A little theme music to enhance the latest episode of: How Did They All Escape At Once? Brought to you by Preparation H
Mickey & Sylvia 1956
The Latest From Hooterville
Friday the 24th at 4PM, a citizen saw Commissioners Price and Smalldrige at a local real estate office (rumor central for one of our town’s bigots).
Who knows? Maybe they were just renting a place together so Price would be legal and they could meet whenever they want to confab about the weather, or whatever. They would never do anything wrong. They’re just doing what ex-commissioner Drew White and Commissioner Price were doing every day, before he got suspended by the Governor.
It's Read REDNAK Day!
An episode from Alce's childhood
Growing up I had all kinds of yard birds, domestic & wild. Wood Ducks, Mallards, doves, turkeys, chickens, guineas, pea fowl, fantail pigeons. . . . You get the idea. Like most kids I had Muscovy ducks, too. My experience with them was just like everyone’s - - they were more trouble than they were worth. The hens were okay, gentle enough and very good mothers. But, the drakes are stupid. Big balls of waterfowl testosterone, covered in feathers, and mean as a snake on a hot skillet. They fight each other and will attack anything that gets close enough. They have limited, if any at all, fear.
Of several, one pair in particular account for my memories of our experiences with Muscovys. The hen’s name was Henrietta. In her mind she was part pigeon because she spent as much time on our roof, the second story gables of our neighbor’s house, and even the roof of the court house in the town square about a mile away, as she did on the ground. She would fly onto the upstairs window sills, perch there looking over the court house lawn below and then bobbing her head as if to say, “Yeah, looks okay down there this morning.” she’d helicopter down to the grass to graze and snatch bread crumbs that the lunch crowd left purposefully for the birds.
She had some really cool flying habits. On the way home, Henrietta loved to fly onto the water of a pond a few blocks away from the house. There she’d take a bath, fly around and land waterski-style a couple of times and then she’d head for our yard. Her favorite trick was to fly down the street about five feet off the ground looking for an oncoming car. About a half block away she’d take some altitude and then at the last possible moment and with the precision of an attack bomber, she’d nosedive back down to the driver’s eye level and swoop just over the hood and roof of the startled driver. After passing, you could almost hear her giggling uncontrollably as she paused in mid-flight, shook herself down and pooped some duck crap as a salute to a well-played surprise.
People who didn’t know Henrietta reacted in many ways. Most of them negatively. Many called the police, so often in fact, that it became standard for the operator to inform the caller that, “That bird is a repeat offender. We’ll get a patrolman right on it. Thank you for the alert.”
Sometimes the cops would come by the house and tell my grandmother that we had to do something about the dare devil duck before someone had a heart attack. And she’d tell them that there were enough Yankees here already, trying to change everything about Florida. Maybe, she’d say, they should get rid of all the alligators, snakes, cock roaches, mosquito’s and no-see-ums, before they started worrying about low flyin’ ducks!
Muscovys apparently came from South America via Mexico and supposedly there are even wild ones in Mexico and south Texas. In the wild they are black with white markings on the wings. Domesticated, they are a patchwork of black on white, brown, gray, solid white, and sometimes lavender. Males and females both have black and red faces. The red being bulbous carbuncles growing from the base of their bills that feel like a chicken‘s comb. The males exhibit raised feather crests on their heads when excited. The males also hiss and bob their heads forward and backward. Females have a muted quack, and a soft trilling coo. The birds have claws on the end of each toe. They’re used to climb low trees, or scale any object and to hold on when reaching the desired pinnacle. Hens can often fly quite well but males don’t often fly more than ten yards at a time. That could account for why they seem to be pissed off most of the time.
Muscovys are feral in every state of the union, Canada, and even in Europe. There are probably a few hundred thousand on the moon by now. They breed like rabbits. Even though they are tropical in origin, they can tolerate subfreezing weather better than polar bears. They crap more than they eat. “Nuisance” is a charitable description of this invasive species. A close relation of the cock roach is hard to prove scientifically but the similarities are hard to refute. History records that the ducks were found to be domesticated and exported to Europe as long ago as the discovery of America.
Someone who raised more than they could control started a propaganda campaign touting the excellent table fare of this bird. Many (who obviously made the same mistake of falling in love with this feathured pariah) have gone so far as to recommend the web footed plague as the ideal farm duck!
