When I was a younger I dreamed of having waterproof hunting clothes. I would press my nose against the cold glass of glossy catalogs, and run my fingers over the pictures of those handsome models with neatly trimmed beards and square jaws. Men who stood on rocky crags, impervious to the sleet and wind, and brought home trophies.
But alas, I was the Oliver Twist of the hunting world. My first rifle was an elderly 303 Enfield, with the barrel held in place by duct tape. My hunting clothes were a menagerie of military surplus that sopped up moisture like a Shammy.
One time an acquaintance took me hunting, and after looking at me up and down and eying my gun with suspicion said “man you are hard up”.
Then a man died in New Jersey.
He was a neighbor of my parents who was almost exactly my height and weight. His wife filled up a cardboard box of his clothes for me, and put it in the trunk of my parents’ Buick. Inside was a beautiful Hart Schaffner Marx suit, that instantly became my number one wedding and funeral officiating costume.
But the real treasure in that box, was a vintage Woolrich hunting outfit that was older than me. It sported the classic deep red and thin black line pattern. I don’t believe the dead man hunted very much, because it was in perfect condition when I got it. I assume he just occasionally did some upscale hunting; pheasant, quail, and other blue-blooded game.
The fact that it was the same outfit Elmer Fudd wore made no difference to me. That November, when I first went afield in that suit, it was the first time in my hunting career I was warm even when I got wet. I loved that suit.
I packed it in on my back when I hiked up into the mountains. I would strip off my sweat soaked hiking clothes and change into that red wool suit. In just a few minutes, I would feel the warm embrace of all that heavy cloth. I could plunge my hands into its deep side pockets, and curl into a sled-dog-style-ball and take cat naps on the forest floor on quiet afternoons while the snow collected on my shoulders.
I got more than a few funny looks from other hunters I occasionally met. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they saw me. Maybe they thought a hunter lost in the blizzard of ’66 had finally unthawed and found his way back to civilization.
Like I said, I loved that suit. Sadly, I loved it to death. The pants were the first to go. My wife tried patching them on several occasions, but the repairs were in vain. The words of Jesus proved all too true “But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.”
The next spring the tattered pants were bagged up for the Goodwill rag donation center. The jacket is still in my shed, tattered for sure, but I still wear it once in awhile just for old times sake.
Then a few years ago I was finally able to buy a six-piece-multi-layer-waterproof-hunting-system, just like the ones I used to pine for. Like my old suit, it has pockets in all the right places. The first morning I wore it, a cold front had just swept in over the mountains, bringing sleet, and wet snow on its leading edge. Then a steady drenching rain settled in, the rain started in about noon and never let up. But I was warm and dry, and in love again.
I know that somewhere, a young hunter is working two jobs trying to keep his family fed is dreaming of waterproof hunting gear. I can see him flipping through the pages of a hunting catalogs ogling the pants and jackets. On visits to the big box outdoor outlet, he’s running his hands lovingly over the shoulders of the outfits on the racks. He’s silently wishing he could afford them.
To that young man I say this: Don’t worry son.
Someday, me, or someone like me, is going to die.
His friends and family will cry some tears, tell some lies about him at the funeral, eat some banana pudding, and then put all his clothes into a cardboard box. And maybe, just maybe, they will be just your size.
Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at pastorjeffell.com. and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.