Inquiring minds have asked me why I have a thing for ducks and, specifically, duck butts. I think it can best be explained by letting you have a preview of something I've been writing off and on. So this, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. Sort of.
“It’s still my damned house!” The disembodied words coming from the
answering machine hit me right in the middle of my solar plexis and
propelled me straight up off the couch. Even in a fever-induced,
half-asleep haze, this unprovoked attack from the landlady had the power
to get my blood pumping. Normally, I would be able to take a deep
breath, consider my options and arrive at a reasonably calm response.
Today, however, was not one of those days. Sleep deprivation, a hacking
cough, and a 101 fever had lowered my civility bar. Substantially.
It could have been the fever, but there was a strange feeling of
euphoria as I gave myself permission to throw off the tenets of my
Southern Belle upbringing and let it fly this time. That whole Miss
Goody Two-Shoes persona was getting old. Besides, I couldn’t take deep
breaths to calm myself without coughing up a lung. To bolster my sense
of outrage, I listened to the message one more time, as I stabbed the
buttons on the phone and pulled up the weather forecast online.
“Good morning, Miss Willadean. What can I do for you this morning?”
“I’m sending someone over to winterize the cooler. There’s a storm
coming in, and I’m not taking a chance on the pipes freezing up! You
are always thwarting my workmen, and I’m not standing for it anymore.
If you don’t let this one in this morning, I’m giving you notice!” she
“First of all, Miss Willadean, the predicted overnight low is 48
degrees, according to the weather report I’m looking at online. I
hardly think we have to worry about pipes freezing. Second, there is
only a plastic water line running to the cooler. No pipes. Third, I
have sat here for days waiting for workmen to show up and they never
did. Finally, I am running a fever, and I do not want to deal with this
today. Besides, I’m pretty sure any workman you send over will not
appreciate being exposed to whatever creeping crud I have.”
“Can you at least unlock the gate, so he can get up on the roof?!” she barked.
“Sure, I can drag myself out of my sick bed, get dressed, go out,
unlock the gate, and dig the cooler cover out from under 20 boxes in the
garage.” I calmly replied, following up with some impressive
coughing. I might be willing to cooperate to a certain extent, but I
was definitely making the point that I was doing so at great personal
Without giving her the opportunity to respond, I continued “And, next
time, I would appreciate reasonable notice and a civilized conversation
before you call and leave nasty messages on my answering machine. Thank
you.” With that, I hung up.
Almost immediately, my imaginary, pesky, Pez-sized Southern Belle
conscience swooped down, landed on my shoulder and started scolding me.
In a move guaranteed to get me carted off to a rubber room if anyone
else ever witnessed it, I flicked the invisible, tiny tiara-wearer off
“Enough already,” I muttered to myself. “I don’t know who she thinks
she is, but you just don’t talk to people like that.” Then, I snarkily
added, “I’m not even gonna give her a ‘bless her heart’ this time!”
By now, any prospect of trying to take a healing nap was gone, but I
was definitely not going anywhere today. Even if I had felt like going
through the exhausting motions of showering, blow-drying, make-upping,
and dressing, the rest of the world was not gonna welcome me with open
arms. At least not without spraying me down with Lysol first.
“I want my mama.” I whined aloud to the empty house. Empty because
my husband, Josh, was out of town attending another seminar of some
kind. Seemed like he was always working. Nights, weekends, holidays.
“Oh, wah, pull up your Big Girl Panties and get with the program already.”
I was trying to decide how to get on with the day and do something
halfway constructive, between coughs, taking my temperature, and trying
not trip over the trailing end of the blanket I was wrapped up in, when
the phone rang again. “That had better not be Willadean throwing her
weight around again,” I growled to myself as I snatched the phone up.
“Mac’s Mule Barn, head jackass speaking!”
From the other end of the phone, I heard, “What?!” Followed by a
snort and the unmistakable belly-laugh of my best friend, Paula.
“Yes, Girlfriend, you heard it here first. According to Miss Willadean, apparently, I am a jackass,” I replied.
