Pick and Pat, Pet Ducks

Baby ducks are the cutest fluffy things. But they get bigger, and bigger, and . . .

Twelve-year-old Darlene Wilson liked to visit around the neighborhood in Dexter, Iowa, and one neighbor had baby ducklings to sell the spring of 1933. Of course Darlene asked whether she could have one. The owner said he’d sell them for a nickel apiece.

“Mom, can I buy a duck? It’s only a nickel and I can use my own money.”

“Only one? One wouldn’t be happy all alone. You’d better buy two.” So she did.

They were so cute and just pecked away at anything on the ground. They named them Pick and Pat after a radio comedy team. The baby ducks were such fun to watch that Danny, who turned eight that spring, would get so tickled at their antics that he’d laugh until the tears ran.

Pick and Pat were wonderful pets during that hot dry spring and summer of the Great Depression. It was so dry that year that nothing grew in the garden, so the ducks couldn’t ruin that. The Wilson kids–Darlene and her three younger brothers–fixed up the back yard for them, sinking an old galvanized tub in the yard for a duck pond. They hauled rocks and some kind of evergreen plants or weeds, which they called live-forevers, home in a wagon. Doris, age 15 that summer, helped make a rock garden around the tub, and said they were right proud of it.

Their dad Clabe was out of work and looked for ways to keep busy. Using chunks of small logs, he built a small windmill that really worked. They planted morning glory vines to climb up the structure.

1933 (2)
Delbert, summer of 1933, about ready to leave on the train for California, to try gardening with his uncle, Wayne Goff. The Depression deepened while he was there, and people laid off their gardeners. He came back to Iowa. Shows the top of the windmill.


PickPat (2)
Barefooted Danny, Junior, and Dale Wilson, Dexter, Iowa, spring of 1933. Pick and Pat are on some kind of disk in front of Danny and Junior.

But as the ducks grew, they ate everything in sight. Leaves on the vines disappeared higher and higher, leaving naked stems. Every plant within reach got “pretty scraggly.”

And Pick and Pat left bigger and bigger messes to clean up. Washing off the sidewalk was a regular chore. Clabe began to call them Pick and Splat.

And after the first frost killed the vegetation, the money-strapped family had to buy feed for those big ducks.

Thanksgiving solved the problems. By then they were all tired of feeding, watering, and cleaning up after the ducks. Doris later said that her mother made the best roast duck and dressing she ever ate in her life that Thanksgiving dinner, and she didn’t even shed a tear.

Pick and Pat became a hearty Depression Era dinner, but only for those Wilson kids who were able eat former pets.


 Leora made beef stew in the big bread pan (held 3-4 loaves). Meat, gravy, onions, carrots, biscuits baked on top–soft underneath, browned and crispy on top. Pick & Pat were roasted in that pan.



  1. And here I thought I was reading a heart-warming story about life in the Depression–and Pick and Pat ended up as dinner! The pleasure of this story was in the telling. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pictures complemented it perfectly.

    • Delbert looks awfully young there to let him take the train alone all the way to Los Angeles! He looked the most like their dad, I think, and so did Junior. That picture with the ducks was so faint, but a photo thingy on here lets me crop pictures and brighten them, so you can see the ducks–at least better than the original.

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