As we climbed March Hill and the doldrums of ennui were upon me, I was delighted to have a yelp for help from Glenn Grigg in Sunnyvale, Calif., as to what kind of a game is Duck-on-the-Rock, anyway. It was recently mentioned in this space as something to do when you don't have something to do. Thus we find that Reader Grigg was not fetched up by informed parents, and his life lacks a prime pleasure we sannups in the effete East considered essential to useful boyhood. Duck-on-the-Rock was our recess standby. Let us drop back a few years.
After the ice age, when the glaciers began to recede and Florida emerged as the promised land, certain ground-up chunks of tortured rock chanced to remain on the faces of granite upthrust. These, in the tumultuous agitation of boundless waters, were set moving, and there began an abrasive action that caused, first, an indentation in the granite, and then a hole. This continued in succeeding millennia until (a) the swirling abrasive rock was itself reduced by counter-abrasion or (b) the glaciers were exhausted and there was no more water coming down the brook.
These holes, being left for little boys to look at, were called devil's drinking cups, devil's laundry tubs, and similar names deriving from wonder and awe. And every so often a boy would find, deep in the reamed-out hole, what was left of one of these abrasive rocks, round and smooth. If it was not too big it would be just right for a rock in the game of Duck-on-the-Rock. Mine was a bit bigger than a baseball, but not as big as a bowling ball for candlepins. It had an antediluvian patina that identified it as mine.
If a boy had not been fortunate enough to find his own duck rock in a devil's washtub, he could use any round stone the right size from a gravel pit or stream bed. Either way, he had a duck rock. And because every boy knew his own rock we left them all, usually, in a pile by the schoolhouse steps.
The game itself was not complicated. A larger rock, pyramid shaped, was used as a tee, or perch, on which the "duck" was placed. This duck would be the personal rock of the boy now playing duck warden. He would replace the duck on its rock every time it was knocked off by the other players, who stood behind a line and bowled or threw their rocks. To recover his thrown rock and return with it behind the line to bowl again, a boy was at his peril so long as the "booby boy" kept the duck on its tee. But when the duck was dislodged, it was allee-allee-in-free.
I have dwelt on the rustic, or basic, game as I knew it, but later the people who made croquet sets turned out wooden balls in many colors with a wooden tee. The game became less lethal under such refinements, and a bruised thumb sticking up at an odd angle during penmanship exercises ceased to be commonplace.
I left out one thing. When the boy attending the duck tagged somebody racing to retrieve his rock, the one so tagged became "it" and stayed "it" until he in turn tagged a bowler.
Duck-on-the-Rock was not a game for mother's boys or teacher's pets. The enormous anguish that developed when an unwary thumb lingered overlong in the place meant for two rocks deterred unbridled enthusiasm among the tender-hearted and those who prided themselves on kempt cuticles.
I have a ready example of what could happen. One fall we had a new teacher; a Miss Daphne Prindle of Wytopitloc, who had just finished normal school and was two years younger than Gormy-Gordon Griffin, who took three years in the third grade. Miss Prindle was petite and pert, and quickly fitted into our style when she said she was a darb at Duck-on-the-Rock, and now that she knew we played she would bring her own rock tomorrow.
Miss Prindle taught number work and home economics, and didn't look as if she had muscle enough. But she did, and when she showed us her duck rock the next day it was a handsome thing. It had streaks of red granite in it, and she said she got it from a devil's washtub on the East Branch below Webster Lake. She let us feel to see how well it was balanced.
SO Miss Prindle came out and played duck with us, and she really was good. She said she had four brothers, and she'd played with them so much that being a girl didn't matter. And it didn't, because when Miss Prindle bowled she'd knock off the duck every time, and it took some of the fun out of the sport. She'd come out and play with us every recess until it was time for her to go in and ring the bell, and she'd leave her rock by the steps the way we did.
She played every day until there came snow on the ground and we'd have to quit any day now until spring, and Miss Prindle did what a player of Duck-on-the-Rock must never do: She permitted her bowling hand to remain in Position A after it was time to remove it to Position B. Gormy-Gordon let fly his patented barn-razer with the reverse English, and it caught Miss Prindle right between two-plus-two-equals-four in a manner that brought our seasonable outdoor activities to an abrupt close.
All winter Miss Prindle taught with one finger in the air, and when she was teaching us out of a book she'd have Laura Noyes come down and turn pages for her. Duck-on-the-Rock is not something exactly designed for the serenity of quiet cultural pursuits. It may prove a bit rowdy in Sunnyvale, 94807.