Outside our cozy, warm house, a cold fall drizzle was turning freshly fallen leaves into a slick mat under the trees. I flopped down onto the linoleum living room floor beside the heat register and began to read a comic book.
Mom put our supper in the oven to bake before she stepped into the living room. My brother Billy, who had been lounging in her upholstered rocking chair, got up so she could sit down. I observed his respectful behavior and felt pleased and content.
Mom snuggled into her comfy chair commenting happily, “Seeing the rain makes me thankful I worked all day yesterday getting my yard work done! But, ach…do I ever have sore muscles!” Her flowerbeds spanned our farmyard from one end to the other. In my mind’s eye, I saw how pretty they had been all summer. Yesterday Mom had removed all their frost-deadened leaves and stalks.
The comic book before me was about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews Hewy, Dewy and Louie on a search for a great hidden treasure in Egypt. Scrooge’s greatest nemesis, the Beagle Boys, ‘caught wind’ of their find and boarded the ship the ducks were taking back to Duckburg. Beagle boy number 176-617 held Scrooge upside down by his legs and demanded the treasure. He snarled, “Hand it over, you rich pig-of-a-duck!” A jewel suddenly dropped from Scrooges blue frock coat. The Beagle brothers, in true pirate manner, made the ducks walk the plank.
When it was time for Mom to finish supper preparations, she got out of her rocking chair. The movement obviously hurt, because she winced and gasped. Rubbing her back, she joked, “Oh my aching pinfeathers!” My brother and I laughed.
Every member of my family was fully immersed in the culture of the Golden Key comic book stories of Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. We knew exactly what Mom meant. “Oh, my aching pinfeathers,” is what Donald and Scrooge sometimes said after a misadventure with a hive of angry bees or an ornery porcupine.
Whenever Daddy took a load of oats to Stratford to have it ground for cow feed, he would visit one of the three grocery stores in our small town. While there, he always bought the latest comic book for sale. Everyone in my family read the comic books, usually, more than once. The duck adventures were often discussed at our supper table. Many of the funny things they said found their way into our everyday conversations.
Unknown to us at the time, the clever, imaginative comic book world we loved was created by Carl Barks, an American Disney Studio illustrator and comic book creator. Between 1947 and 1966 he invented Duckburg and many of its inhabitants, such as Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, Junior Woodchucks, Gyro Gearloose and Magica De Spell. Artists who worked for Disney were not given by-lines, but many readers recognized Barks’ extraordinary work. His anonymity ended in 1960. Creative to the very end of his life, Barks died aged 99 in August of 2000. Will Eisner, a writer-artist called him, “The Hans Christian Andersen of comic books.”
The education I received from Carl Barks comic books increased my vocabulary. He used big words that kids don’t usually know like, crucible. Of course, I had to find out what that was! The faraway places that Donald, his nephews and Scrooge visited sent me to the world map, teaching me geography. References to works done by people like Shakespeare and Robert Service opened their works to me. His wacky humor shaped my world outlook.
My mother lived to be nearly 99. Shortly before she died, I visited her at the nursing home. The physical therapist was working with her. Achy with age, Mom glanced at me as she struggled to walk, leaning on a walker. She complained, “Oh, my aching pinfeathers!”
I laughed. Mom was still Mom and the Duck Family from Duckburg were still with us!