It was 15 years ago when my dad last sat in the corner of the living room in his dark blue leather recliner and took in the joys of a Christmas morning with children and grandkids surrounding him.
He got gifts from everyone, and they all seemed to follow the same theme. There were fishing shirts, fishing hats, fishing lures and fishing books. The guy loved fishing, and everyone seemed anxious to nurture his habit.
As the years went by, it became tougher and tougher to find fishing things for him that were still creative and unusual, and not duplicates of something he already owned. After 30 or 40 years of this routine, dad had everything, times two, plus one each of the really bizarre and the odd-ball stuff.
In the true spirit of Christmas, dad shared his fishing gear with many others. He liked to give fishing equipment as gifts, and he was always ready to rig up a fishing reel and pole for someone who wanted to join the fun, or lend them the proper lure or bait for the conditions.
There were a number of fishing trips where people would just show up with nothing, knowing dad had them covered. Whenever a rod tip was broken or a reel stopped working, dad had you covered. He had extra tips in his fishing "tool" box, extra rods packed in long X-ray film tubes, and extra reels that seemed to travel just fine in those soft, felt bags that Chivas Regal Scotch whiskey would come shipped inside.
At times, dad would put together a dozen full sets of fishing gear - including poles, reels, line and lures - and shipped them off to Indian reservations in Montana and the Dakotas. He and my mom had sent medicines and clothing to Catholic missions on those reservations for decades, but dad wanted to make sure the kids had the opportunity to enjoy fishing, as well.
By the time he died at age 76, dad had a couple of tackle boxes full of what could charitably be called "out of the mainstream" gear, and he seemed to relish showing it off. He had a tiny Budweiser can with hooks hanging from it, a swimming mouse lure, a baby duck lure that actually caught pike in northern Canada and some of the most gaudy, flashy baits that were ever sold.
In his later years, dad also seemed to take particular pleasure in his fishing shirt collection. He had a drawer full of them - shirts from places he had fished, shirts depicting trophy fish and just zany stuff with odd-ball sayings - all fishing related.
As he grew older, his inhibitions waned. The same guy who never went to the hospital without a shirt and tie on when I was younger, did not hesitate to go straight from his beloved Ziegler's quarry to the emergency room when called, wearing a brightly colored T-shirt that said "Fish Fear Me."
The hospital staff and his patients were great about it. They wanted the best doctor they could find to stitch up a cut finger or set a broken bone. They could have cared less that he was wearing a fishing shirt that came from the discount rack at Cabela's. After decades of continual service as a small-town family doctor, dad had earned the right to be a tad eccentric in his senior years.
At Christmas, we remember dad as a guy with a lot of Santa Claus in him, year-round. He had the gray beard, the bowl full of jelly, and he never was happier than when he had a little kid standing in front of him, either telling a fishing story, or explaining just how he fell off that bike and skinned his knee.
Every Christmas we remember the fishing-themed presents, the fishing gag gifts and dad sitting in that chair and getting so much joy out of the assembled family, the great food and the talk of that next fishing trip. We realize now that beyond the fishing poles and the reels and lures, the most precious gift he gave us was not fishing related at all.
An incredibly giving man had showed us the value of generosity.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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