It all started so innocently. Two ducks with “delightfully stupid countenances” were gleefully carried back from a trip to our house in Scheveningen. Agatha senior was popular and the jet age was just getting into full swing. Soon, a worldwide duck hunt was on with admirers dragging ducks to our house from far and wide: Persian duck oil lamps, Irish ducks, Chinese opium-smuggling ducks with secret compartments, shell ducks, reed ducks, stone ducks, cute ducks, and stern ducks, ducks that quacked and ducks that didn’t.
Agatha’s interest in ducks was not cute or fuzzy. It had something to do with the duck’s stern expressiveness– its ability to express disapproval and still be engaging. (Including the ability of duck-creating artists to capture same of course.) Not to mention the human-language-aspects of the quack, of which Agatha was soon a master.
By the time she married her second husband later in life, Agatha, known for her ability to express disapproval and remain your friend, had thousands of ducks. Carpenter Chris in his husband-apprenticeship spent some time rearranging the house and creating shelves to house ducks small and large.
One of the things Agatha admired most in ducks and in people, including herself, was resilience. Advice often came in the form of biological information: “ducks have a gland on their backs they push to oil their feathers — so they can survive the water and the cold. I call it their duck bump, and you need to develop one.” [It’s called the uropygial or preen gland and secretes a sebaceous fluid — most birds have it. Ducks use it to waterproof their feathers.]
My mother did not go gentle into that good night and five years on I am still trying to waterproof my feathers around her passing as I try to take her sage advice not to rail against that which I cannot change. In that process, it comforted me greatly, while we were clearing out her house, to ask family and friends to take as many ducks they wanted to remember her by.
When the seven a.m. duck brings the day on Moosehead Lake; when the three o’clock duck, an insistent quacker, comes by to tell some stories and dispense nonstop warnings in ways that Agatha would remark on; whenever I see or hear or think about ducks, you know who is on my mind. I am sure I am not the only one.
Duck triptych 3