And they probably are if you do not wish to have anything else on your farm in the way of birds/animals.
The drake that lived in our yard and terrorized all the other birds, plus some, didn’t have a name. Well, he had names but it wasn’t polite, or in my case allowed, to use them in mixed company. He spent his day swaggering around the yard, hoping that Henrietta would fly in overcome with the urge to nest. As soon as a human or a four legged creature appeared in the yard the white, hissing, dragon with feathers would begin bobbing his head and wiggling his massive tail while warning the intruder with open billed hisses to keep their distance.
My grandfather (I called him my dad), George Izza., was retired, so he was around the house when not fishing, shooting quail or doing some friend’s books. He wore suspenders and underneath overalls, or pleated trousers on Sunday, he wore BVD underwear. These BVDs were shorts topped by what we call “muscle shirts” today. They had a button fly and a flap across the rear to accommodate using the john without having to undress completely. He only had a few pair and there was always at least one hanging on the clothes line out back, strung from a pulley at the back porch door to a post about fifteen feet away. This arrangement allowed my grandmother to wring out the clothes with the wringer washer on the porch and hang them without having to walk up and down the back stairs.
Our little cracker house was built on brick piers and constructed just before the turn of the century. True 2 x 6’s made up the floor with joists and 2 x 4 cripples. The walls were framed with 2 x 4’s and all this lumber was cut to true dimension, not shorted as today’s lumber material. The wood was milled from mature cypress. The roof was supported by cypress saplings about 5 inches in diameter, with one side flattened by hand with an awl, for rafters. The windows with weighted sashes were installed with the sills about eight inches from the floor and rose to within a foot of the ceiling. The interior walls were faced with heart of pine, beaded 1 x 4’s, applied horizontally and painted white with enamel. The floor was yellow pine, hand sanded and varnished bright. The front porch was screened with a painted floor and in the summer on the steamy nights, half the family would be sleeping on the porch twenty yards from the street with just a hook holding the world at bay at the screened door entry.
Sometime before the Great Depression a bath room and sewing room was added on the rear of the house. The sewing room became my room until I left home for the service in 1959. The outhouse was floored over and we used it for yard tools, chicken feed and storage. Five of us lived in this tiny house comfortably and the only time it got crowded was when my grandmother went on a rampage with the butcher knife, waving wildly as she singularly cornered each of us for our monthly derision of screaming torture - all this calamity while waving the butcher knife under your nose. I have often wondered why these outbursts always seemed to commence from the kitchen area. There must have been something in there that agitated her thyroid! Or - - -the kitchen was the prop room for these episodes.
One afternoon my dad went out back as usual to putter around and as he stepped off the last stair the big white Muscovy drake came around the corner hissing a very bad attitude. He went immediately for my grandfather’s ankles and my grandfather immediately began to dodge and kick like a South American World Cup player. When the first kick landed it just infuriated the drake more. My dad stopped dancing and place kicked the drake about fifteen feet across the yard. The drake got up, shook off the dust ruffling his feathers and hissing like a steam engine, charged my dad again.
The drake caught the next kick square in the chest and flew into the chicken wire fence behind the old outhouse. He didn’t get up and looking from my protected vantage point on the porch, I thought he was dead for sure . My dad was breathin’ pretty hard and he was showing signs of the angriest I’d ever seen him. Even angrier than he was when I shot the little gator after he’d told me four dozen times to “Leave that puppy alone, Alce.”
He walked over to the downed drake and the duck stood up - - - he ruffled his feathers and wagged his tail, but he didn’t hiss. My grandfather kicked dirt on the duck and he turned tail and ran away with a limp.
I looked at Daddy George and he broke out with a smile, “All the bullying that SOB has done in this yard he deserves a broken ass today!” We both laughed and laughed harder each time we looked at each other and my Grandfather swung his foot in an imaginary swift kick.
The next morning I was up at daylight getting ready for school. I was in the kitchen with my head in the refrigerator when I heard the familiar hissing out back. Stepping out onto the porch, I couldn’t believe my eyes, my heart jumped into my throat. Daddy George was goin’ to have a conniption fit when he saw this.
