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Peacocks, Vanity, and the Possibility of Redemption

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“Vain as a peacock,” we used to say, back when vanity was a vice rare enough to be remarked on. I used to have an aunt who, like Flannery O’Connor (probably their only similarity), loved all sorts of barnyard fowl. She lived on the family farm, breeding, raising, and selling all sorts of chickens, ducks, geese, and their eggs, as well as more exotic kinds of birds, such as rheas (a cousin of the better-known ostrich, native to South America). Each of these bird species has its own native personality; you couldn't act around a goose the same way you could with a duck, for instance. Geese are bossy and territorial and, if you stray into a part of the farmyard where the goose doesn't think you should go, it will bite you on the backside (yes, it will “goose” you).

The rheas, tall stately birds with a kind of innate dignitas, were my aunt's favorite -- they had a special pen with a high chain-link fence, intended to keep them safe from predators. Rheas mate for life, which tur…

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