Make Way for (Elder) Ducklings!
By Karen O’Connor -
Parents of eight ducklings need a bit of help finding a safe place to raise their brood. During a rest stop in Boston’s Public Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard agree they just might have found the ideal spot. But when Mrs. Mallard and her darlings are stuck on a busy street in downtown Boston, their policeman friend Michael rushes in, stops traffic, and makes a way for them. And so goes the story, Make Way For Ducklings, the children’s award-winning classic by Robert McCloskey, published by Viking Press in 1941.
Perhaps there have been times in your life when you needed someone like Policeman Michael to make a way for you. I have! Especially now that I’m older. Sometimes I feel as though I’m invisible. I want to throw up my hands and say, “Look at me. I’m a person too. An older person, I know, but still a person. Make room for me, please. Couldn’t you at least acknowledge me?”
Maybe that’s why I pump iron and jog and hike. If I stay “buff” I won’t be overlooked so easily. Maybe my age won’t matter.
Well the time came when that almost occurred. One summer morning I jogged along the beach near my home wearing a pair of old shorts, a ratty t-shirt, and a bill cap to keep my hair from flying in my face. There I was––with my naked, lined face––and the rest of my body tagging along too!
I finished my run, wiped my face on the tail of my shirt, and slowed to a walk. Just then a teenager on a bike sailed past me, then stopped, turned around, and jabbed the air with his right thumb. “Not bad for an old broad,” he shouted, and then pedaled out of sight.
What nerve! Who does he think I am? Then I broke out laughing. At least he looked. He was rude, but he had made a way for me that day—a way to feel good about myself just as I was.
A year later my husband Charles and I were on our way to one of my speaking engagements. One evening at dusk we ventured out of the hotel where we were staying and walked up to the corner of Highway 1 and a cross street that led to a restaurant on the other side.
We were about to make a run for it (no traffic in either direction that we could see) when suddenly a small truck appeared. We back-stepped in surprise as it squealed to a stop. The driver leaned out the window and motioned us to cross. “Go right ahead.”
Kind enough, I thought, since he was in the wrong. We stepped in front of the vehicle, waved a “thank you,” and then started across.
“No problem,” he called after us. “We have to take care of our older folks!”
Darn! Here I am, fit as a farmer, but to this younger generation I’m still an “older folk!”
There’s something about that phrase that clangs in my ear. I’m not ready to listen to it. But maybe I should, since chronologically I am one. I surrendered, jumped off my high horse, and became willing to admit that people of any age can use a bit of support now and then. I decided to view the situation with new eyes.
That evening the young driver had been our “Policeman Michael,” making a way for two elder ducklings to cross the highway safely, so we could return home the following week and get back to the gym.