Geese and swans may mate for life but, experts say, ducks do not.
That’s too bad, because I was all set to compare my parents, Bill and Marion Biebel, of Wilkes-Barre, who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary today, to a pair of mallards.
Our whole family has ducks on the brain nowadays because my dad wrote a 32-page children’s book — in rhyming couplets — about a whimsical group of webfoots that he knew his grandkids, William and Mia Rose, would like. He illustrated it with his own colored-pencil hand sketches.
The artwork, similar to the way he’s decorated letters and birthday cards for years, prompted friends to ooh and aah, but traditional publishers weren’t interested.
However, Mom valued Dad’s labor of love enough to dip into her savings and pay for Mascot Books of Herndon, Va., to print 250 hard-cover copies of “The Mallard Family.” She insisted on paying for it herself, though my sister and I, and our husbands, wanted to chip in.
The Saturday before last, my mom called me to say eight boxes of books were on their porch. Since I live almost next door, it took only a minute or so for me to rush over. As I approached, I saw the two of them struggling with the boxes — Dad was trying to push one with his cane — and it was hard to see fresh evidence they’re not as strong as they used to be.
After I carried the boxes into their house, Mom and Dad cheerfully admired the books. They felt even better the next day when I reported I had shown a few copies to my fellow choir members and quickly sold a dozen. Within a week, the total purchased or ordered by church folks was more like 45. I almost couldn’t believe it.
People said they loved the illustrations of four ducklings hatching and learning to swim and fly. They chuckled over the pictures of one duck having an amusing little mishap similar to something Dad observed in real life, on one of his many fishing and hiking adventures.
A retired kindergarten teacher named Karen Smith, from Duryea, said children appreciate the kind of rhyme scheme Dad wrote into the text. Another retired teacher, Frances McCormick from Laflin, called it “a real Pennsylvania book” as she read it aloud in the church community room, pointing out the wild azalea and skunk cabbage, tadpole and killdeer and all the other plants and animals Dad had drawn and labeled.
Dad wasn’t there to hear Frances read aloud; he doesn’t get around as much as he used to.
Still, he knows people are buying the book, especially after the choirmaster suggested he autograph some of them. When I returned to the choir loft with copies inscribed to Mackenzie, Savannah, Harper Rose and other young relatives of the singers, people were really impressed with his calligraphy-style handwriting.
“He courted my mom with that penmanship,” I told one of the sopranos.
Dad was a GAR High School grad, home on leave from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1953 when he noticed a young woman in church. He decided to write her a letter and asked someone her name. That person mistakenly told him the young woman’s name was Bertha.
So Dad wrote a letter in his flowing penmanship, and sent it to the home of Mom’s cousin Bertha Rauscher, who realized it was intended for her cousin Marion Rauscher and hand-delivered it to her.
Mom was a graduate of the former St. Nicholas High School, who had decided not to use her ($200) full tuition scholarship to (then) College Misericordia because she already had a good job as a service rep at the old Bell Telephone Co.
Many young women, each recruited from a different high school during a hiring wave, worked there together like a close-knit sorority. In their off time, they played softball, rode bicycles around Harveys Lake — and attended each other’s bridal showers.
On May 4, 1957, it was Mom and Dad’s turn to exchange those for-better, for-worse vows, in the former St. Boniface Church, where he had first noticed her.
Before they retired Dad, who is 86, worked as a draftsman at Lacey, Atherton & Davis and Dorr-Oliver and, for most of my youth, at Foster Wheeler Energy Corp. in Mountain Top. Mom, who is 82, gave up her Bell Telephone job to stay home when my sister and I were growing up, but later worked at Blum Bros. clothing store, the Hanover Bank and the Osterhout Free Library.
Speaking of the Osterhout, my parents will donate at least one book to the children’s section.
But the giving doesn’t stop there. Mom and Dad want to donate all their proceeds to worthy causes.
If someone buys “The Mallard Family” at St. Nicholas parish office on South Washington St. in Wilkes-Barre or at Bedwick Pharmacy & Gifts on Hazle Avenue in Wilkes-Barre, St. Nicholas Church will benefit. If you buy a copy at the Lands at Hillside Farms in Kingston Township, that gem of sustainable agriculture — which is home to some real live ducks — will benefit.
Mascot Books suggested the retail price should be $14.99, but we’ve discounted that to $10 at these local outlets, to make it more accessible. It’s not about the money, you see. It’s about sharing something beautiful … something almost as beautiful as … well, as mating for life.