Fishing Reel Mechanic
It is a season of gift giving.
My newest hunting dog considers a deer leg the greatest of all treasures and joyously offers one up to me as evidence of his admiration each time I come out of the house. The long bones are beginning to show signs of wear. Like many presents, I think he actually got it for himself and merely wraps it in drool to make it appear to be a gift.
I am an ignorant shopper, familiar with very few stores or online outlets. I’m afraid that too many of my own tokens to family over the Christmas Holidays seem to reflect my personal interests rather than theirs.
Doesn’t everyone need new rattling horns? My last sheds exploded along the Cheyenne river this fall when a buck too-large encouraged a burst of enthusiasm that overcame a pair that had held strong for years.
The deer legs were prizes of the past hunting season; one from the prairie and two from the Hills. Their meat sits in the freezer waiting to be prepared or perhaps cured in a familiar family recipe that makes dried venison sticks one of the most sought-after holiday treats.
But the greatest gifts that I receive at this stage in my life can’t be wrapped.
The laughter of my wife as she cooks with our children come home for the holidays, the flicker of a veteran whitetail buck leaving the fields after the last shots of the season, and the weight of old dog leaning against my leg in greeting each time we share the sunrise.
But I received an early gift from an unexpected source this Christmas, my 103 years-young grandfather.
Quite often I’m asked when I’m planning on retiring from teaching, that somehow thirty years of love and laughter are more than I deserved and that perhaps I should give up my room, step back from my coaching. What about your hunting? All those miles up and down mountains can’t be good on your knees. Isn’t your saddle mule getting long in the tooth?
Grandpa didn’t send the picture himself. It came instead from my cousin Jennifer who has opened her home to care for Grandpa as he transitions from his childhood stomping grounds in upstate New York to a new career in child care and fishing reel mechanics.
Jennifer has a daughter, a grandchild with strawberry curls named Mikaylin. She has lived with her great-grandpa her entire life. He started out watching her and rocking her cradle with his foot when she fussed. Now they appear to be closer to best friends than caretaker and ward.
There’s a picture of them together as both share a rocking chair, a nap, and a blanket. Mickalyn’s scarlet curls are shocking waves of vigorous youth in stark comparison to his own head which no longer advertises hair so much as models his Scottish tams.
Another shows him in study of one of her pink, push-button, fishing reels.
I’m perhaps fictionalizing his efforts. His hands no longer allow much of the detailed work of which he was capable into his nineties. I know his own father’s hands served him well enough into his next century.
One of my first memories is of my own Great-grandfather reaching into his pocket to search for change as we bartered over the value of a toad he has seen peering from out of one of my pockets. I had captured it on one of my first hunting adventures and he wished to purchase it to replace one he had lost…
I wanted a nickel. He assured me, against his own financial interests, that I was asking much too little. A quarter then could buy a soda and sucker at the corner store and I immediately set about my first commercial hunting adventure, the task of capturing five-dollars-worth of pocket toads.
I felt chagrin to discover that the bottom had fallen out of the fickle market after his departure and that a young toad rancher needed to hustle to keep such a herd well fed.
But I remember his hands capably sorting through his change purse, looking for a quarter shiny enough for the three-year-old boy who carried his name.
Grandpa’s gift this Christmas is a future of possibilities and family with more life ahead of me than behind.
Perhaps someday, I too can become my family’s official fishing reel mechanic.