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Make Way for Goslings

by on May 13, 2020 5:00 AM


We’re godparents!

Franklin and Eleanor Goosevelt, the only creatures we’ve seen regularly since we were all told not to breathe on each other, hatched goslings last week.

It was hard to tell how many, at first. The President and First Lady like to keep their social distance, so we were trying to count yellow fluffballs that from afar looked like streetlamps on a foggy night in San Francisco. 

If there were five, we were naming them Anna, James, Elliott, (FDR) Junior and John after the five Roosevelt children. On closer inspection the other day, we saw that there were six. Since we had used up Franklin and Eleanor’s names, we turned to the other illustrious branch of the Roosevelt family and took the liberty of naming the sixth one Alice, after Teddy’s daughter.

We subsequently learned that TR’s kids generally had cooler names than their distant cousins -- Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, Quentin, Alice and TR III -- but at this point the ink is dry on the clutch certificates and it would be difficult to change the names without a lot of honking and hissing. 

As Alice herself once noted, the two branches of the Roosevelt family "have always been in different camps, and the same surname is about all we have in common.” She voted for Herbert Hoover rather than her kinsman in the 1932 election.

Looking up Alice Roosevelt Longworth was time well spent. Some fun facts: 

  • As a child, she had a pet snake named Emily Spinach.

  • She was such a handful that her daddy said, "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

  • When the Roosevelts had to make way for the Tafts, Alice buried a voodoo doll of the new First Lady on the White House grounds. 

  • She once said, "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me" – and had the words embroidered on a pillow.

Given their penchant for pooping everywhere and what Wikipedia refers to as their “confrontational behavior,” you are perhaps surprised at our fondness for a family of geese. Don’t think of them as a pest species. Think of them as surrogates. 

Our granddaughters, Penelope and Elleka, live 1,600 and 2,800 miles away, respectively. We use electronic devices to chat with and gaze upon them almost every day, but we all know that video calls are no substitute for in-the-flesh togetherness, especially when it comes to cuddly children whom one has not cuddled in eight months.

At 8 months old, Elleka is delighting in the racket the human voice can make. She grunts, growls, hoots and hollers. She appears to be having a blast, literally. 

At 21 months, Penelope is working from home. A recent video clip caught her standing at a laptop, a vision of ergonomic correctness. 

“Email,” she said, solemnly.

“Are you checking your email?” Sylvie asked her. 

“Yeah,” she said. 

“What else are you doing?”

“Letters,” Penelope said, though it sounded more like “lettuce.”  

“Are you having a meeting?” her mom asked.


“Are you having a Zoom meeting?


Mom was obviously interrupting. Penelope’s look said, "I can either run the country or I can attend to you, Mom, but I cannot possibly do both."

But back to our surrogates. Nature has slipped into the silent cities and towns this spring: bears in Seattle, mountain lions in Boulder, raccoons and coyotes everywhere. In moving, temporarily, out to Spruce Creek, where humans are greatly outnumbered by every other kind of living thing, we have slipped into rackety nature. The creek flows 50 feet from our back door. A wooded flank of Rothrock State Forest rises from its opposite bank. 

In addition to the geese, there are the usual backyard robins, cardinals and catbirds that perch on the fenceposts, peck at the grass and flit among the bushes and trees; higher up, the thrashers and sapsuckers; way up, the vultures, hawks and eagles; and skimming over the creek like planes coming down a runaway, the stubby kingfishers and gangly herons. 

Still, after reading that nearly 3 billion birds have vanished from North America in the last half century, I wonder what I’m not seeing. 

Away from the creek is rural Pennsylvania at its springy loveliest, with woods and fields, farms and furnaces, steep slopes and rolling meadows, the natural and the manmade in rarest harmony.

When we left Greece in March, we knew we were coming home to a fiasco, but had no idea the Hellenic Republic would become a shining example of a government that acted quickly and decisively and a people that largely complied with the government’s regulations and recommendations. 

It’s tempting to say we should have stayed where we were, but then we wouldn’t have experienced all this beauty a half-hour from State College. And we wouldn’t have met Franklin and Eleanor and now, their six little fuzzballs.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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