Memories of Dad in my worn hunting gear
They hang in the closet, near the back. On a peg is the jacket.
It’s worn at the elbows and one pocket is torn. There are stains that will never wash away … campfire coffee, that bitter stuff inside of acorns, some blood and oily grease from a chainsaw. The fabric is scratchy wool. The pattern, a big and red checkerboard, is called buffalo plaid. Each square is about three inches.
Hanging from another peg is a pair of faded orange pants. The material is stiff canvas, the kind that can turn briars and sharp limbs that poke. My daughters have told me more than once that they are the ugliest pants they have ever seen. They do, in fact, look like the bottom half of a clown suit.
The pants have been mended half a dozen times. The buttons for the suspenders are third generation. None match. The cuffs have disappeared and one leg has a pretty good tear in it. All the pockets have holes in them.
The two garments bear quiet testimony to a time when hunters didn’t much care how they looked. Camouflage wasn’t in vogue, nor was fleece or stuff with names like Silent Tech or Scentlok or DryPlus. In contrast to their well-cut closet mates, they look as out of place as an Oakland Raiders jersey at Invesco Field at Mile High.
But those old clothes look pretty good to me. No, you won’t find them hanging in an Orvis shop. Sporting goods stores have mostly gone upscale, which is OK if you want to stomp around the woods in something akin to tailor-made clothes. Comfortable and practical is what this coat is and these pants are. They are stylish in their lack of style. And they’re pretty much worn out.
But I’ll never throw them away.
They belonged to my Dad. He died when I was a teenager, but before he was gone he taught me about hunting and fishing, and that’s why I’ve kept them all these years.
When I was a skinny kid of about 13, Dad, who wasn’t at all skinny, got a new hunting jacket. The old plaid one was passed down to me. It was roomy, but that was OK. In the mountains that border Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, early morning November temperature are typically around 20 degrees. Underneath that coat, which was really just a heavy jacket, I’d have on two layers of clothes.
There was room for an extra clip for my .308 rifle, a big wad of toilet paper (something you ALWAYS take into the woods), at least two Powerhouse candy bars, matches, a compass and a paperback book – Hemingway’s Nick Adams’ stories were my favorite.
If I hold the coat close to my face, I can still smell the smoke of campfires and woodstoves. There’s more than one bloodstain, including a deer shot years ago – a small buck that casually walked through a patch of pines and stopped 30 yards in front of me. I thought it would bound away, spooked by the sound of my heart, which was pounding in my chest like a timpani.
The coat kept me warm, but what made it special was that it was Dad’s and he trusted me with it. The coat told me that at 13 he actually thought of me as a hunter.
If you look at the coat now, as I did not long ago while packing for the move to Colorado, you’d think it had fallen out of favor. Fact is, I don’t wear it anymore. I don’t wear the pants, either.
I bought a pair of Filson chaps a couple of years ago that work pretty good for busting the brush for birds, and if it’s warm, I’ve a nice pair of Columbia grouse pants. But for years I wore those ugly orange pants whenever we hunted pheasant or bobwhite quail. I’d wear them on mountainside grouse hunts. I’d brave thickets in those pants that would have turned back Br’er Rabbit.
The coat and pants bring to memory special days and in a certain sense resurrect a special man who spent hours teaching a not-always-willing youngster how to be a better hunter and a better sportsman.
I hope years from now my children will have something like them, perhaps an old hat or a fishing vest, to help them remember their dad.
Jim Morgan is the publisher of the Summit Daily News and writes a Tuesday column. He can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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