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Learning the hard way

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Last week I learned something the hard way, and believe it or not, the teacher wasn’t my dad. The teacher wasn’t The Wife. The teacher wasn’t even the world.

Nope – I learned my lesson early Friday morning from a 14-month-old little girl and a large brown and white majestic duck. It’s a lesson I will never forget.

A little before 7 a.m., the sun rays illuminated the bottom branches of pines surrounding Twin Lakes – lakes filled with 20 or so ducks. An hour later, ducks started to emerge from a blanket of white mist covering the lakes. By 9 a.m., with the mist all but burned off by the rising sun, the first heat of the day started to dry out a family of mud turtles sunning themselves once again on a large lone rock near the shoreline. A delicate balance between coolness of the water and warmth of the rock was essential if one is to be happy – that is, if you’re a mud turtle.

By 10 a.m. the summer sun passed over even the tallest of the tall pines and the welcome shade they offered was no more, not even for the majestic brown and white duck. But by then, Little One and I were long gone.

We had avoided the heat and were well on our way to the local coffee shop to tell our story. It was a story of our mighty adventures at Twin Lakes, Little One’s narrow escape, and the lesson Big Papa had just learned the hard way.

We would speak to all patrons who would listen. Little One would jabber, play with her curls, and give her trademark pinwheel wave to the delight of all. I would babble and brag on her bravery — as a proud granddad should.

Sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way. At least that’s what Dad told us for those seven years we were growing up at 110 Flamingo Street. He also said, “When you learn things the hard way, you’ll never forget them.”

Funny, if given a choice, I’m sure we all would’ve elected to learn things the easy way. Down The Street Bully Brad, poking sticks in large holes in the ground just to see what animal would scamper out, and throwing rocks at supposedly abandoned paper wasp nests are just a few of the things I wished I’d learned about the easy way.

The day we dropped The Boy off at college, The Wife turned to me and said, “You can’t tell The Boy how to do everything. It’s time for the world to teach him. If he doesn’t listen, he’ll learn the hard way.”

The Wife was right. Seems my ability to learn things the hard way was indeed passed down through the generations. But it didn’t stop with The Boy. Unfortunately he has passed it along to Little One. And that brings us back to Twin Lakes and the majestic brown and white duck.

Twin Lakes are a habitat for one gray crane, two swans, a flock of Canada geese, a family or two of mud turtles, and of course a large contingent of ducks. Most mornings, right before sunrise, Little One and I go out to the lakes for some fresh air to walk a little (we both toddle) and feed the ducks bread.

Last week it was brought to my attention bread was bad for ducks. Hard to believe, because growing up at 110 Flamingo Street if it wasn’t for white sandwich bread, we would have surely starved. So we made a switch in our duck food selection to a much more healthy alternative.

Now I ask you, what could be healthier in the morning than a big bowl of whole wheat Cheerios? Or, I should say, a big handful. What harm could possibly come from feeding ducks such a healthy breakfast? What harm indeed. Seems ducks gobble up Cheerios faster than my brothers and me gobbled down sandwiches made of white bread, bananas, peanut butter and mayonnaise.

I watched and videoed as Little One delighted in feeding all ducks that waddled over to her. Again and again little hands grabbed fists full of Cheerios. Some she tossed to her waiting feathered friends while the rest she daintily gobbled up. Soon all Cheerios were finally consumed. This was when I learned a couple of lessons the hard way.

When you’re feeding a flock of hungry ducks Cheerios and you run out, make sure of two things. First, don’t wear any clothing that buttons up the front, especially if those buttons are the same size and color of the new duck food. Second, make sure Cheerios-sized buttons aren’t connected to a blouse worn by a 14-month-old little girl who stands nose-to-duck bill with 20 or so hungry ducks.

Authors note: There were no granddaughters, or ducks, harmed while videoing this story.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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