Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The last of the Dead Duck Club departs for the land of no fears, tears

A man from Pennsylvania called me last week to order copies of my book The Jakes, and a copy of my new novel, The Barefoot Dodgers.

After we had taken care of addresses and autographings and financing (it’s a heckuva lot easier to finance a Neill book than it is to buy a used car!), he made the statement, “You must have had a wonderful time growing up!”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

By golly, I did, and have never been ashamed to admit that. Some people may have been deprived as children, but I never considered that I was, although I have in my youth used outhouses, milked cows, chopped and hoed and picked cotton, baled and stacked hay, and gotten up well before daylight to catch No. 13 School Bus in front of the Brownspur Commissary Store a quarter mile down the road.

Some folks may have been abused as kids, but I never considered that I was, although I got my little tee-heinie torn up a many-a time by belts, switches, boards, paddles and once even a broom.

Big Robert was an expert at slicking that wide leather belt out of his pant loops, doubling it, and whaling the tar out of me and any other assorted boys he’d caught in whatever the mischief-of-the-day happened to be. My daddy wasn’t the only man who whipped me when it was needed, either.

Uncle Sam, Mr. Mac, Cuddin Fitz, Big Dave, Uncle Shag, Mi’ter Mo, Big John, and various coaches, principals, and superintendents along the way added their licks, as richly deserved, along with mothers of my schoolmates, all succeeded by the enthusiastic efforts of Ole Miss Rebel upperclassmen football players.

You ain’t experienced the gourmet of whippings until you’ve been whipped with a straightened-out coat hanger, which leaves a blue question mark on your bottom.

Some folks may recall back to youths spent in foster homes, instead of their own homes, in which they were disciplined by adults other than their own parents, sometimes harshly. Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt; almost all of it richly deserved: the few times it wasn’t, was governed by the rule expressed by Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly: “Well, it warn’t a lick amiss!”

I was lovingly raised by a group of men and women who dubbed their association The Dead Duck Club. They at times had to love us boys enough to discipline us.  

Aw, none of us were bad kids; we just got into trouble being mischievous, playing jokes, occasionally pushing the growing-up envelope. We younger boys were at times egged on by our older “brothers,” Sammy Shaifer or Alton McIntire, who often as not saw us safely through a stunt, then disappeared just before the grown-ups appeared to administer justice.

Yet we all knew that, after the lickings, we’d be invited on the next duck hunt, or fishing trip, or predator calling, or whatever those men had coming up next on the menu. We were included in the coon barbecues, the stew-stirrings, the fried quail on toast with dewberry jelly suppers, the deer camps, the turkey hunts, the deep sea fishing trips to Unca Tullier’s at Biloxi.

We weren’t so much treated as boys, even when we were little: more like Men To Be, who needed occasional stimulation from the bottonside to understand what was right or wrong or dangerous. I was a daddy myownself before I understood how much Big Robert must have worried over some of the times we went slightly astray.

The last member of that Dead Duck Club has departed for the Land where there are no fears, no worries, no tears…well, as the old spiritual says, “No more tears, no more pain, no more war, no more death…when we get to Heaven!”

Miss Nena was near’bout 90 when she passed on to be again with Big Dave, and I can might’near imagine the angels standing around Uncle Shag’s stewpot as the Welcome Home Party cranks off to celebrate the Circle Being Unbroken again.  

One day I plan on being there myownself, when the Welcoming Party will be for me. That Pennsylvania reader was absolutely right: I did have a heckuva good time growing up! I had at least two dozen Daddies and Mommas, who loved me through the good times and bad.When I grow up, I want to be like them!