“I always feel like I came up in the last days of the good ol’ days,” says Willie Robertson, CEO of hunting goods company Duck Commander and star of A & E’s series Duck Dynasty in his book The Duck Commander Family. That sentiment is the foremost reason I enjoyed reading the book, and it’s what keeps me watching the show week after week. Like Willie, I feel like I grew up in the last days of the good ol’ days, and watching the show and reading the book take me back to those times. I guess I grew up into what the family’s patriarch Phil Robertson would call a yuppie, but I still long for those barefoot summers and Tarzan-swinging from vines in the woods across the road from our house. And besides the memories of my backwoods upbringing, I have become captivated by the story of Duck Commander itself; the fact that this family business not only survived a humble beginning but is now actually flourishing and basking in sweet Southern glory is a testament to faith, hard work, perseverance, and having the guts to take risks. I don’t think Willie and Korie Robertson set out to write a literary masterpiece, but rather to simply tell their fans more about their family life. So for fans of Duck Dynasty, like me, The Duck Commander Family is a great read.
“You will always find my heart way down South.” –Josh Turner, “Way down South”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:13, NIV
When I was a kid, I lived in a little house next door to my paternal grandparents in upper Mississippi. Ours was the next-to-last house on a dead-end, red-dirt road. My first driving lesson was on a tractor, and we could go fishing literally in our own backyard. Chickens clucking, cows lowing, dogs barking, cats screeching and hissing (not meowing and purring; we were rather mean to our cats…) goats bleating, hogs grunting, and yes, ducks quacking… all these were sounds of home. The corresponding smells weren’t always so lovely, but we didn’t mind too much. There were better smells in my NaNa’s house – cornbread and pintos, fried green “d’maters” (yuppie translation: tomatoes) from the garden, fish that somebody’d brought in after catching ‘em down the hill… And I spent plenty of days out at the barn with my Daddy and Poppa, shod in rubber boots, tromping through the manure, doling out hay to hungry cows. I’d go to cattle auctions with Daddy and Poppa too, and I was fascinated by the auctioneer’s speedy voice. I didn’t go across the road to the junk yard too often because that’s where Daddy and Poppa did business, but the wreckers were parked by NaNa and Poppa’s house; and we kids would play on them and the cattle trailers like jungle gyms. And those days seemed so much more vivid in my memory as I read Willie’s descriptions of his childhood home is Louisiana, even though there were significant differences. Country is country, whether it’s Mississippi or Louisiana: Phil Robertson, founder of Duck Commander, chose his home on the Ouachita River because it was a fishing camp advertised as a “sportsman’s paradise.” Since he had wanted to be a commercial fisherman at the time, a fishing camp seemed an appropriate place to build a home. He and his wife Kay still live there.
But the thing about the Robertsons that reminds me most of my Daddy and Poppa is that they’d kill and eat almost anything. (If you watch the show regularly, you’ll know that’s true.) I remember Poppa shot a rabbit one day, and he was cleaning it on the back porch. I was transfixed; I’d never watched him skin and clean anything before. I walked up slowly behind him and asked if I could touch it. He answered yes and cracked a smile beneath his rectangular glasses, and I guardedly stuck out a pointer finger and poked at something round in its guts. That was enough hands-on experience for me at the time, but I continued to watch with fascination. (This reminds me of the episode of Duck Dynasty where Phil cleans a duck at school for his grandchildren’s Career Day…) I knew Poppa and Daddy to shoot and cook turtles in almost every way imaginable. And like Willie’s mother Mrs. Kay believes, squirrels were a delicacy in our family. That’s how our family reunion received its name: when my Daddy’s side of the family got together for a reunion, they’d build fires and break out the gas burners. After the men went squirrel hunting and returned with their spoils, there would be what we called the “Squirrel Stew.” It just stuck, and has been called that for as long as I can remember. Even on the occasions when there was no actual squirrel stew to be had, we’d still say, “Hey! You comin’ to the Squirrel Stew?”
One particular detail in Willie’s story captured my attention like no other. In the chapter entitled “Fried Bologna,” Willie discusses what it was like to be so poor that they’d often eat bologna because there wasn’t much else. When I read about Willie and his family making fried bologna sandwiches, my eyes teared up. Now, bologna is hardly a reason to cry (unless you’re a real yuppie)… But a long-forgotten image thrust itself forth from my memory like a Jack-in-the-box. As I read Willie’s instructions on how to make the perfect fried bologna sandwich, I could almost see Daddy in the kitchen standing on that funky green laminate floor. He was the very definition of “big and tall,” with his faded Liberty overalls, farmer’s tan, thick black beard (at times, almost as thick as the famous Robertson beards), standing over a skillet with a fork waiting for one side of the bologna to burn so he could flip it. I had loved those sandwiches as a kid. So I went home the following night and broke out the skillet. I’d forgotten how good a fried-bologna-cheese-mustard-on-toast sandwich, and a big glass of sweet tea, could be. (I dare Subway to try that one…)
I can reminisce forever; it’s so easy. The memories of living in the backwoods – the back of the backwoods – are always pleasant and welcome to come to mind. And even now in adulthood and in my current, still-redneck-but-not-quite-as-redneck-as-my-childhood home, the Robertsons still remind me of my family: my step-daddy and his brother and our neighbors are big time hunters and fishermen. But in addition to the way the Robertsons embrace their Southern way of life, I can appreciate the success of their business, Duck Commander. I know virtually nothing about business; I couldn’t sell water in the desert. But when I read about Duck Commander’s humble beginnings, I was interested to read further to see what went into making such a successful company.
Willie and Korie make it clear that the key to the strength of Duck Commander is that it is a family business. Willie explains how Phil began Duck Commander in the 1970s when he came up with a design for a double-reed duck call, and everyone in the family helped out. The kids answered the phone and took orders, Mrs. Kay kept the books, and Phil built the duck calls and sold them. The fledgling business functioned from the Robertsons’ home, day in and day out. There were times that Phil and Kay didn’t know where their next paycheck would come from, but they somehow made it through because they could always depend on each other. As the business grew and expanded, Willie eventually took over as CEO and production moved to a warehouse; A & E began running episodes of Duck Dynasty, and America got to know its favorite Redneck family. I won’t spoil the specifics of those years; but there were some interesting details that I hadn’t foreseen, especially regarding Phil Robertson: he and Kay had once suffered a separation due to personal troubles, he had given up an NFL career, and he had once been a teacher, all on the road to the founding of Duck Commander.
For regular viewers of Duck Dynasty, the family members themselves need no introduction: Jase and his endless wild ideas, Willie and his constant CEO madness, Uncle Si and his crazy stories… “Duck Commander is a lot like Phil’s duck gumbo. The gumbo is perfect only when it has the right blend of ingredients… And if you were to take Alan, Jase, Jep, or Uncle Si out of Duck Commander, the company wouldn’t be as good as it is today,” Willie says about the role his family plays in the company. And aside from business… Setting things on fire, building a redneck water park at the pond, training a poodle as a bird dog, buying goats at a petting zoo and driving them home in a $70,000 Escalade… Entertaining stuff, without a doubt. But besides the antics, I appreciate Duck Dynasty for the values the family stands on.* For example, in The Duck Commander Family, Willie writes in the prologue that the dinner table is an important part of family life: it’s where they discuss, debate, bond, and simply talk. Each chapter is highlighted with a recipe to reinforce the importance of family time at the table. And each episode of Duck Dynasty ends with such a scene: the family is gathered around the table, enjoying each other’s company, talking, laughing, discussing what they’d set fire to or shot that day… Willie also gives his thoughts on the events of each episode, showing that there are lessons to be learned and appreciated in each and every Redneck Romp and Silly Si Story.
Willie and Korie also both make it clear in The Duck Commander Family that their faith in God is a crucial component in their success. Faith is a part of their everyday lives, and it influences their choices, both within their family and within the business. At the end of each episode of Duck Dynasty, Phil says a blessing for their meal, and viewers hear mention of their church throughout the episodes. Each chapter in The Duck Commander Family begins with a relevant verse from the Bible. It’s refreshing to see a family showing the extent of the role that their faith plays in their lives, not to mention inspiring to me as a fellow Christian.
As I sit in my living room drafting this post, I think at length about dreams I have. Dreams to earn my doctorate in literature, to become a professor, to travel the world, to write, and yes, maybe even to meet a nice, intelligent, bearded man who’ll take me fishing and watch the Braves with me… And considering the turns my life has taken the past few years, especially most recently when my teaching career became entirely unbearable, I question whether any of those things can even be possible. But when I look at the Robertsons, I really believe that achieving those dreams is not only possible, but inevitable, as long as I work hard and have the guts to take the risks involved. The reasons for Duck Commander’s success outlined in The Duck Commander Family create a blueprint that I can follow. Willie and Korie attribute Duck Commander’s triumphs to a strong family, patience, willingness to take risks, dedication, passion for what they do, and faith in God. And I’m glad to say that I’m studying for the GRE and doing a lot of reading in hopes that I’ll be ready to apply for graduate school by next year. My own success story is taking shape, and I thank God for it. It’s like my best friend recently told me: “Phil Robertson quit teaching, too – and look how it worked out for him…”
So maybe I did grow up in the last days of the so-called good ol’ days. Everyone who grew up happily probably thinks the same of their own lives. But there are still some good days ahead of me, too. So that’s my aspiration: to be happy, happy, happy – like the Duck Commander Family.
Pages: 261 FoA Pages: 15,643
* Duck Dynasty is more than hilarious Redneck antics. Don’t get me wrong – it’s incredibly entertaining. And like I said earlier, the memories that the show and book inspire for me are always happy ones. But my point is that the Robertsons express a positive view of the South. Shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (May I be so bold?) perpetuate the stereotypes about the South that I wish to shed… Here in the South, we do indeed have our own brand of fun – hunting, fishing, shooting, mud riding, fires (of various kinds), and so on. But with that fun comes plenty of us who are hospitable, respectful, hard-working, and intelligent. We’re not all backward, closed-minded, toothless caricatures. And I appreciate the Robertsons for proving that, and for staying true to their roots.