A gray, drizzly day presented the perfect backdrop recently for something I’ve needed to do for a long time – a little house cleaning. I realized things had reached
a critical point when I spent a half-hour searching through my workshop for something I knew I had, only to find it within a few steps of where I first looked.
The problem was it was buried beneath an avalanche of other stuff, some of which I had forgotten even existed. It was clearly time for some culling.
I decided to approach my task systematically. I would work my way around the room, disposing of those things that had outlived their usefulness and rearranging
the rest. It occurred to me that, if my wife used that criterion to evaluate her family, I might be in trouble. Undaunted, I pushed on, determined to be ruthless in
separating the chaff from the wheat.
The first corner I dug into looked like the depository for a Cabela’s yard sale.
There were at least a half-dozen hunting coats of various sizes, colors and degrees of wear – all mixed in with canvas britches, shell belts, hip boots and enough
camouflage accessories to stock an Army surplus store. Could I possibly need all of this? Maybe this was the place to start unloading the nonessential.
Then, it caught my eye – a battered, old shooting vest. It had obviously seen better days. What was left of one side pocket hung at an odd angle, a victim of an
attempt to crawl through a barbed wire fence that was about two inches narrower than the vest-wearer was wide. The shell loops across both sides of the chest were
frayed and stretched to the point that they looked better suited for 10-gauge ammo than for upland bird shells. A variety of stains that defied identification covered the
fabric like medals from a long-ago war.
What drew my attention, though, was a faded patch on the vest’s left breast.
The words Quail Unlimited, stitched in gold thread, wrapped around a cocky-looking little bobwhite. I had sewn the patch on myself, a fact made obvious by the crude, uneven stitches. What would have not been obvious to anyone else were the
memories that came flooding back when I stood holding the vest. I was wearing it the day my buddy, Jim, and I bagged two limits of quail, hunting on the old Parker
place; and on a lot of other days that were not as productive but no less memorable.
At least a few of the stains may have come from when I hugged the broken form of my Brittany spaniel, Casey, after he was run over by a careless driver on a Croatan Forest road. Some may have been from the tears that fell while I held him.
When I looked at the old vest, I saw a lot more than musty, faded canvas. I saw frosty, winter mornings with a brace of bird dogs racing the breeze and each other
along the edge of a picked-over bean field; an old friend – gone for several years now - laughing at a corny joke while we rested in the shade of a large oak and
waited for the afternoon flight of doves to begin. I saw places and people that are as much a part of me as the blood that flows through my veins. I smelled
honeysuckle that blooms now only in my dreams, and felt rain that has long since flowed to the ocean.
There was no way I could just dump that vest. It didn’t take up much room.
Besides, I might be able to patch up the worst spots and get a little more use out of it. Hanging it back up on a nail, I turned my attention to other things.
Along one wall, a couple of dozen rods and reels of various lengths, styles and age leaned in a disorderly cluster. Rods for surf fishing, trolling and plugging sat,
helter-skelter, among others designed for casting for bass or flicking ultra-light lures into mountain trout streams. There were fly rods, open-face spinning outfits,
a bait-casting rig I had never quite mastered, and a couple of telescoping poles perfect for dragging bluegills out of farm ponds in the spring of the year.
Surely I didn’t need all those rods and reels. I didn’t even remember the last time I used some of them. I was pulling them apart, setting those aside that would
go on the yard sale pile, when I spotted a battered rod with a corrosion-encrusted spinning reel attached. Holding it, I couldn’t help smiling. That was the very rod
my daughter was using on her first “real” fishing trip, when she caught what would have been a double limit of pinfish – if there were a limit on that particular species.
I could hear her as she cranked the reel and swung her catch up onto a grassy Bogue Sound bank. Several times, in her exuberance, the pint-sized angler stopped
reeling and just stood there laughing. I would have to grab the rod – this same one – and urge her to “get him in.” Surely, there was a place in the shed for this rod and
reel. If not, I would make room. There was just no way it could go on the junk heap.
And so it went – leaky knee boots I was wearing when I bagged my first turkey; an old fishing-float duck decoy I picked up on Portsmouth Island; my son’s first
BB gun and the “Elmer Fudd” hat he was wearing when he shot his first duck. As I made my way through the building’s clutter, I realized that much of what I had
been thinking of as debris were, in fact, artifacts. They were relics of a life well-lived, experiences shared, memories of special people and places. Finding space for those things only made sense. After all, they didn’t throw out the Mona Lisa
because it took up too much room did they?
Putting everything back in its rightful place, I opened the workshop door and noted that the sky had started to clear, shafts of sunlight poking through the clouds.
Maybe I had time to go down to the hunting club and sit in a deer stand for a few hours before dark.
Ed Wall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com