The Woodsman Magazine

The Real Gift

Fiction
The Timber Ridge Gang
The Real Gift
By John A. Hallock

Life is funny, isn’t it? For instance, there are a few things I do really well, but then, there are many things I can’t do worth a darn. Now don’t get me wrong. I can do some pretty difficult stuff: Fly fishing, I don’t beat the water to a froth with my nonsinking line and I hardly ever cuss when I catch an oak on my backcast, I can read a GPS, well sort of, I might not get it to take me directly back to my wilderness camp but I can get it to take me to within shouting distance. I can safely operate the car while at the same time my teenage daughter is operating the radio and talking on the phone.  I can shoot a bow, fillet a fish, and even build a bird house. But then on the flip side, of all the things I can’t do, I can’t do birthdays best. To be specific, I haven’t gotten my wife Buncher’s gift right since the first birthday we celebrated together when I gave her a bronze set of horse shoes. I mean, who can’t use a little good luck? 

I have a feeling that’s about to change. It’s taken almost 25 years but I think I finally understand her gift getting needs. This year for instance, for her birthday, she said she wanted to cruise on exotic waters and sip champagne. Well, I don’t need to be kicked in the head by a mule, not again. I can take a hint. That’s why I’m getting her a 14 foot aluminum canoe and a combination ice/minnow bucket for cooling the bubbly, the bait, and mostly, the beer. She’ll just scream.

“I’ve given her all kinds of good stuff over the years,” I said from behind my mug one morning when the subject came up at coffee with the boys around the wood stove. “Fillet knives, a trolling motor, anchor with 50 feet of strong nylon rope, even a Bar B Que grill for ‘gosh sakes’. Or how about the new chainsaw goggles and matching steel toe work boots, or camo pajamas. But nothing seems to work, I can’t think of any one gift I’ve given her that has really tripped her trigger. Until now that is.”

Like I said me and a few other local boys were sitting around talking smart back in he bait and tackle department at Shorty Baker’s General Store out here in the big woods on Timber Ridge. We own the place now, Buncher and me.

“I don’t know,” Tinker McKay said from his chair near the stove. “Wife gifts are a loosing proposition. Take my wife for instance. One year she said she wanted something big and shiny. So I get her a four piece, chrome waffle maker. I love waffles. Talk about two birds with one stone. But she gave it right back to me ... barely nicked my ear on the way past.”

Anyway, talk about all of us guys being in the same big boat. And it’s not that I’m apposed to sparing no expanse once in awhile. I mean there was the year  I got her a hooded Green Bay Packer sweat shirt and matching sweat pants for her birthday, or last year when I got her that new chainsaw. But she hasn’t worn the sweat suit or used the chain saw at all. Now, this wouldn’t normally concern me too much, but then I noticed we’re getting awful low on cut firewood. I might have to get busy myself and start really nagging her to get cutting.
I mean, I think she should at least try the saw out, for just a cord or two. Which reminds me of the time a few years back when I talked her into trying out the new portable ice fishing  tent I got her for Christmas. I also got her a dozen ice fishing jigs and a gross of maggots for bait. Like I said, spare no expense.

Buncher said something about “gross” being the optimum word and wanted nothing to do with the maggots, but she agreed to try the tent. We decided to go to a lake way out in the woods where we would be the only ones fishing, or so we thought.

The setting was gorgeous, the forest surrounding the lake was a winter wonderland with snow piled atop the pines like thick, white icing. We got out onto the ice, drilled a couple of holes, and were set up in no time.

The little tent was very cozy, as in nose to nose seating. It had a floor and built in seats that all fit atop a plastic sled. We weren’t cold and the fishing was even pretty good in spite of the tight quarters. We’d been there about half an hour and had five or six nice crappies in the bucket when Buncher got a huge hit. Her short jigging rod bucked like a rank bronc and the little spinning reel squealed as line went out.
“Hold on! Hold on!” I  yelled. I threw down my pole and dropped to my knees. I tried to peer down the hole. “Don’t horse him! Don’t horse him! It must be something big. Hold on!”

Buncher fought the good fight. All the while I hollered encouragement. “Don’t horse him! Don’t horse him!” It took a good five minutes but  Buncher finally maneuvered the catch under the hole. I got closer, ready to grab the fish at first sight. I watched the line, saw the hole fill up and the water dimple. I grabbed quick and came up gripping a heavy handful of fighting, biting ... muskrat!

I  hollered and threw the rat down. Unfortunately it landed in Buncher’s lap where it came untangled from the line. And let me tell you this, that cozy little tent got a whole lot cozier when it filled up with ear piercing muskrat squeals and blood curdling screams.

“Grab your pant legs,” I screamed. “Don’t let it run up your pants.”
Well Sir, that suggestion mixed with my sheer panic apparently wasn’t the type of bravery Buncher expected from me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, with all that was happening in such close quarters I’m not really sure of it, but I think she may have taken a swing at me. On top of everything else the tent’s zipper door must have frozen shut because it wouldn’t open. We were trapped. It was a fact that caused us and the muskrat additional stress. I finally grabbed Buncher’s fillet knife and cut a slash from top to bottom in the back tent wall.
Me and the rat dove through the opening together. He ran off into the woods none the worse for wear and I lay shaking on the ice like a fresh caught bass. I too, was all right, except  I was hoarse for a week after ward from all that blood curdling screaming.

As far as I’m concerned this all just proves it is not always better to give than to receive. Not when it’s a gift for your wife. Not unless you can figure out what she really wants. And when all is said and done, isn’t that the real gift?

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