Leroy the Goose


by Terry Hogan


Recently Louise and I took a trip to New England.  Part of the trip was dedicated to visiting old friends and neighbors in the northwest corner of Massachusetts.  We lived there in the mid-70's, in the midst of dairy farms and families inter-related by marriages over the generations of the small rural community.  It was, at least in my eyes, a risky business.  It has been my experience that friendships drift apart over the years.  You can't go back.  But I was wrong.


We stayed with our former next door neighbor, Betty, who lives just down the road from where we lived some 30 years ago.  She was our oldest daughter's surrogate grandmother, her real grandmother living some 1,000 miles away.  This part of Massachusetts is the New England dairy land of calendars with running hills and rock outcrops softened by juniper and white birch, immune from the dairy cattle grazing.  It is the land of spring maple syruping, with the large maples being tapped for the sap running up and down the tree with the diurnal changing of temperatures. 


Betty is a little grayer than she used to be and takes a little longer to get from point a to point b, but she is of good spirits and lives alone in the old, old farmhouse and the adjacent red New England barn.


Betty has been long retired from the responsibilities of farming, but that is not to say she is without farm animals.  She has her own unique collection of farm animals.  It is like a retirement home for aging animals.  There is Leroy, the 16 year old goose who rules over and protects all the domesticated animals, with the exception of Tom.  Tom is her black cat that is about 16 years old, as well.  Tom spends most of the day outside, but spends his nights indoors, safe from larger and younger predators that still roam this part of New England.  Tom and Leroy live in peaceful coexistence. Each knows his job, and their responsibilities do not overlap.


Leroy oversees the ducks.  It is his job to lead them out of the barn in the morning and out to the relative safety of the nearby pond.  In the evening, he leads them back to the house and barn and under Betty's supervision; he leads them into the barn to be fed and locked up for the evening, also safe from predators.  Leroy takes his job seriously.  The ducks line up and follow him single file in both the morning and evening trek.


One of the ducks that he oversees and protects is Gray Lady.  Her age is uncertain, but she was the one that hatched Leroy out.  As Leroy is 16, that puts some serious years on Gray Lady.  She is the only arthritic duck I have known.  It takes her a little time to manage the step down from the barn door to the rock step and then to the grass.  Leroy and the others patiently wait for her to find her way down, and then they are off to the pond. They march, or at least waddle, in single file.  Normally Gray Lady is at the end of the line.  I wonder if she is proud of her exceptionally large offspring with the funny voice.


Leroy is also the "watch goose".  He is pretty vocal when any vehicle pulls into the driveway that separates the house from the barn.  He may be old, but he has a honk to be reckoned with. Nobody is going to arrive unannounced at Betty's house.


Both Tom and Leroy are creatures of habit.  Their "biological clocks" know when it is time for meals or snacks.  Tom gets his snack in the evening at about 10 minutes to 9.    About that time, he begins to loudly meow that it is time for his snack - a small piece of raw hamburger. Leroy and flock get their meal when it is time to be shut in the barn for the night. 


However, there is trouble in the animal retirement center.  It seems that neither Tom nor Leroy have adjusted their biological clocks to the November time change.  They are both set in their ways.  Hamburger and goose/duck feed are to be provided at the same time, without regard to what the clock says. So they get their food by sun time, not by the laws of man. Those New Englanders are a stubborn lot.


Watching the daily routine of Leroy, Tom, Gray Lady and the other animals that keep Betty as an unpaid servant, it is easy to understand Thorton Burgess's children books about animals.  He only wrote what he saw.