Goose Summer

Goose Summer

From The Heritage of Etta Bend by Susie Latty Day. Time: around 1918, Place: the Latty Farm.

In the fall come rare, sparkling days that are warm and bright, with very little wind, when nature seems to savor the last remnants of summer. Spider webs break loose from their moorings and float through the air, glistening in the sun. Many years ago, stray geese feathers also floated lazily beneath the blue canopy of sky. This was the season when farm wives picked their geese and ducks for the last time before cold weather. These days were known as goose summer, or gossamer days. 

On our farm at Etta, Mama didn’t have geese, but she kept fifteen to twenty ducks. The ducks were the source of the featherbeds which were so delightful to sink into on cold winter nights. Keeping a good supply of ducks meant hatching a new batch of babies each spring.

Ducks periodically shed some of their feathers during the summer, so Mama picked the ducks regularly. Alice, Georgia, and I shared this chore. Henry did his part by helping us drive the ducks from the creek to the yard on the night before.

On the day of the picking, Mama brought out chairs and a wash tub which she covered with a large cloth. We all sat around the tub. Each of us took a duck, turned it on its back, and placed it across our laps. We held the ducks’ feet in our left hands and tucked their heads under our left arms. This was to safeguard against being pinched by a hostile bill.

Starting with the feathers near the tail, I grasped a handful and, with a quick jerk, yanked them out. I plucked only those on the underbody. This was painless for the duck, unless I chanced to pull a “green” feather that was not ready to let go. When I did this, the old duck squawked so loudly that I almost dropped it.

Each time we deposited a handful of feathers, we raised and lowered the cloth over the tub carefully. The least fanning of the feathers caused them to fly from the tub. After we plucked each duck, we let her go and she waddled quickly away, flapping her wings and quacking her displeasure.

When we finished picking, we took the feathers from the tub and put them loosely into pillow slips. After a few days of airing, the feathers were ready to add to a feather bed or go into new pillows. The material Mama used for her featherbeds and pillows was fairly heavy and firmly woven.

Gossamer days still come and the silvery threads of spider webs remind me of those other, long ago days, when feathers floated through the air at duck picking time. Those times shine brightly now in my memory.





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