Bop’s Ducks

My grandfather, Bop, had several ponds behind his house.  As kids, my brother, cousins and I played and fished in the ponds in the summer and ice skated on them in the winter. A variety of wildlife would come and go from the ponds, including deer, beavers and the occasional bear.   In the 1970’s Bop bought a bunch of ducklings to live on the ponds. When they first arrived, they were so tiny that he kept them in the garage until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Once they were big enough, Bop set them loose on the ponds which were down the hill from his house.

Over time and under Bop’s care, the ducks became quite tame. When Bop wanted to visit with his ducks, he would stand next to his house on the top of the hill and shake an old coffee can filled with duck feed.  The ducks would hear that feed shaking in the can and they would get out of the pond and, as a flock, walk up the hill to Bop and he would toss the feed on the ground.  It was an awesome sight not just to watch, but to listen to because the ducks would be excited and quacking as they walked the whole way up the hill.  It was joyful.

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Mallard photo by Michael McCarthy

When fall came that first year, the ducks migrated south.  But they returned in the spring and headed right back up the hill when Bop shook his feed can.  Over the years the duck flock grew as they mated and had babies, and while some would migrate and return in the spring, some stayed and wintered right there on the pond, swimming in a circle in one area to keep the ice away.  The ducks were there for years but over time, there were fewer and fewer ducks on Bop’s ponds.

After college, I married and my husband I began our life together two hours south of where I grew up. We had been living there about 20 years when I met this woman, Pat, whom I did not like for some unknown reason.  Because of my job I had to interact with her on a frequent basis and as time went on I began to dislike her more and more.  We’ve all met people like that; people that we don’t like to be around although we’re not sure exactly why.  But relationships sometimes go full circle and when the circle finally closed on my relationship with this woman, it opened the key to the reason why I didn’t like her.

Because of my job, I attended a banquet where people who are active in the foster care community are recognized for their contributions.  I was seated at the same table as Pat and her husband, along with some of the award winners.  I wasn’t too happy about having to sit with Pat and her husband so I began a conversation with the gentleman seated to my right.  He was a very nice man who was receiving an award that evening and as we chatted the conversation eventually began to get a bit more personal, with each of us telling the other about our family and lives.   Eventually he asked me where I grew up and when I mentioned the county I grew up in, Pat said, “Oh, we used to live in Lackawanna County.   Where did you live?”

As the conversation continued it turned out that Pat and her husband lived just down the road from Bop in a place called Clark’s Trailer Park.   It was tiny trailer park, with only a few homes, but in the 70’s, it had a bad reputation for drugs and violence.   I was taken aback to learn that she had lived there and that somehow the two of us were now living and working a good distance away from there and sharing a table at a banquet.  I attempted to learn more by telling her where my grandparents lived and asked her if she knew one of the people who lived nearby.  She laughed and said, “Oh no.  I don’t remember a lot from when we lived there, or much of the 70’s for that matter.  We did a lot of partying back then.”  And with that, her husband began laughing too and when he did, I could suddenly visualize him 20 years younger, with longer hair, and it was at that point that I realized that I knew who they were.

When I was about 18, my friend Robin and I went out for the night.  I don’t recall where we went, but on the way home Robin said she had been invited to a party at Clark’s Trailer Park and she wanted to stop in for a bit.  So we did.  In the 70’s when and where I grew up, drugs and alcohol were easily available.  We’d both been around it before and didn’t think too much of the beer and marijuana we saw at the party.  Not too long after we arrived a fight broke out in the kitchen between the man and woman whose mobile home we were in.  There was yelling, swearing, pushing and shoving before someone broke it up.  A few minutes later we saw some people heading to the back room with syringes. That was it, we left.

I never thought about that night again until I found myself, twenty years later, looking at that same couple who had fought with each other all those years ago sitting across the table from me at an awards banquet laughing about how they didn’t remember much of the 70’s because of the drugs they did.  Pat went on to explain how when they lived there, they had parties at their house all of the time until her husband lost his job.   Then they found themselves with two kids and no income and things got so rough Pat said, that her husband would shoot ducks on the near-by pond for them to eat.

I was shocked.  I sat there in silence as her husband picked up the story and talked about how he would walk to the pond and shoot a duck because they just sat there and didn’t fly off.   They were dumb ducks according to him, dumb ducks who didn’t know enough to fly away so they deserved to be shot.

“Those were my grandfather’s ducks!” I blurted out.  I knew I shouldn’t have.  They just told me how they had nothing to eat and I should have been more compassionate.   But I wasn’t.  Sitting there, knowing now who they were and that they killed and ate Bop’s tame ducks made me sick. The circle closed, and so did my heart.  After hearing this, the feelings I had towards Pat only intensified.  Eventually, Pat moved on to another job and I did not have to deal with her any more.

Today, is Bop’s birthday, he would’ve been 103 years old.  I don’t know if there are still any ducks left on the ponds, but I like to think that there may be a few still up there, quacking away on his special day.

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