In being addicted to hunting, fishing, trapping and the outdoors in general, it isn’t surprising that you habitually use the word “old” when referring to the equipment essential to your health and happiness. No matter that the reference may be to things fairly new, and oftentimes to people younger than you. For instance: “Y’ know, old Billy, there”— who’s half your age — “is good in both ends of a canoe.” By no means, however, are you alone in this trait common to sportsmen. To the contrary, the trails we travel are littered with it.
Accordingly, now that the season of fishing on frozen water is at hand, it’s likely that you’ve anchored “the old ice shack” that you built a couple of years ago. And of course you’re eager to try the old ice auger that you won, spanking new, in a recent club raffle. Give it some thought and you’ll realize how often that adjective is applied to shiny outboard motors, guns, rods, reels, knives, hatchets and the like. Clearly, the word “old” enables sportsmen to express affection and respect for people, places and things without sounding silly or melodramatic.
Though it’s handy for creating imagery, I find it difficult to dignify a new bait bucket or tackle box
by referring to it as old. The reason being that neither of them holds treasured memories. Likewise, new collars and dog bells don’t conjure images of old bird dogs and covers grown up and gone by. No more than new decoys are reminders of departed retrievers and duck blinds that were warmed with anticipation in spite of wind-chilled cold. Obviously, it takes only a few seasons of fulfilling use for a new pack basket, snowshoes or hunting boots to attain the distinction of being referred to as old. And who among us needs reminding that, like this Happy New Year, a new puppy will grow old and be gone in no time at all.
All told, it can be said that sportsmen use the word old as a term of endearment. But in keeping with their ability to read signs and make decisions that will ensure their well-being, they learn early on not to risk life and limb by referring to their wives as “the old lady.”
Tom Hennessey’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.