Living

The duck master

Since the beginning of our Southerner/Yankee union, I have kept a list of places that Tink should visit in order to fully experience the glorious South.

He has visited Hank Williams’ grave and Dr. Martin Luther King’s parsonage in Montgomery, NASCAR’s Hall of Fame induction amidst the sport’s royalty in Charlotte, Music Row in Nashville, the Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, the Biltmore House and Grove Park Inn in Asheville, William Faulkner’s house and grave in Oxford, the Tallahatchie River town of Greenwood, Mississippi, as well as the Flood Museum in Greenville, the parks of Savannah, Georgia, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Chickamauga Battlefield, and the rainbow-colored, historic homes of Charleston with the gas lights that flicker along its streets.

As he stood at the edge of Faulkner’s whiskey bottle-decorated grave under a towering oak, he simply said, “In a million years, I would never have thought I’d be here.” He paused. “And I love it.”

For a long time, I said repeatedly, “You have to see Memphis. It’s a great town.You have to experience the Peabody Hotel and see the ducks.”

“The ducks?” He asked quizzically.

“The Peabody ducks are famous. They live in a rooftop penthouse and every morning they march down to spend the day in the lobby fountain. Then, promptly at five, they march back home. The lobby is stuffed with people watching. It’s amazing.”

My first trip to the Peabody was during the tour for my first book when my publisher generously booked me into the grandest, most historic hotels in the tour cities. It was in the Peabody, after I finished appearing live on Memphis morning television shows, that I watched The View which I had taped the previous week in New York. Barbara Walters had been tough on me so I squirmed a bit as I watched it from the hotel room but was relieved that I had responded humorously under pressure. Moments after the show ended, the phone rang. It was my agent, one of the most gracious, courteous men ever. He was offended by what he had seen.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers,” he thundered, “I apologize for your treatment. I am outraged.”

It was on that trip that I first encountered the magic of the ducks. With child-like wonder, I clasped my hands and exclaimed, “How wonderful!”

Without question, John Tinker had to see the Peabody and meet the ducks. Once, the Peabody had given me the privilege of serving as “Duckmaster” which meant I tapped a cane against the fountain, signaling to the ducks that it was time to return to the penthouse. They scrambled out of the pool, shook off the water, and followed me down the red carpet to the elevator.

“You’re going to be the honorary Duckmaster at the Peabody in Memphis,” I announced to Tink.

First, he looked puzzled. Then he shook his head. “I don’t think so. I don’t like to be the center of attention.” I refused to relent so on a Sunday afternoon as the crowds gathered in the gorgeous Peabody lobby, Tink squirmed at the small table “Reserved for the Honorary Duckmaster.”

“All these people are going to be watching me,” he worried.

“They’ll be watching the ducks not you.”

Doug, one of the hotel’s two official Duckmasters, introduced Tink. Then,together,they summoned the ducks, marched around the fountain then corralled them up the red carpet and onto the elevator. I followed, video rolling. Just like everyone else in his right mind, Tink was charmed and captivated by the ducks.

“I loved being Duckmaster!” he exclaimed happily after the adventure ended.

Though he resisted for a while, Tink has become a viewer of Duck Dynasty. “I can’t believe I’m watching this,” he said one night. “And enjoying it.”

From Duck Dynasty to an Honorary Duckmaster at the Peabody, Tink is converting to a true Southerner.It’s quite a “ducky” life he has these days.

Ronda Rich, author of several books, writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.

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