Every family tradition begins with a single incident. It may have occurred so long ago that no one in your family can remember why, but there was a first time that someone thought it was a great idea for everyone to jump in the frozen lake on January 1st. And it was so darn enjoyable that first time, your clan has kept it going.
My wife and daughter aren’t entirely sure how their tradition began, but I’ve been watching it happen for many years now. It probably started with Jen (our daughter) getting a little rubber ducky as one of her Christmas gifts, back when her age was in single digits.
Sally (my wife; Jen’s mother) thinks perhaps she was gently reminding Jen to pick up her room one day, so she put the duck on the bed or some other conspicuous place.
The response from Jen may have been to hide the duck in her mother’s purse; historians aren’t sure. However it started, a tradition was born and those two have been surprising each other with toy ducks ever since.
In the early years of the tradition, the duck hiding places were fairly simple. One would be found in a closet, for instance, having been tucked away in a winter boot since the previous summer. Over time, the schemes became more elaborate. When Jen went off to college, a rubber duck was lurking in her belongings when she got to her dorm and unpacked.
Sally and I once checked into a hotel and found a duck on the pillow in our room. Jen had somehow persuaded the hotel staff to place it there before we arrived.
In a fancy restaurant one night, the servers brought our meals from the kitchen and presented them. As the cloches were removed with a flourish, voila! — all that was on Jen’s plate was a rubber ducky. One suspects that Sally may have conspired with the maître d’.
At the wedding of our son Brian, Sally and I came down the aisle with him. At the appropriate moment, we each gave him a hug and then turned to be seated. Somehow a duck had found its way onto Sally’s chair.
The ultimate surprise duck happened a year ago today — July 20, 2012. Jen was in a hospital for major surgery — specifically, she was donating a kidney to her husband.
The day had begun very early; Jen had to be in pre-op at 5:30 a.m. We got her to the hospital and began the long wait. We knew she had an outstanding surgical team and were confident all would go well, but still — you can’t help being a little tense.
Hours went by and finally the surgeon, Dr. Peter Kennealey, came out and gave us the good news we had been waiting to hear. And — you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? — he also gave Sally a rubber ducky from Jen (see photo).
Personally, I think Jen and Sally should retire the tradition, because I don’t see how a surgeon handing over a duck he supposedly found inside a patient can ever be topped. But my guess is that those two will somehow manage to keep this silly tradition going.
By the way, that particular duck now has a place of honor in our home (I’m not allowed to divulge its whereabouts). And I’m happy to say that the donor and recipient — of not only the duck, but more importantly, the kidney — are thriving.