As I sit at my desk this morning, coffee close by, the world outside is a beautiful white, glazed by a heavy frost that portends the beginning of what is promised as a cold winter. It also reminds me that it is time to think about the gifts for those close to us in celebration of the Christmas season. I am no stranger these days to nostalgic moods, reminding me of the days when cold, heat and other distractions were casually deflected by the urgency of tasks that were much more easily accomplished than today. Today’s writing was, truthfully, triggered by a young painter we are employing to re-color our home. He, too, is an avid fisherman, however he has gone to the trouble to have a fish measuring scale tattooed on his leg. This was a gift to himself, one that he will never forget as long as he is able to bend over and see this masterpiece. Most of us measure a little differently.
In an effort to avoid starring in an episode of “Hoarders”, we from time to time, divest ourselves of the excess of “stuff” that inevitably collects in the far corners of our attic and closets. Yesterday, as I was cataloguing fishing tackle to be sold this spring, I came across my handmade fish measuring board, similar to the dozen or so of these simple treasures that I have constructed for fellow fishermen over the years to replace any number of commercially produced devices available in every tackle store in existence. These boards represent far more than the length of a fish, rather they represent the thousands of crappie, countless lies and half truths, and memories of long days on the water with trusted friends and family. This board has also served as the master of ceremony in a number of tournaments over the years, as a not so precise way of culling fish for weigh ins. If you look closely, you will notice a patina comprised of slime and dried scents that inevitably accumulates over time. I have now relegated the board to a place of prominence on my bookshelf where similar memories are stored. Below is the fish board.
Another priceless gift in my collection of hoarder worthy acquisitions is a gooseberry picker. On the second day of work after being transferred to Springfield, a senior sergeant stopped in and invited me to lunch the next day. I gladly accepted and we rode south into his zone and to his parents home near Table Rock Lake. I enjoyed a wonderful home cooked meal of venison, squirrel, fried potatoes, gravy and huge butter biscuits. This feast was topped off with a healthy scoop of gooseberry cobbler, my very favorite desert. During the meal, the sergeant’s father regaled us with tales of his days as a guide on the White River. He talked of float trips that required days to complete before the great dams were built. His father had been employed by the Owen guide service, a legend in this part of the country. Having discovered my fondness for gooseberries, his dad gifted me with the picker in this photograph. It is a gift that also resides on my bookcase, a reminder of one of the grandest meals ever. Behold the gooseberry picker.
Yet another installment on the art of the gift centers around a tradition that has since fallen from grace in our family. My brother-in-law is also an avid fisherman and woodsman, and he and I exchanged only home made gifts each Christmas. Dennis is not easy to shop for (a common refrain among younger folks attempting to select gifts for their older friends and family, although Dennis is younger than me). One year, Dennis, with help from my sister, Wanda, and her paint brush, constructed the key board in the accompanying photograph, which has proudly hung by our door for years. It is more than just a place to hang keys and such, it is a reminder of float trips and long days on Truman Lake where the scenery often eclipsed the fishing. That same year, I gave Dennis a shadow box, where a map of Hogles Creek, on Truman Lake, was the backdrop for a few “secret” crappie baits that we used to win a Tournament that spring. Neither of these gifts will hang in Johnny Morris’s Wonder of Wildlife Museum, but to me, they are certainly worthy. Finally, in the realm of home made treasures, my sister gifted me recently with a hand made “Valor Quilt”, denoting my service record, specifically my year in Vietnam. The quilt resides in our RV and serves as a reminder that home made reflects a closeness that isn’t easily matched by todays gifts that almost universally run on electricity. Our key board is below.
It is hard to do today, but my challenge to my friends and readers is to think this season through and strive to present a gift that for the rest of the recipient’s life, will elicit a memory that ends in a broad smile every time they see it. To do so, would be to master the art of the gift. To do so without electricity would make you a Grand Master!