Excerpt from the book Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander © 2013 by Phil Robertson with Mark Schlabach. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Order the book from the A&E store.
Chapter 1: Low-Tech Man
Rule No. 1 for Living Happy, Happy, Happy: Simplify Your Life (Throw Away Your Cell Phones and Computers, Yuppies)
What ever happened to the on-and-off switch? I don't ask for much, but my hope is that someday soon we'll get back to where we have a switch that says on and off. Nowadays, everything has a pass code, sequence, or secret decoder. I think maybe the yuppies overdid it with these computers. The very thing they touted as the greatest time-saving device in history–a computer–now occupies the lion's share of everybody's life.
Here's a perfect example: I owned a Toyota Tundra truck for a while, and I got tired of driving around with my headlights on all the time. If I'm driving around in the woods and it's late in the evening, I don't want my headlights on. I tried to turn the lights off and couldn't do it. I spent an hour inside the truck with a friend of mine trying to turn off the lights, but we never figured it out. So I called the car dealer, and he told me to look in the owner's manual. Well, it wasn't in the book, which is about
as thick as a Bible. Finally, about ten days later, after my buddy spent some time with a bunch of young bucks in town driving Toyota trucks, he told me he had the code for turning off my lights.
Now, get this: First, you have to shut off the truck's engine. Then you have to step on the emergency brake with your left foot until you hear one click. Not two clicks–only one. If you hear two clicks, you have to bring the brake back up and start all over. After you hear one click, you crank the engine back up. I sat there thinking, Why would you possibly need a code for turning off headlights? What kind of mad scientist came up with that sequence? Seriously, what kind of mind designs something like that? To me, it's not logical. I just don't get it, but that's where we are in today's world.
I miss the times when life was simple. I came from humble, humble beginnings. When I was a young boy growing up in the far northwest corner of Louisiana, only about six miles from Texas and ten miles from Arkansas, we didn't have very much in terms of personal possessions. But even when times were the hardest, I never once heard my parents, brothers, or sisters utter the words "Boy, we're dirt-poor."
We never had new cars, nice clothes, or much money, and we certainly never lived in an extravagant home, but we were always happy, happy, happy, no matter the circumstances. My daddy, James Robertson, was that kind of a guy. He didn't care about all the frills in life; he was perfectly content with what we had and so were we. We were a self-contained family, eating the fruits and vegetables that grew in our garden or what the Almighty provided us in other ways. And, of course, when we were really lucky,
we had meat from the deer, squirrels, fish, and other game my brothers and I hunted and fished in the areas around our home, along with the pigs, chickens, and cattle we raised on our farm.
It was the 1950s when I was a young boy, but we lived about like it was the 1850s. My daddy always reminded us that when he was a boy, his family would go to town and load the wagon down and return home with a month's worth of necessities. For only five dollars, they could buy enough flour, salt, pepper, sugar, and other essentials to survive for weeks. We rarely went to town for groceries, probably because we seldom had five dollars to spend, let alone enough gas to get there!
I grew up in a little log cabin in the woods, and it was located far from Yuppieville. The cabin was built near the turn of the twentieth century and was originally a three-room shotgun house. At some point, someone added a small, protruding shed room off the southwest corner of the house. The room had a door connecting to the main room, which is where the fireplace was located. I guess whoever added
the room thought it would be warmest near the fireplace, which was the only source of heat in our house. In hindsight, it really didn't make a difference where you put the room if you didn't insulate or finish the interior walls. It was going to be cold in there no matter what.
I slept in the shed with my three older brothers–Jimmy Frank, the oldest, who was ten years older than me; Harold, who was six years older than me; and Tommy, who was two years older than me. I never thought twice about sleeping with my three brothers in a bed; I thought that's what everybody did. My
younger brother, Silas, slept in the main room on the west end of the house because he had a tendency to wet the bed. My older sister, Judy, also slept in that room.
I can still remember trying to sleep in that room during the winter–there were a lot of sleepless nights. The overlapping boards on the exterior walls of the house were barely strong enough to block the wind, and they sure didn't stand a chance against freezing temperatures. The shed room was about ten square feet, and its only furnishings were a standard bed and battered chest of drawers. My brothers and I kept a few pictures, keepsakes, and whatnots on the two-by-four crosspieces on the framing of the interior walls. Every night before bed, we unloaded whatever was in our pockets, usually a fistful of marbles and whatever else we'd found that day, on the crosspieces and then reloaded our pockets again the next morning.
To help battle the cold, my brothers and I layered each other in heavy homemade quilts on the bed. Jimmy Frank and Harold were the biggest, so they slept on opposite sides of the bed, with Tommy and me sleeping in between them. My daddy and my mother, Merritt Robertson (we started calling them Granny and Pa when our children were born), slept in a small middle room in the house. My youngest sister, Jan, was the baby of the family and slept in a crib next to my parents' bed until she was old enough
to sleep with Judy.
The fireplace in the west room was the only place to get warm. It was made of the natural red stone of the area and was rather large. One of my brothers once joked that it was big enough to "burn up a wet mule." Because the fireplace was the only source of heat in the home, it was my family's gathering spot. Every morning in the winter, the first person out of bed–it always seemed to be Harold–was responsible for starting a fire. It would usually reignite with pine fatwood kindling, but sometimes you had to blow the coals to stoke the flames. Some of my favorite memories as a child were when we baked potatoes and roasted hickory nuts on the fireplace coals for snacks. We usually ate them with some of my mother's homemade dill pickles. There was never any candy or junk food in our house.
The only other room in the cabin was a combination kitchen and dining area. The cookstove was fueled by natural gas from a well that was located down the hill and across the creek. The pressure from the well was so low that it barely produced enough gas to cook. Pa always said we were lucky to have the luxury of running water in the house, even if it was only cold water coming through a one-inch pipe from a hand-dug well to the kitchen sink. We didn't even have a bathtub or commode in the house! The water pipeline habitually froze during the winter, and my brothers and I spent many mornings unfreezing the pipe with
hot coals from the fire. When the pipe was frozen, we'd grab a shovelful of coals and place them on the ground under the pipe. When we finally heard gurgling and then water spitting out of the kitchen sink, we knew we could return to the fire to get warm again.