Saturday, October 31, 2015

That Quail, Robert

By Margaret A. Stanger

Orleans, Massachusetts, July 1962. Mildred and Tommy Kienzle know that a quail has a nest in their yard. They then notice that the nest is empty except for two eggs. One of the eggs was obviously damaged but the other was fine. They took it in the house more as a curiosity than from any expectation that it would hatch. In fact, they just left if sitting on the counter. But it soon became apparent that this egg contained a living chick and in three days, Robert made her first appearance.
She quickly made herself at home with the Kienzles and with the author, Margaret Stanger, who was a kind of godmother to the chick. Robert, named so because they believed she was a male until one day when she laid an egg, loved people. She was friendly and greeted visitors with a glad cry. She loved attention and she loved to snuggle.
Robert also loved going outside, where she chased and ate bugs, took dirt baths, and dined on vegetation. But she always wanted to be back inside after awhile. She never showed any inclination to leave the Kienzles and join the wild quail. She was courted, at one time, by a male quail, and did produce several eggs, but showed no interest in nesting or paying any attention to her clutch. None of the eggs hatched.
She wasn't kept locked up and she could have flown away at any time. But she never did. Sometimes she would fly up on to the roof and sit there briefly, but she always wanted to be back in the house with her family and friends.
Robert was quite a sensation in her time and acquired many admirers. Her guest book was filled with signatures from people who came to see the little quail for themselves. A postcard with her picture was even created for her fans.
Unfortunately, quail are not long-lived creatures and even the protected environment in which Robert lived did not extend her lifespan. But even though the time she spent with the Kienzles and Margaret Stanger was all too brief, she was greatly loved and greatly missed. She was a gentle, affectionate and amusing companion.  She rarely caused problems, her worst crimes being the time she knocked over a glass of juice because she wasn't getting enough attention, the time she took a bath is a dish of broccoli, for the same reason. And the time she took a bath in a bowl of flour just because it felt so good.

This was a fun story, despite its inevitable end. Robert required a lot of care but she also brought a lot of joy into the lives of those who knew her. I know she gave me joy just reading about her. A very sweet story about a very sweet and entertaining little bird.

On a side note, I encountered three terms that I had never come across before: spatchcock, keeping room and borning room.  Spatchcock in, "He [a dog] was most often in a spatchcock position, front legs stretched out before him and hind legs stretched out behind, laying on his stomach." So I looked it up and spatchcock refers to splitting a fowl open and spreading it out flat for grilling.
Keeping room, "The routine was for me to get my book, lie down on the day bed in the keeping room, spread the blanket on my middle and call Robert." A keeping room was a room next to the kitchen and thus warmer than the rest of the house in winter. So people would gather there in the evening and even sleep there at night. It is somewhat equivalent to a family room.
Borning room, "The red velvet hat [Robert's bed] was put in the carton up on a high shelf in the little bedroom off the kitchen which in these old New England homes is called the 'borning room.'" So this is a bedroom, as the author says, next to the warm kitchen, designed for the woman of the house to use while giving birth.

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