten out completely, walking at a slightly lopsided angle with a perpetual crook in his neck and his pert tail set rakishly sideways. That goose was Goosifer, named on account of his often evil temper.

Never mind that he'd been hand-raised, coddled and adored, Goosifer returned our affection with hisses, shouts and savagery. Beaks have no bones, nor are they equipped with teeth, but serrated cartilage is a formidable weapon indeed — just ask any of our dogs foolish enough to get too close — a mistake they all made exactly once.

But Goosifer also would bite me as I was hanging the laundry, or set out after Nash while he was fossil-hunting. The boy eventually learned to dodge him before snatching up the 15-pound bird and tossing him in the pond, which cooled his ire, but not before Goosifer had landed a nip on his face. To this day, it looks like someone scraped Nash's left cheek with a metal comb, but a gozzard would guess what really happened.

Once, to our horror, he nailed an 80-something visiting great aunt on the leg, leaving a spectacular bruise. So why did we keep so awful a creature?

For one thing, we felt sorry for him. When one of his nest mates disappeared early on, he and the remaining goose, Grammy, became inseparable. They went everywhere together, chattering incessantly, Goosifer in tenor yelps, Grammy in husky whoops. Neither of them did anything that could be called a proper honk, yet they were rarely silent.

But after that morning we found Grammy limp in our ditch, Goosifer spent hours each day in noisy vigil, trundling down to the roadside where he'd stand, calling and calling. It pretty much stopped once the feed store ducklings got big enough to hang out with, but even then, I'd sometimes find him down there and have to haul him back up to the yard.

By that time, my relationship with him had reached an uneasy peace. He still wasn't crazy about me, but he would come when I'd call and let me pick him up and pet him for a while on the slatted wooden swing. Whenever I was outside – weeding, tending horses or grilling dinner, Goosifer was underfoot.

He was noisy as ever, but sometimes he'd pause to gently nibble my pant leg as he had when he was a gosling or snake his neck around coquettishly until I reached down to stroke his head or ruffle his breast feathers. A word about the tactile pleasures of goose down: Attached to its warm, well-fed owner, there's nothing more sleekly luxurious.

Of course, soon as Goosifer tired of my affections, he'd try to nip me, but after seven years, I was a skilled enough gozzard to recognize his poised-to-strike pose in time to sidestep him.

But the very fact that I still had to worry about being attacked by my own pet goose simply illustrates my original point — geese are not good.

They're not good for all the reasons I've enumerated above and for this final one: Should anything ever happen to your damned goose — if one dark night, something big sneaks from the woods and grabs it, and the last you hear of your goose is its ragged, fading shriek — it will break your gozzard's heart in a way that's truly awful.

And you will not be able to let on what's happened or tell anyone outside of your family that you're in some sort of absurd mourning, because really — what kind of fool falls in love with a goose?