Now that the Christmas turkey or goose has fast become a memory or soup you should know why our Christmas menu always includes one mallard duck Dad went overseas in late 1939 and I was born a few months later. I remember seeing him once about 1943 and then he was back overseas until 1946 having stayed in Europe for a portion of the occupation.
On his return , my mother's sister and brother who was also just back from the war joined my folks in purchasing a lake side resort. We went to live at and operate the resort while the other members visited and helped out as time from their regular work permitted. Having used all of their available cash in the property purchase we were pretty broke.
Life at the lake was fine for a young boy but it was pretty apparent we were going to be poor folks for quite a while. There was no hydro power, no telephone service and during the winter the roads were unplowed . Our link to the world for about 5 months each year was an old battery radio and we listened to Jack Benny and Fibber McGee, Amos and Andy and of course the Joe Louis fights.
When we arrived at the resort Dad found a Winchester Model 56 ,.22 cal rifle in a closet . However a roof leak had let water run down the bore and it was raggedy to say the least. He had managed to kill a black bear that was after our chickens with it in the spring and we had eaten the bear.
By fall , the cupboard was as bare as my folks purse as far as meat went. There was a good supply of canned vegetables thanks to a large garden. Dad hunted for but couldn't find a buck that fall. As a last resort he took his packboard and the .22 and went looking for one of the wild domestic sheep that another family had abandoned on the mountainside. He only found one, a fully mature ram and shot it in desperation and packed it home.
I can tell you that in this world there is lamb, which is tasty, mutton which can be tolerable, and then there is something else which is barely palatable to a starving dog. The latter is what we had.
Fall ended and we were into Christmas. We had moved from the larger house into one of the small cabins for the winter. It took a lot less firewood to keep the cabin cozy and every stick had to be cut with a buck saw and axe.
Christmas day came and we each had a few gifts sent by mail and again delivered courtesy of Dad's Trapper Nelson pack frame. He had found time to build me a wooden sleigh and had strapped the runners with steel. We were quite complete except for the fact that another mutton curry was bubbling on the wood stove in the hope that the meat would be palatable by evening.
The cabin we lived in was on the edge of a creek which ran to the lake about 100 yards away. The lake was frozen like a rock except for a very small area where the creek entered . We hadn't looked out the window yet this morning and couldn't have if we wanted to as it was fully coated by ice and frost.
Finally the smell of that miserable curry drove us to open the window for some fresh air. When Dad looked out he turned and went straight to the closet and got out the .22 and box of ammunition. Resting that pitted bore rifle on the windowsill he fired one shot and killed the lone greenhead that chose to linger in that patch of open water. He hadn't been there the day before or the day before that but he was there on Christmas day.
We all ran through the snow to the lake edge and the duck was now floating at the edge of the ice as the creeks' current had floated it away from shore. My Dad to his credit stripped to his long johns and swam straight to the duck and brought it back. When he stripped off he had turned blue from head to toe. It was some hours before he got his normal color back.
In the meantime my Mother had cleaned and plucked the duck, stuffed it and popped it in the oven. We could hardly wait to eat it.
I would like to report that the duck was wonderful. Not quite. It seems this mallard was making his living checking out all the open water in the area to collect any salmon eggs that might still be available. But I will tell you this; even a fishy mallard beats the heck out of a feral ram any day of the week.
As the years go by I stick by the tradition of a duck for Christmas along with the turkey and I often contemplate how that bird happened to be there on That Day and was destined to be shot through the head by a bullet from a rifle that normally couldn't hit a pie plate at that range. I think I know.