Ducks, Racism, and the Great State of Texas
For six years, in the 1980s, I lived in the metropolis that is Houston, Texas. When my future hubby number three, Lee, came home one day and said, “I’m moving to Texas. Will you come with me?” I was flabbergasted. We had been on the brink of splitting up for a long time and I was thinking of leaving. I was ready to say “hast la veesta, baby.” But, after letting the invitation sink in for a little while, I changed my mind. The idea of an adventure and living somewhere other than the smoggy, busy, rush, rush world of Los Angeles, took on a sparkly glamor that I couldn’t resist. I said yes.
Being the inveterate researcher I am, I looked up Texas in the Library (that’s a place with books (information printed on paper pages and bound together)—popular before personal computers and Internet). I watched the weather reports on TV for temperatures and climate. I knew everything about its history and culture, or so I thought. Looking through rose-colored glasses, I was convinced that Houston was an undiscovered paradise.
Oh, silly me. Everyone was discovering Houston in the early 1980’s. It was a boomtown. People from all over the world were flocking there like seagulls at a herring fest. I was less world-aware in those days and barely knew the name of the President of the United States, let alone that there was a recession on and Houston had jobs to hand out like girl scout cookies.
So, in December,Lee went on ahead to check in with his new job and find a house for us. I stayed in West Los Angeles to take care of the packing and readying. He came back a month later and we stuffed the iconic Uhaul with everything we could. He would be driving that and I would tootle along in my car. that he would be driving. Oh, how I luvs me a road trip. In my little red Chevy Nova that people warned me not to buy, my cat, Jezebel, and I were off to Xanadu.
Skip ahead a few months. Winter was over and I had just gone through the lovely Houston springtime when the state explodes with wildflowers. I was in ecstasy until the dreaded southern summer landed on us like a hammer. Blankets of wet heat descended on the city. Sidewalks never dried after the nearly daily rain, mildew everywhere, flying cockroaches as big as Godzilla. What the F! had I let myself in for? We lived in air conditioning 24/7. The nights were as suffocating as the days. I learned what sweating really meant. I adapted as much as possible and tried to ignore the breath-stealing sauna that was Houston in the summer.
I figured that since I was going to be there a while, I had to ditch the California license plate on my car because Texans, at that time, hated the Californians swarming in and spoiling their nice little town. I bought cowboy boots, learned the Texas two-step and other indigenous ritual dances. I drank beer from the bottle, said, “y’all.” I got a curly perm for the hot weather. I even ate the disgusting little bugs that are crawfish. I had a vegetable garden with the required Okra and peanuts. My roses had the badge of Texas honor—black spot. We had ducks in the backyard and a few beehives, too. But, most important of all, I learned to squash cockroaches with my bare hands. YEAH!
However, all was not Pleasantville. “Houston, we have a problem.” There was a dark undercurrent that slimed everything it touched. Most of the true Texans I met suffered from post Civil War attitudes about anyone other than white, Protestant, Texans. There was a deep racist tradition in Houston that is impossible to uproot. Like the crabgrass in my garden, even a tiny speck of root left in the ground can sprout a jungle. Many Southern whites in Texas, in the 1980’s, weren’t at the point where they even tried to hide their resentment of blacks, Asians, and Mexicans. This outraged me, so I mainly hobnobbed with transplants like myself. Fortunately, there were plenty to choose from.
Growing up, I lived in integrated neighborhoods and went to integrated schools. Race was not an issue with me, my mother, and brother. My father, however, was as bigoted as can possibly be, but we ignored his attitudes as unenlightened. Race or ethnicity was a non-issue for us.
In Houston, Lee and I lived in a nice, middle-class “subdivision” where every house had a manicured lawn. Our neighborhood was as white and straight-laced as a Victorian bridal gown. It was nice though to live in a place where people got to know their neighbors. Ours were decent, church-goin’ folk. They didn’t know we were heathens. When one of our neighbors moved out, we were sad to see them go. The house stayed empty for a while, then a lovely family, a doctor, his beautiful wife, and their two children moved in. Wonderful! Educated, well-read people with a good attitude about life. I was thrilled. But hold on there Sherlock, there was something amiss. The other neighbors were not happy about the new family. They were, cue dun dun ta dun music, African-American (not the words the disgruntled Texans used).