The dangling sacred BVDs had been pulled from the clothes line and the big white Muscovy was dragging them back and forth in the dirt, stopping to hiss and bob and then picking up the BVDs and dragging some more, turning them dark, dirt colored and even rolling them in the accumulated, freshly deposited, duck crap all over the ground under the clothes line. I said, “Damn!” the way any twelve year old would without thinking and behind me came the response, “That’s worse than damn, Son. Yep, Alce, worse than damn.” said my grandfather solemnly. “Go on in and get to school. I’ll see you when you get home. Me and this duck have a long needed reconciling’ to complete, right now.”
As my dad stepped out the back door the big Muscovy beat a hasty retreat around the corner of the house. I went in the kitchen and drank my glass of milk and I could see Daddy George flapping the dirt off the BVDs and hear him talking under his breath about “that no good SOB!” - - - the rest of which I couldn’t make out and I’m still to this day not sure I wanted to know what was being said by a kind, gentle man who had just been tested by the devil himself!
When I got home that afternoon the perfectly cleaned and skinned, 10 pound duck was hanging on the back porch taking some natural curing before going to the refrigerator. My grandmother said that it took about four hours before Daddy George cornered the big white drake, got the ax, and relieved the drake of his earthly misery. In the process she said, he cut his thumb on the ax blade just before the fatal stroke and it was hard to tell whose blood was all over the yard so thick that the garden hose made a mud bog before the execution evidence was dispersed!
Anyway, despite the incidental wounding, the BVD destroyer was dispatched now and Sunday dinner had been thoroughly discussed, planned, and was ready to be accomplished. Good riddance to bad manners and dire dispositions - - - anticipation was already building for the coming seventh day banquet.
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Sunday came soon enough. When we got home from church, the aroma filled the house and tickled the appetite of everyone. “We’ll eat in about an hour at twelve,” my grandmother announced. “You can make some toast and there’s fresh apple butter in the fridge. Just don’t fill up! We’ve got plenty of delicious duck and dumpling’s to eat today.”
“Amen!” I thought, and Daddy George simultaneously said the same thing out loud.
Well, we got called to the table right on the hour as the mantle clock struck high noon. The smell of this lunch was making everyone’s mouth water. Daddy George was smiling at the head of the table. My grandmother brought in all the side dishes and placed them strategically around the table, placing next to Daddy, a covered basket with the bread. Her second trip was for the carving fork and the steel butcher knife that served as the utility slicing instrument and her tantrum baton. Everyone knew without asking what the others were thinking at that moment.
My grandfather said the blessing . . . . Thanking the Lord, for making such a happy ending out of an annoying episode by an antagonizing member of the family’s yard bird population. We all laughed under our breath, and I said, “Amen, - - - - - - pass the potatoes!”
Daddy George started carving parts away from the duck carcass as the rest of us jabbered and passed around the side dishes. With a plate full of duck meat and dumpling’s slathered with white gravy my grandfather surveyed the table and released us from proprietary restraint with, “LET’S EAT!”. We all stared as he took the first bite.
His eyes widened, and he began to chew. He chewed for a moment, his subtle smile barely discernible. He chewed for a minute more and the smile dissolved completely, giving way to a furrowed brow. He continued to chew with determination, so I took my first bite as my stomach growled quietly beneath the napkin in my lap.
I chewed at the duck and the sinewy, gristled, red meat fought back. Looking around the table it was obvious that the heavenly aroma and delightful dumpling gravy was not the epicurean pre cursor to a gourmet feast. The Muscovy drake was tougher than shoe leather!
My dad’s face had gotten redder by the second. As discriminate as he could he spit the inedible duck meat into his napkin. His exasperated expression had brought deafening silence to the table. Outside an innocent mockingbird trilled in the crape myrtle by the kitchen window. Everyone at the table was anticipating the explosion. You see, my grandfather seldom, if ever, got outwardly angry. He never raised his voice in anger either, with few exceptions. So, we were all on edge in anticipation. He took a sip of tea. Wiped his hands with his napkin, then folded it and placed it beside his plate. He folded his hands together, “Well,” he began with a pause . . . .. . . .. . . . . . and then he burst out laughing uncontrollably. And so did we, my grandmother, my mother, my uncle and I.
We all knew who got the last laugh. I could swear I heard the familiar hissing outside the back porch. Daddy George heard it, too, and almost got up to go look. We looked at each other and laughed some more. He held out a leg dripping in dumplin’ gravy, but I shook my head no and laughed even harder making my gut hurt.
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