Several years ago I joined a local gym and health club because it was the right thing to do. My schedule at the time allowed me to only work out in the mornings. There were no big muscle guys then. I was pleasantly surprised that nearly all of the people participating at that time were “older” guys and gals that had been warned by their doctors to either get in shape or never enjoy their retirements. I was quickly accepted into the group and I got to know many of them very well as years have passed. I heard every war story twice and knew all of their grandchildren’s names and where they lived. When ever one of us missed a day, the others would always berate the slacker for the absence. I learned to love all of those sweaty characters and the great advice that I always received.
The problem with befriending and being befriended by a bunch of seniors is that they are in the twilight of their lives and as the years have gone, so have they. In the past twelve months, I have lost five of my good friends and my own father. It is easy for me to become melancholy when I think of them and as each day that goes by, I realize more and more that life is truly fleeting. The experiences we have, and the memories that we make with our friends and family mean more as each year passes.
As I pondered my own memories, I wondered how many men and women have become too busy in their hectic schedules to remember the good times and the “firsts” of their lives as they relate to our great outdoors.
Who were you with when you shot your first deer? Who did you tell the story to first?
Where were you when you shot your first duck? Who were you with? Who bought you your first gun or bow? Who taught you how to fish? Who baited your first hook?
I can recall sneaking up to a pond that was full of mallards, teal and wood ducks. John and I were probably 16 years old at the same time and we were inseparable. He went around to the east side of the pond to wait and I was going to “jump” them. The wind was perfect and they should go right over John when they made their escape. While I was wading quietly through the cat tails, the call of nature struck John. Just then, the sky erupted with ducks headed east. I will never forget seeing John with his pants around his ankles with his gun to his shoulder tracking a big drake. As things would have it, I don’t know where John is anymore.
Who taught you how to shoot your bow? Can you visualize the scene of you gutting your first deer? Who was there with you? Who is in your favorite early hunting photograph? Who taught you how to row a boat? Who were you with when you shot your first grouse? Who saw you shoot your first pheasant? Who took you camping the first time? What was the name of your first hunting dog? Who taught you how to fillet a fish?
My grandfather’s legendary fishing prowess is still that of folklore. My only real fishing partner was my brother, but he was sort of busy in Vietnam. When I saw my grandpa’s car and boat in the yard, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. Naturally, I did not realize at the time, but not only was I going fishing with grandpa, I was learning life lessons that I am now teaching other kids. My cousin also enjoyed grandpa’s lessons and wrote an awesome book about his exploits. No one will ever tell a fishing story in such graphic detail. The memory of the ” tick..tick..tick” of a walleye biting makes me yearn for a leech and a Lindy Rig. Thank you Grandpa.
If you read enough self-help books or listen to many motivational guru, they will tell you that you need to take time to reflect on the most important positive memories and to take what you have learned and apply those lessons each day to enhance inner growth. Each one of us has memories from our youth that make the corners of our mouths turn up with deep feelings when we reminisce. Some of us may even develop a lump in our throat when we recall our fondest memories.
This is time of year that most of us look back at our successes and failures in life and try to make resolutions about our future. Some of us vow to get back to the gym while others are determined to quit smoking and save some money. I have made some personal resolutions that I believe many of you should at least consider. I vow to take more kids hunting and fishing this year, not just my own. It is a fact that kids need more mentoring and quality introduction to our outdoors. The reward for seeing the look in the eye of a young girl when she harvests her first deer, is something that everyone should experience. I vow to take the time to listen more intently to my more senior friends. They are here today, but none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. As my father was fighting the good fight against the cancer that eventually took him from us, my brother and I helped him out to the woods during his last hunt. The shine in his eyes told us that we had done the right thing. He was in a coma during our last family hunt, but he seemed to come awake when we described Gary’s big buck. I pledge to take a senior out and treat them with the respect that they have earned.
I implore each of you to find a youth project and get involved. Remember how you got to where you are with your outdoor activities and memories. Call that old friend that you have not spoken to in years just to say hello, and never take today for granted.