“Ooookay, Jackie, what did you do now?” Paula asked, with a note of wariness in her voice.
“Why does it have to be me that did something? I’m a good person. I
don’t go around cursing at people’s answering machines,” I snapped. And
then I laughed, realizing how bizarre that sounded.
“Okay, okay. Let me get some coffee, and you can fill me in on the latest happenings in Redneckville,” she said.
Paula and I have been friends for more than 20 years, since we both
ended up at the same air base in England. We were introduced by a
mutual friend, Shelly, whom I had known in Sardinia, Italy, when my
husband was stationed there. From the outside, we are an unlikely duo.
Paula was a cop in the Air Force for 18 years, she doesn’t do dresses,
she’s a champion bowler, and she hates American cheese. On the other
hand, all of my jobs have been in offices and required professional
dress – heels, hose, make-up – I can’t bowl to save my life, and I put
American cheese on everything. I love the outdoors and being in the
wilderness. Her idea of the wilderness is an out-of-order ice machine
at the hotel. We do, however, both love books, animals, cappuccino,
disco music, and road trips. Somehow it works.
I quickly filled her in on the dust-up with the landlady and followed
that up with a little self-indulgent whining about how crappy I was
feeling, and how I was home alone, again. As usual, Paula had me
laughing in no time, and I wished for the gazillioneth time that there
weren’t several hundred miles separating us – with her in Alabama and me
in New Mexico. But, that’s what happens when you’re in the military.
You make friends, you get to spend maybe a couple of years together, and
then everyone gets sent somewhere else. But, even 13 years after my
husband’s retirement, there are a few people I stay in touch with on a
After about an hour, I said, “I guess I’d better get off this phone
and do some research for the birdfest at the wildlife refuge next
month. I’m supposed to be helping out with the “How to Identify Duck
Butts” class, and the instructor still hasn’t called me or shown up.
With my great luck, I’ll end up leading the class, and I’m pretty sure
this won’t be a “fake it till you make it” kinda thing. I can’t wait to
see what pops up when I do a search for ‘duck butts.’”
Paula cried, “Duck butts?!”
“Yes, duck butts. When ducks are in the water, they spend a lot of
time with their heads under the water and their butts sticking up in the
air. A good duck watcher can tell one duck butt from another one.
It’s a whole thing,” I explained.
“The things you get yourself into. And, yeah, you might wanna brace
yourself. A search for “duck butts” could bring up some seriously
disturbing images that will be stuck in your head. Forever. Some
things you can’t unsee,” Paula said. “Good luck, Sweetie! Bye!”
As I put down the phone, I distinctly heard Paula snicker and then
snort again. Like I said, Paula is just not that into anything to do
with the outdoors, and she is sometimes barely able to hide the fact
that she thinks I’m crazy for cavorting about in the woods. I’m not
even sure she’s ever been all the way to the back of her own back yard.
The next couple of hours were taken up with the duck butt search and
printing out everything I could find. No way was any of this going to
stick to my over-heated brain cells today, but at least I now had a file
folder full of info and full-color pics of duck butts. Hopefully, at
least some of these butts would actually show up at the wildlife
refuge. I thought maybe my fever was up again, because suddenly “duck
butts” struck me as hilarious. Not necessarily a good thing, because
every time I tried to laugh, I ended up coughing and choking.
“That’s enough of that. You need some food,” I said to myself.
“Yipes. This whole talking to myself thing could actually be a
problem.” Stifling a chuckle, I put the file folder aside for later and
went in search of chicken noodle soup.
So, now you know. Since moving here, one of my favorite places is the
wildlife refuge, where I was first introduced to the art and science of
ID'ing duck butts. Besides, saying "Duck butts!" (especially at weird
times and places) never fails to either make someone's eyebrows shoot up
on their forehead or make them chuckle. Try it! I Triple-Dog, er, Duck dare
ya. Duck butts! Duck butts! Duck butts! ;)