Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mr. Gizzard: A Paean

A year or two ago, my parents somehow (I’m still not entirely clear on how this came up) got into a conversation about owl pellets. My mother, who knows quite a bit about animal life, explained that owls grind up food in their gizzards, and that the digestible parts go on to their stomachs while the bones, fur, feathers, and other general ickiness get lumped into pellets that are then regurgitated.

As she explained the various steps in owls’ eating, my father observed, “So, they have a basic mammalian digestive system, then.”

“Um…no.” After my mother had explained a little more (including the distinctions between birds and mammals), she teased, “Haven’t you noticed how, as we and our friends are all getting older and more and more things are ailing us, no one ever complains about their gizzard?”

Not missing a beat, my father said, “That’s because the gizzard is always the last to go.”

I mention this story not to make fun of my father’s confusion over avian vs. mammalian digestion but to illustrate some of the many things I admire about him.

First, he’s never afraid to admit his ignorance of something, even though he’s one of the least ignorant people I know (and for those inclined to mock the gizzard incident, how many of you know that snails make their own shells, huh?). [Oooh, and as a side note, it just occurred to me that Gizzard Incident would make a great band name.]

Second, he’s one of the funniest people I know. He helped me come up with a number of my pun-ny departmental-talk titles back when I was in grad school—and the ones he didn’t help with he still inspired. (“Sex and the Single Crab,” “Home Is Where the Hurt Is,” “Scents and Sensibility”—the list goes on.) He’s also the best joke teller I’ve ever encountered.

Finally, one of the things I like best about my father is also illustrated in his responses to the natural world. My father is not an outdoors-y person (why eat outside amongst insects when you can be bug-free—and near a DVD player—in your own home?), and he’s always avoided nature documentaries, claiming that animals have no plot. My mother got a birding scope for her birthday; my father got gift certificates to the movie theater.

At the same time, though, whenever something in the natural world amazes, baffles, or delights him, he never hesitates to express his fascination or astonishment. Nor has he ever felt it to be somehow weak or beneath him to notice when an adorable animal is cute.

[is this cute or what?]

And why should he pretend otherwise? Unlike so many people, he’s got nothing to prove, and he’s open-minded enough to acknowledge when something is interesting, even if—as with a midnight trip to the beach to watch for horseshoe-crab mating—it’s not something he would seek out on his own.

It’s that complete lack of posturing, that profound sincerity, that I admire so much, and it’s a sincerity that pervades his actions and relationships generally—including those with his daughters.

I may not know if he knows that barnacles are crustaceans or that chicks have egg-teeth—but I’ve never had to wonder or worry about how he feels about me.

Thanks, Dad.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Good Ol' Ant said...

Your father should be both very proud and humbled to have you as a daughter. I can picture his gizzard beaming with pride.

squirrel said...

Nice tribute and nice blog. cjennings agu

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