My wife, Patty, says I'm a packrat. She's convinced I don't
throw anything away if it might ever be useful. She thinks
she knows me well. I'm convinced she doesn't know me very
well at all.
In the corner of one room of our basement there's a rifle
stock leaning against the wall. Patty says I should throw
it away and be rid of the ugly thing. After all, I replaced
it on the rifle with a new stock that wasn't nearly as nicked
and scarred as this one. If it was bad enough to replace,
it should be bad enough to throw out. She just doesn't know
me very well.
That old chunk of wood that once graced my rifle has too many
memories packed away in its scarred surface to ever get rid of
it. In the twenty plus years it was attached to the barrel
and action of my rifle, it accumulated a bunch of memories.
The wood is slightly warped from years of use in nasty weather.
I adjusted the fit several times to overcome the impact dozens
of years and hundreds of hard miles can have on a piece of
wood. When I finally couldn't adjust it enough to make it
fit properly, I replaced it, but I won't throw it away.
Every little nick and scratch has a story to tell. Each gouge
represents a lesson learned or an animal I had personal contact
with. The stains of rain, snow, ice and perspiration are deeply
etched into the wood. Where my hand cradled the rifle while I
hiked the woods of Montana and South Dakota, the finish is worn
off the wood and replaced by a dark stain of deliberate use.
Every mark, every stain, every scratch represents a day with
a friend, or by myself doing something I treasure.
Right next to the rifle stock is the broken bottom half of a
fly rod. Patty thinks I should throw it away. I'll never use
it again, I can't salvage any of the parts, and it doesn't
look nice. I don't think of it as a decoration, but rather
as a declaration. The rod broke where I carelessly placed
my hand while trying to land a fish. Every time I look at
that broken rod I'm reminded that the handle distributes
pressure, but a misplaced hand will focus pressure to the
point that it can break the rod. But, there's more to that
old, broken rod than just a reminder.
The handle has permanent grooves in it where the fingers of my
hand held it on hundreds of days of fishing. It doesn't look
like it did when it was new. The light hue of fine cork has
been replaced by the dark stains of repeated use. Each nick,
scratch and scrape tells the story of a friend I fished with
or a fish I challenged. No, I'll never get rid of that old
fly rod handle.
Hanging on a nail above the rifle stock and rod handle is a
retired fishing vest and a wood-frame net with a broken hoop.
It's obvious I'll never use them again. Some people might
have thrown them out as soon as they replaced them. I
couldn't do that.
The fly vest is faded from years of exposure to the sun. A
few dozen rainstorms and several thousand slapped mosquitoes
have left permanent stains that will never wash out. A dozen
different concoctions that fly fishermen apply to their flies
to make them float have darkened the pockets and the fabric
is torn and worn through in places. Most of the zippers don't
work, and those that do are worn to the point of failure with
the next use.
I wish I could tell you that I broke the hoop on the landing
net while trying to land a fish, but I can't. I broke the
hoop by carelessly stepping on it while trying to release a
fish so it would be available to catch another day. That
was just before I hooked one of the biggest trout I ever
caught. The big fish got away partly because I had a broken
net, and partly because I didn't know how to fight it properly.
Like the rest of my display, the net shows the wear and stains
that come from many years of use and a conflict as old as
man and fish.
Most people would throw those old, worn items away, but I won't.
They each represent a time that was and things I treasure. They
are as much a part of me as my skin, hair or fingernails. The
very essence of who I am is wrapped up in those few items I keep
in a corner of a basement room.
Patty thinks I'm a packrat, and maybe I am. She thinks she knows
me, and maybe she does; but she doesn't really know me as well
as she believes she does. If she did, she wouldn't want to throw
out that old stuff in the corner. She would know that each item
represents an important piece of my life. She thinks of it as a
pile of junk, and maybe it is; but it's also a fair representation
of who and what I am.
She thinks she knows me, but I think she's wrong. She knows
a part of me, but there's a part of me she will never know
until she understands why I keep an old rifle stock, a broken
net, a broken fly rod handle and a worn-out vest. ~ AC