Dead ducks quack

This tale is part of an occasional series on my father’s family. 

ducks and dadDid you know that you can make a dead duck quack? If you press on the chest, a duck will quack. When I was a little girl, I used to help my father with dressing ducks after he returned from a shoot. My job was simple: pull the feathers off. My dad took care of the heads, feet and splitting of the carcasses. Mama’s job was to make gumbo or jambalaya with the end product.

I don’t recall being disgusted by this process. In fact, it was enjoyable. I remember the beautiful mallards, wood and poule d’eau ducks that daddy brought home in a bulging,  brown sack. I never went on the hunt. I wasn’t disallowed. I never had the desire to shoot ducks. No, my job was to wait for dad to come home with a big sack bulging with freshly killed ducks.

When daddy came home from a hunt, he carefully laid out his kill. He usually wanted a picture of his trophies. Most times, he hunted with his father or an older brother. The men would stand  or kneel with the ducks, posing  for the camera.

Then came the fun part. A few presses to the chest before beginning was the best part. The ducks moved reflexively to the touch, letting out a good quack with a push on the chest. After a few good quacks, I set to work, pulling feathers. We didn’t keep the feathers, although I know some people used them to make bedding. I sometimes kept a few feathers as souvenirs but truth be told, the feathers had sharp ends. After a few days, I generally discarded my trophies.

My father was not a learned man.  He graduated from high school with some difficulty due to an undiagnosed spelling and writing problem that today would be labeled as dyslexia. After high school, he attended  trade school to be a diesel mechanic. Whatever his deficits were in learning and schooling, he was an expert teacher.

I learned a lot from my dad. Even something as trivial as cleaning ducks, my father turned it into a learning experience. I learned about the different types of feathers on the body of a duck, the differing types of ducks, which ducks were prized and which were not. I learned what the limits were as set by the state of Louisiana.

My dad made a simple task like this quite fun. Instead of being repulsed by the dead animals or being put out since he often needed help during Saturday morning cartoon time, I enjoyed helping him. I probably did a terrible job when I was very young, but I cannot recall one time being corrected severely or made to feel inferior. However badly I did the job, my dad found room to coach me how to do it a little better next time. Except for an occasional reprimand when I became distracted by making the ducks quack, I can’t recall any negativity.

If my dad were alive, he would be 85 this month on Christmas Eve. He would be greatly surprised that I consider him to be a good teacher, given his lack of credentials. Yet, I do. He taught me quite a bit about any number of subjects, whether it was dressing ducks, motor repairs, or getting along with people. That’s not something to quack about.

Thanks Dad.

 

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Get Smart

While I was away for a short trip abroad, the heating and air-conditioning unit was replaced in my home.  When I got back, I admired the new shiny contraption that sat alongside the house. “Great,” I thought, I hope the new thermostat works.”

Cold-Clipart-21136-800x500_cMy older system had a thermostat that had two settings: very cold or very hot. It didn’t matter that numbers from 50 – 80 degrees  were pictured clearly above the dial. If one wanted air-conditioning, one turned the dial to cool.  No matter where the dial was set, it got very cold, very quickly and stayed that way.  I spent summers in the house in long pants and long-sleeves. In the winter, one used the heat setting, and my little house became a hot-box. Shorts and t-shirts were in order.

I didn’t want to change out the system. It was a cranky old unit,  but I had grown accustomed to its idiosyncrasy.

Now I had to adjust to a smart thermostat that could be programmed for the day, the week or even online. The technician kindly left a small booklet of instructions  filled with tiny words one could barely see with readers. After a vain attempt to locate a magnifying glass worthy of reading the minuscule print, I managed to read a few words with my bifocals.

“How smart can this little box on the wall be?” I thought.

It had become unseasonably cold in south Louisiana. I poked a few times at the new unit’s thermostat box. During the night I woke up sweaty and warm. I looked at the thermostat. It was a roaring 75 degrees, not the 62 I thought I had set.

I reset it, aired myself out a bit on the front porch and climbed back into bed. For a few hours all was fine. Then, the smart HVAC system did it again. It was back to roaring hot when I woke up.

As is often the case at this time of year, the days became warm again. Very warm. I changed the mode to cool. I punched in 75. I left the house. When I came home, the house was cold. Really cold. I knew before I entered the house that something was wrong. The windows were frosted. The doorknob was cold to the touch.

Now, the smart thermostat decided I did indeed want the house to feel like 62. I looked around the house for a quilt, a coat, gloves. I turned on the oven and threw open the doors to the house. The house warmed up, eventually.

I have a smart phone that’s smarter than me. It knows where I want to go and tells me so when I get into my car. I have a TV system that knows my viewing habits very well. In fact it can predict what I want to watch better than I can by browsing. Now, I have a smart thermostat that is smarter than me. It decides the climate of the house, not me.

Until I figure out how to use this new contraption, I am keeping all types of clothing out: shorts, t-shirts, sandals as well as sweaters, heavy socks and boots. I am prepared I suppose no matter the temperature outside or inside.

But this heating/cooling thing has got me thinking. Why don’t we live more in harmony with what Mother Nature is doing outside? When I was a young girl, we had one AC window unit in the house, to be used when mother saw fit. Generally she didn’t see fit. Too much electricity she reasoned when the same affect could be obtained in other ways. We cooled off by sitting in the shade of the two oak tress in the backyard. We ate chilled watermelon on a wooden table under the porch. We drank water from the hose. In fact we often were UNDER the hose too. A good dunk under the hose was a sure-fire way to get cool.

Schools were not air-conditioned until I reached the junior high in town.  We opened windows, operated fans, and learned as best we could when it was hot out. We didn’t need air-conditioning in the old white Buick, either. As mom sped along, we opened the windows and hung our heads out of the window.

Generally, winters in South Louisiana are mild. However, there were occasionally frosty mornings. In those cases, we bundled up. My dad believed in doing the job personally: he buttoned my overcoat to the very top button, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and provided me with matching hat and gloves.

get smart
Maxwell Smart never learned to use the shoe-phone. Getting smart is never easy.

I waited for the school bus like that, perspiring and red-faced,  waddling onto the bus as if I were dressed for a blizzard. I didn’t need a heated bus to get to school. I had layers!

It seems smart  to just go with the seasons. I got on well enough without central air and heat as a young girl. Maybe we should toss out the smart phones, wireless thermostats and central heating and cooling units.

Honestly that’s never going to happen. I am just as spoiled as my fellow southerners.  I want air conditioning and central heat. I just need to get smart and learn how to use the thermostat in my house.