Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dead Ducks

That Noel snow siege we had in Astoria, all wrapped up as a White Christmas present, really got me galloping down Memory Lane.

When I was a little girl, back on the shoreline of Connecticut, in my little oystering/lobstering village, winter was a very big deal for most of the town's residents. Everything just stopped, period.

Except school, of course, and since my mother was always a social butterfly who didn't recognize seasons, I spent more time than ever during the winter with my babysitter, Mrs. Gay, after school and on weekends.

Yes, her name really was Mrs. Gay. She lived in an unpainted shingled house that was snuggled against a seam of pink granite that was 50 or 60 feet high and ran east about 150 feet.

Mr. Gay was a lobsterman, which meant that during the winter he had nothing to do but mainly sit at the kitchen table and weave new nets for his lobster pots, drink copious amounts of beer and swear. I learned to cuss listening to him, and also learned to revere tattoos (yes, I now have several) and Ford trucks.

When he wasn't weaving nets and swearing, he and his son, Junior (aka Junie), would take their hunting dog, Baggott, their guns, and liver-paralyzing amounts of liquor to hunt Long Island ducks, which were highly prized by the rich folks in the area. It was about the only way they could make any money in the winter.

One of my less fond memories is of walking up the steep and creeky stairs to the porch and being met by brightly colored feathers and rows of dead duck eyes. The hapless foul would be hanging by their feet all around the porch, and especially around the sides of the front door, which opened into the kitchen.

One fall, when I was about 8 years old, Old Man Gay and Junie were drinking beer and target shooting in the yard, getting ready for duck-hunting season. The target was set up in front of the wall of granite. Baggott was watching with great interest, but didn't understand why he didn't have anything to retrieve.

I wandered up to them, and was just hanging around, watching. Old Man Gay said, "Hey kid, you think you can shoot this thing?" Well, I had no idea, so I said, "Maybe." He handed me the rifle, showed me how to hold it against my shoulder and aim it at the target they'd set up, and told me to go ahead and pull the trigger.

I did, and next thing I knew I was flat on my ass and looking at the sky. Old Man Gay and Junie were slapping their knees and howling with laughter. I would have laughed, too, but I was too startled by the unexpected landing.

I think that was the first and only time I heard Mrs. Gay - whose first name was rightfully and fittingly Grace - actually bellow, which she did from the upstairs porch.

Needless to say, Old Man Gay and Junie made no more attempts to "teach" me to shoot, and were sternly chastised for their efforts. But I never forgot the lesson, and nobody ever had to worry about me "playing with guns." A bruised backside and aching shoulder, not to mention all those dead ducks, spoke louder than any adult warnings ever could have.

Click here to see Elleda's photography at the Astoria Photografpix web site

No comments: