Robert Castle

I. Dear Reverend Cowpers,

I am writing to thank you for the beautiful service and eulogy you gave in honor of my late husband, Douglas. My family thanks you a thousand times over. One could not find a single flaw in any of the details of the service.

So many of the guests at the reception that afternoon told me, etc., etc, etc.

Yours sincerely,

Betty Dugan


He didn' t bother reading the rest of the letter, three handwritten pages long. He knew what the guests at the reception were really saying. Nothing to promote his reputation or career. And not a single word to him! Oh, he had received a plague of praise. From the mourners, parishioners, his fellow priests, even his Church superior. He was aware that the Dugan funeral was the most talked about incident in his parish's history, maybe the most talked about in his parish's history, maybe the most talked about affair in the history of the Episcopal Church in the state of Pennsylvania. Nobody dared mention the subject to him.

Honestly, he wouldn' t have cared--as if by speaking about it he could rid himself the shame. The only times Cowpers could present his side of the story was when an unsuspecting person, an irregular churchgoer perhaps, or a local person not affiliated with St John' s Episcopal Church, asked whatever became of the ducks in the pond by the woods behind the church. Then the person could listen in horror at the thought of the Dugan funeral, not bold enough to see the funny side.


The congregation strained for a look out of the tails of their eyes. What was making the faint but growing noises coming toward the front door of the church?

It wasn't a wild group of teenagers screeching down a distant sidestreet in a makeshift racer honking its horn. Nor was it the jubilant noises beeping from a wedding procession. Even Reverend Cowpers paused during his eulogy, not that anyone was paying attention to him by this time.

Where had the intruders come from, thought the non-members of St. John's. Regardless what anyone knew, the mourners sensed a smile creeping onto their solemn countenances. Nothing could stop the intrusion, not even a righteous indignation aimed at nature. If you kept wild uncaged animals too close to a community not used to being disturbed by nature, this was the result. Could you imagine a herd of deer or skunks or caribou disturbing these sacred rites? No, nothing would hide the ludicrousness of the five white ducks entering the church.

Once Reverend Cowpers had made the fatal gesture of stopping his eulogy and, thus, tacitly acknowledging the web-footed intruders, he could not move or speechify. Worse, he lost his place. He had completely forgotten who the dead man was! Dare he humiliate himself by repeating part of the eulogy? Even greater was the personal humiliation he had started suffering immediately, because this was happening in his church! It was a catastrophe!!

The ducks lived on church property--the withering social logic would declare--thus the Reverend would be held totally at fault. In years to come, when the present congregation would attend a funeral or pass a pond of white ganders, they would be reminded of this funeral and would be compelled to relate the story to someone close by. The Reverend's name would necessarily be dragged into the narration and he would be held responsible for the ensuing fiasco, even if a fiasco had not ensued.

Of course, some mourners were circumspect of this incident's comic face, while the more dour among the congregation were bothered by the shameful and odious face of the ducks' march onto church property. Others would narrate the episode with apocryphal elements such as the ducks flying through the stained-glass windows, the ducks messing on the church floor, and the ducks advancing all the way to the altar, all of which were exaggerations and hardly contained a whiff of the truth. In fact, the parade of white honkers barely entered the church.

Amidst the confused feelings of outrage and automatic laughter; amidst the minister's and the coffin's silences; amidst the stifling scent of one thousand flowers at full bloom; everyone agreed that the hero of the moment was the stranger who had jumped out of the back pew and directed the duck traffic into a hundred and eighty degree circuit before the service could completely worsen, that is, before every single head of the congregation had twisted itself to see directly the cause of the disturbance.


The Reverend explained that as a consequence of the ducks' misadventure he had transported them to a farm in Lancaster County where ducks would be more at home and certainly less mischievous. But it had to annoy Father Cowpers to be at once greatly talked about and yet no one ever saying much to him. Were people afraid to hurt his feelings? Were these the respects paid to one so terribly embarrassed? It wasn't as if nobody spoke to him; now, everybody spoke to him about everything except the one thing which was on their minds. The Reverend considered his congregation's uneasiness . . . an overreaction in the other direction.

On occasions you will be offered food that you wouldn't normally stomach; however, for the most obscure reasons or a social or biological dysfunction in the head, you turn around and ask for a second helping. At other times, you know something will not be good for you and go ahead and crave that very thing. Walk into an appliance store to buy a blender, and a salesman says that you should buy a washing machine. You already have a washer, but then you buy the washer anyway and also insist on a dryer which you cannot afford either. Even on a layaway plan.

Overreactions. In the other direction.

Look at all the problems a Job-like person will suffer, yet this same saint might go berserk if he found a button missing from his jacket.


One could include the Teacher's greatest tenet: love your enemies. Hit me and I'll be your friend.

The other direction.


Cowpers' parishioners were not surprised to hear that the ducks had been shipped to some hick farmer; at least, it was assumed the Reverend did something like this when ducks were no longer seen in the pond. Most people judged this to be the proper response to this infamous episode.

The Reverend's heart, however, was not above revenging itself.

On the night of the funeral, as he led the ganders into the church basement, Cowpers was uncertain which direction his overreaction took. No matter, he felt conspicuous satisfaction each time he secured the downy white necks to the two-by-four and with lightning speed lowered the hatchet upon them.

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