A Boy I Envy

Remembering a time when every shell, every cast, every cent was precious.

(Photo: iStock)


I recently was fortunate enough to be able to order my first truly custom-made shotgun. (I won’t name the make, since a lot of people have mixed emotions about my shooting ability and it might at as a depressant to this particular manufacturer’s sales.) But let me tell you it’s a thrill to fill up a couple of pages of paper with detail on engraving, checkering, and choke boring. Trigger pulls, shape of rib, and the finish of the wood—all as prescribed to be as much of me as the color of my hair.

Now when I was all through with this I lit up my pipe and started wandering a bit back in time to a boy I remember well. A boy who cut and carried wood for the kitchen stove. A boy who read his outdoor adventure books by the light of a kerosene lamp—whose wildest dreams could stretch to British Columbia and the land of the silver fox. And a boy whose more practical life centered around the unimaginable difficulty of saving enough money to buy five shotgun shells—in a time when a whole box of 25 sold for 65 cents.

Or a summer of chores dedicated to the purchase of a dozen Blake & Lamb traps. My over-the-knee boots sold at the general store in Stillwater for a dollar a pair. My first shotgun was a six-dollar single-shot 20 gauge.

But a boy with a trapline never thinks he’s poor. There’s always a tomorrow . . . there’s always the next set . . . there’s always the possibility of the lucky catch of a fox or the skillful success of a mink set come true. I considered myself lucky indeed to live by a good bass lake. In the first place, I worked as a fishing guide—which meant rowing the boat for a sport from pre-dawn to dark for 25 cents a day. And in the second place I got to know every inch of the shoreline worth trapping.

As it generally does for all of us, things worked out fine. I got a pretty good schooling in what they used to call “hardwood college.” I always had my own dog. And often a more-or-less pet possum or coon.

Well, I sealed the envelope that held my special order details and a check that would have supported my whole family back in the old days for almost a year. I really wanted this new gun and I’ve worked long and hard for it. But if you really wanted me to look you right square in the eye and be honest, I still envy a boy I know very well, and remember—with a sense of loss—the incredible excitement of his having one dollar in his corduroy knickers on his walk to the store to buy a new pair of over-the-knee rubber boots.