With record breaking cold temperatures in the Mid-West it seemed a good time to turn people’s thoughts to a warmer part of the country and make a personal admission at the same time. Though my wife grew up in Fort Wayne and it’s been a second home of mine for over twenty years, I admit it…it’s true…I grew up in West Monroe, Louisiana with the Duck Dynasty guys. It’s not like we were hunting buddies or spent time together driving our four-wheel drives in the mud holes down in the swamps, but we come from the same quiet little town in North Louisiana, graduated from the same high school and enjoyed the same slow-moving Southern culture as young people. My mom still lives in our 50-year-old family home just on the other side of the woods from the place where Willie’s wife Korie’s grandparents lived. One of my favorite activities as a kid was hiking along the little creek back up toward the small lake behind their home, all the time looking out for poisonous water moccasins, ground rattlers, copperheads and various other shades of non-poisonous snakes that inhabited the dark forest under the soaring oaks, sweet gums and pines.
Just this past summer when visiting family in West Monroe I attended a charity banquet in the West Monroe civic center and heard the oldest Robertson son, Alan, relate some of the events of his life and the growth of the Duck Dynasty. It turns out that he and I both graduated from West Monroe High School in 1982. Back then it was the only high school in the town, so it was quite large with 2000 students. That’s one of the reasons our paths didn’t cross…plus, and how can I say this delicately, back then the Robertson’s were, well, they really were Rednecks!
The Robertson’s lived way out south of the I-20 behind the old paper mill, somewhere in the swampy low-land that wasn’t good for anything else but illegal trash dumping, filling huge junk yards full of rusty Fords and Chevys and mosquito breeding. Maybe that’s one reason there were so many honky-tonks as they were known, little, rickety wooden buildings propped precariously on four or six cement blocks, filled with blaring country music of the most obnoxious kind and frequented by the kinds of folks that often inspired the country songs they were listening to while downing cheap beer.
Phil Robertson himself tells in his biography how he used to run one of those honky-tonks, not in West Monroe but out north in the deep woods and swamps on the border of Arkansas. After graduating from Louisiana Tech with a masters in English, he ran the bar but got into serious trouble with the law and as he tells it, fled into the swamps as an outlaw.
I won’t tell how Phil went from a half-wild outlaw to a settled family man and multi-millionaire, but if you like, you can hear him tell the dirty details himself on the website “I Am Second” (www.iamsecond.com/seconds/the-robertsons/ . It wasn’t an easy journey, nor one that he made all alone.
I remember as a kid growing up in West Monroe thinking that it would always be an obscure place, off the map and forgotten by the larger world. How wrong I was. When Phil recently did an interview in which he spoke frankly about his beliefs regarding sexuality, journalists from around the world converged on North Louisiana. A friend of mine happened to be passing through West Monroe on a vacation at that time and said the hotel where his family stayed was packed with camera-totting journalists. The local people there are trying to adjust to the new fame and the swarms of tourists and curiosity seekers. But the truth is that even though TV seems to make people larger than life, they are still just people.
Recently my older sister who still lives in West Monroe was doing some late-night grocery shopping. Suddenly down the aisle came Miss Kay Robertson. They passed each other and said hi, though they’ve never met before. My sister joked that if she had had her new Miss Kay Cookbook she got for Christmas, she would have gotten her autograph. But perhaps it was best; they simply said hi as neighbors in the corner grocery. In spite of all the hype and glitz and TV stuff, that’s what the Robertsons have always been and will continue to be, just good neighbors in the community, not really larger than life, just part of it.