This was the last straw for me. We decided it was time to get out of Dodge and bought a home on the outskirts of town in a country neighborhood of custom-built homes. We had a large yard with Virginia Pine trees, a water well, and a huge fireplace that could heat the whole house. So, Lee and I along with the cat, Jezebel, settled into our gravel-road house where we didn’t have to talk to our neighbors.
We tried to bring our ducks with us, but when Lee went to capture them, they all flew away. Oops, we didn’t think about that. As long as they were fed and had a pond, the ducks didn’t try to escape. Two weeks later, we got a phone call from our old neighbor, “Would y’all kindly come and retrieve y’all’s ducks. They’re takin’ over my pool, and sh&^^#%@ up a storm.” Lee tried, but they just kept flying away. I guess they found somewhere else to live, or our neighbor feasted on duck dinner for a while. We never heard from him again.
One lazy Sunday, reading the classified section in the Houston newspaper, I found an ad for peacocks. Peacocks! How cool is that? We drove out to see them and ended up buying a mated pair. I loved their echoing calls “Yhellp! Yhellp!” I loved that they slept in the top branches of our tall Pine trees, or on the roof. Let me tell you though, peacocks are stupid. They are dumb as a stump but curious about everything and will walk right into trouble. It’s their beauty that keeps them viable as a species. I just wish I had saved the feathers. Speaking of stupid, I gave them all away.
to talk about my ducks. I love ducks, especially mallards. So, one day Lee and I went to the local feed store and bought a flat of newly hatched Mallard ducklings. When we opened the box, we discovered that one of the ducks was yellow and a bit larger than the rest. We named him Bubba.
The next day, I dug a pond and gave them a little push. They were as happy as baby ducks can be. They thought I was Mom and followed me everywhere. They would run around the yard, peeping, flapping their tiny almost-wings, and playing.
The little ones would run through the chain link fence that divided our yard from the neighbors. They liked his porch better than ours for some reason. The big guy couldn’t fit through the hole. While the babies were flapping, peeping, pecking and gossiping, He would cry and cry, at the top of his voice, running up and down the fence trying to find a way through. It broke my heart. When the babies all came scurrying home for food, Bubba was overjoyed.
Bubba was a large, white Pekin and towered over the others. No one seemed to mind, and Bubba was just happy to have a family.
Ducks are funny creatures so oblivious to humans, except at feeding time. It’s a delight to watch them go about their life as if we didn’t exist. Social creatures, they mate for life and the mother takes care of her young with a ferocious protective instinct.
As ducks will do, they mate, nest, and lay eggs. We tried to gather the eggs before they hatched because we were getting too many, but the mothers were clever about hiding their nests. I would sometimes look out the window into the backyard and see a momma, leading her babies to the pond. Peep, peep, quack, quack, she would teach them to swim. Very cute. Very fun to watch.
The problem was that we were getting so many ducks, we had to get rid of some. I would
NEVER kill them for food, so when they became “teenagers,” we would herd and donate them to the local organic feed store. The farmers liked them as pest controllers. Ducks will eat the bugs and leave the produce mostly alone. Plus they provide good fertilizer and delicious eggs (when you can find them).
I miss my ducks, even after all these years, and if I ever leave Southern California again, I am going to have ducks. In the meantime, I go to the local man-made lake at Dos Lagos shopping center (or as my friend, David, calls it, Dos Pondos) to get my duck fix. I especially like to watch the children feed them. Ducks so unabashedly enjoy life and revel in the simplest pleasure. Perhaps, if we humans could relax into a rhythm of simplicity and tolerance with no regard for color or race, we would all be happier. After all, the gentle giant, Bubba, to our Mallards was just one of their brothers. Quack.
Leave a comment. I love comments. What animals do you love? What about them is special?