A few years ago, my friend Bob Murphy gave me a picture of a room. It’s a big glassed porch—filled with old tackle and walled with old single pane, divided-light windows—that one would imagine is attached to some late 19th or early 20th century lake house somewhere in the north woods. It’s not hard to imagine the porch jutting off to the side of a dark rambling structure perched in the pines and hemlocks above the water. Massive open porches with old wicker would surround the main house, and this porch would be the only enclosed section on the right side as you look at the house and down to the water’s edge. At least that’s how I imagine it.
In this room is someone’s sporting history, that irreplaceable collection that silently documents an even more irreplaceable story. The truth is that we lovers of the sporting life are hoarders. Murph was one of the best. When he died, I helped his wife Susan go through his barn. His life lay before us in heaps of decoys and old waders, jackets, gear and gadgets. Though he was gone, I spent the day with Bob, and there was no sadness in it. Every time I picked up yet another worn boot or tattered vest, I grinned and remembered his almost eccentric passion for the field.
Not only do we accumulate the must-have new gear at an alarming and divorce-inducing rate, but we refuse to relinquish old gear to the point of holding on to broken rods, ancient reels, old thermoses, and moth-eaten hunting jackets as if the apocalypse were upon us, but there is reason, for what is the sporting life if not the memories? Every piece represents a fish caught, a campfire, a hot cup in a duck blind. Susan let me pick a few things that Bob used when we hunted ducks together: an old thermos for my collection, a Faulk’s call, and a few cork decoys that Bob had marked with his name to add to my string. The memories were securely attached. There are fathers and grandfathers, and in my case grandmothers whose pocket knives and old tackle lie in state in our boxes and drawers, hidden gems simultaneously worthless and priceless. Their value lies in triggered remembrance, as they are the index to our sporting life and to the ones with whom we’ve shared it.
I always wanted a room like this, but life, children’s needs, and the necessary architecture never quite aligned. I have functional places where my gear is stored, but never that perfect meld of setting and gear. But it doesn’t matter. For now, that picture sits on a stand above my desk and reminds me of Murph, the days in the field we shared together, and what might be someday. Chances are I’ll never have that perfect room, but maybe one of my children will, and in that room will be all of my old collected gear mingled with theirs. They will poke through it, looking for what they need for the day, and I will be there among the knives and reels and dekes and old jackets.
Hopefully, if I have done my job, they will grin at the thought of me.