For weeks and months, my husband spends hours poring over the computer search engines seeking out the “must see” sites for our next vacation. He plans our days, all the side trips, the must see historical and geographical sights. He verifies repeatedly that hundreds of people recommend everything we will do. He has our vacation mapped completely.
And then we stumble on the unexpected, serendipitous moments.
As we did in Boston en route to my cousin’s home in Maine. My husband’s list for our short day there took us to the Harvard Museum of Natural History with its impressive, 120 year-old collection of glass flowers. We spent a couple hours looking at glass flowers and other displays. After lunch we followed a well-worn trail through the city visiting buildings, churches and graveyards with stories from the American Revolution.
As we wandered back to the van, I spied a corner tourist shop with a copy of Robert McCloskey’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings” in the window. It was a souvenir shop, not a book store. Why did they have that book on display?
I moved in for a closer look at the one book both my husband and I remember from our childhoods.
In the book, McCloskey relates the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s search for a safe place to raise their family. They fly over several famous spots in Boston (all drawn from the duck’s perspective) before they find the Public Garden in the center of Boston. They land in the lagoon beside the boats shaped like swans. The people in the boats toss them peanuts to eat. Mrs. Mallard decides to settle in the Public Garden – until a bicyclist nearly runs her over.
They choose another spot for their nest of eggs. While Mrs. Mallard sits on the eggs, they meet policeman Michael who feeds them peanuts every day.
After the eight ducklings, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack and Quack hatch, Mr. Mallard leaves to explore the area. He tells his wife and ducklings to meet him at Boston’s Public Garden in a week. Going to the garden means the ducklings must walk down the sidewalks and cross the busy streets of Boston. Only the quick eye and phone calls of Policeman Michael keep Mrs. Mallard and the eight ducklings safe. The ducklings and their mother meet Mr. Mallard near the lagoon where they settle down to enjoy the treats tossed from the Swan boats.
The clear, clean line drawings of the book and its great attention to detail earned McCloskey the 1942 Caldecott Award. The simple story still entertains children.
Inside the souvenir shop, we discovered that in 1987, a statue of Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings was created for Public Garden in Boston. In 1991, Barbary Bush, gave a duplicate sculpture of the ducks to Raisa Gorbachev as part of the START Treaty. The work is displayed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park.
Going to the Public Garden was not on our schedule. We did not have detailed driving instructions to the park.
I didn’t care. I wanted to see this statue to the ducklings – if we had time. Our short day in Boston had hit the supper hour. We still had a three hour trip to reach our destination that night.
I said, “it will be okay, if we don’t stop and try to find the statue.”
I said that but I didn’t mean it.
We decided to add a few minutes to our departure from Boston. Hoping to quickly see them from the street, we drove three long blocks around the park surrounded by four and six-lanes of traffic. As we rounded the third corner I gasped, “look at that ice cream truck! They have the picture of the ducklings crossing the road with Policeman Michael stopping traffic for them.”
The picture was painted in the original brown tones across the back door of the truck. The vanity license plate, “Swan,” verified that we had found the park.
Traffic flow forced us to keep moving, keep searching as eagerly as Mr. and Mrs. Mallard for a place to land. After a second time around the park – with a long stall behind the ice cream truck to take its picture – we finally found a parking spot. A local person directed us to the ducks a short walk away from our parking spot.
The small statues, close to the ground, two or three times their normal size, warrant a steady flow of visiting children and adults approaching them, touching them and sitting on them. They keep Mrs. Mallard’s head shiny and the ducklings polished.
I snapped photos of the line of ducks with and without children. I posted a picture on my Facebook feed. I burst into my cousin’s home talking about the ducks and still am thrilled with our serendipitous discovery in the Public Garden of Boston.
(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org)