The call over the police scanner was routine, a minor accident had caused a traffic hazard and an officer was sent to the scene.
The part that wasn't routine was what actually had caused drivers to pause. A mother duck was standing in the lane over the stilled body of one of her ducklings, who had been struck and killed.
The mother wouldn't move, as though she were observing ak'voh. Subsequently, cars didn't move — out of curiosity, perhaps, or trepidation, or uncertainty about what traffic law or driver protocol should be followed.
Maybe even out of respect.
Now, ducks get killed every day "» even young ones. Circle of life and all that melodramatic nonsense.
Still, out of the hundreds of scanner calls that filter through the newsroom on a given day, this one seemed to penetrate the white noise barriers and lead to a few audible reactions.
Some sighs here, a chuckle there. A "tastes like chicken" joke. And, all the while, the child was dead, the parent grieved, the police arrived on the scene.
I thought of my mother.
Best as I could remember, she wasn't a duck. But her police scanner was glued to her hip. If she changed rooms in the house, the scanner went with her. Down to the cellar to do the laundry, the scanner would echo back up the stairs.
Late at night, the Rockwellian image of my mother was of her was sitting in her rocker, chain-smoking Kools, sipping heavily milked coffee and listening to hear whether her husband or her children had done anything of interest that night.
Sometimes, she listened just to hear someone talk to her.
The scanner was a necessity, once the phone company took her party line away. If she had lived long enough to become fully invested in the Internet, there's no telling what websites would have caught her eye.
Home scanners might be an anachronism now; you can listen through the computer if you choose. And as anyone who listens to them as part of their job would attest, 103 percent of the calls are mundane.
Every once in a while something critical is learned, some fire or accident or (lately) drive-by shooting is recorded. On rare occasions, one man's torment is shared by those he'd never meet "» as in the empathetic groans elicited from the newsroom to a report of a broken catheter.
Some days, there is the inexplicable.
"Caller reports a 7-foot-tall, black male, shirtless, walking down Riverside, carrying a television set on his shoulder."
"Any further description?"
Good question that; for you wouldn't want to stop the wrong 7-foot black male walking shirtless down Riverside with a TV on his shoulder.
And, once in a while, there is a dead duck. Or a deer. Or a bear who'd had a chance encounter with a motorcycle up by Beckie's Cafe.
Just another dead animal in a world where animals die every day. Or as poet Virginia Hamilton Adair put it in "Ants On A Melon":
"(We) saw that hemisphere
blacken and rise and dance
with antmen out of hand
wild for their melon toddies
just like our world next year
no place to step or stand
except on bodies."
Police calls about children that weren't her own would bring out the amateur sociologist in my mother. A good kid gone bad was always someone's fault — most often "those kids" or the hippies who camped in front of the library.
It was a very tidy world that came through my mother's scanner speakers. Something happened, someone was at fault. And then to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts.
I don't know what she would make of the children in crisis these days, but I am glad she didn't live to listen to the scanner or the TV or the Internet about the Kentucky 5-year-old who used his "My First Rifle" gift to shoot his 2-year-old sister to death.
Or the Florida 3-year-old who found his uncle's gun in a bedroom drawer and killed himself. Or the New Jersey 4-year-old who was "pretend shooting" with a real rifle and put a fatal bullet through the head of his 6-year-old neighbor. Or the 13-year-old boy in Florida who accident killed his 6-year-old sister.
And, of course, there still are those 23 so-called "political props" — otherwise known as schoolchildren — resting underground in and around Connecticut for, as more than one voice against new gun laws has so delicately phrased it, "that Newtown thing."
Such is not the stuff of poets. The social ills are best left to folksingers.
"There they are, our children back out on these mean streets," Nanci Griffith wrote> "The evil sweeps them up and brings them to their knees. Because they're living in a time of inconvenience."
Now, humans get killed every day "» even young ones. That's why it's important, as one speaker at the recent NRA Convention said, to train kids in the proper use of firearms and, while you're at it, keep a locked gun-safe in your child's bedroom.
And it's never too soon to protect them, as Texas Congressman Steve Stockman reminded us on his campaign bumper sticker: "If Babies Had Guns, They Wouldn't Be Aborted."
So a mother duck has lost a child, not by a gunshot but simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the people who stopped or rubbernecked didn't chant "U-S-A-, U-S-A" as those outside an Arizona courthouse did when one-time Medford resident Jodi Arias was convicted of murder last week.
Out of curiosity or uncertainty or trepidation — or even respect — they bore witness to the natural process of raising a young one end instantly through the impact of a device mother and child had little understanding of and no control over.
And when the obstruction was moved out of sight, and the grieving mother escorted from the scene, life released its Pause button and yet another momentary distraction was in the rearview mirror.
Until the next time.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.