Ducks, Racism, and the Great State of Texas
For six years, in the 1980’s, I lived in the metropolis that is Houston, Texas. Living in the South is something that many Californians don’t like admit to. I also lived in Oklahoma as a child, but I guess that doesn’t count. Texas, on the other hand was an adult choice.
When my future hubby number three, Lee, came home one day and said, “I’m going to move 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. After letting the idea sink in for a moment, I was ready to say “hast la veesta, baby,” but the picture of an adventure, living somewhere other than the smoggy, busy, rush, rush world of Southern California, 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 elvin glasses, I was convinced that Houston was a paradise undiscovered.
Oh, silly me. Everyone was discovering Houston in the early 1980’s. It was a boomtown. People from all over the country, and the world, were flocking there like seagulls at a herring fest. I was less world-aware in those days and barely knew who was 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, Lee went ahead to check in with his new job and find a house. 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 he would be driving, then headed for Houston. This was in December. 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. I had just gone through the lovely Houston springtime when the world explodes with wildflowers. Then came the dreaded southern summer. 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. But, 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 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,”, got a curly perm for the hot weather, and ate crawfish. I had a vegetable garden with the required Okra and peanuts. My roses had the badge of Texas honor—black spot. But, most importantly of all, I learned to crush 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 had post Civil War attitudes about any one other than white, protestant, Texans. There was a deep racist tradition in Houston that, was, but hopefully is no longer, nearly impossible to uproot. Like the crab grass in my English 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, and 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, manicured lawn, pool-sporting subdivision that was as white and straight-laced as a Victorian bridal gown. People got to know their neighbors in Houston. 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, Afro-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, I, with Lee, and cat, 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 are fed and have a pond, ducks don’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 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 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 dumb, I gave them away.
Well, life was good in the country, except for Lee. I still didn’t like him much, but that, as they say, is another show. I want 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 one’s 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 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 ducks, but the mothers were clever about hiding their nests. I would sometimes look out the window into the back yard 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 when I leave suburban Southern California again (and I surely will), 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?