By Otha Barham
Back about 1960 B. C. (Before Camouflage) I purchased a hunting jacket. In those days you bought your hunting gear at the hardware store. There were no specialty hunting and fishing stores, no Bass Pro Shop, no Cabelas. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mailed giant catalogs to everyone and over toward the back on about page 950 there were a few hunting supplies.
But if you wanted to try a jacket on before you laid out the six or seven dollars that one cost, you had to visit Western Auto or the privately owned local hardware store.
I believe I bought the canvas hunting jacket from an independent hardware store in Morton, Mississippi. It was olive drab color, the same color as much of the clothing worn by our soldiers in WWII.
The jacket had a smallish game bag sewn into the back, really just an extension of the canvas back doubled up and sewn along the top. The game bag was not waterproof, and thus not blood proof, and three rabbits in the bag were too many.
The jacket was unlined, consisting simply of just one layer of canvas.
After a couple of rabbit, deer and squirrel seasons and a few dove and quail hunts thrown in, I moved to Texas and took the jacket to new territory where I tore it on mesquite bush thorns. Every fall I would come back to Mississippi and wear the thing into the deer woods. It served as an inferior windbreaker for my cotton flannel shirts and cotton thermal underwear.
The gradual accumulation of blood and grease made the old jacket almost waterproof. I wouldn't wash the jacket of course for fear of losing its "waterproofing."
The old jacket lasted on into the 1980's, having faded to a light pea-green color. It had sustained a tear on the right sleeve near the wrist that left an annoying tag hanging down. Otherwise it stayed in one piece until it was relegated to its backup role.
Eventually waterproof and breathable materials emerged and the old canvas jacket assumed a semi-retired status. As we moved around the country following my job, the old jacket moved with us. I wouldn't consider throwing the ragged old thing out, though my wife had such leanings continually.
There were just too many memories of fine days in the woods that its limp sleeves and tattered pockets and frayed collar helped me call to mind; too many stories stored in the grease and grime and dried blood that had become perhaps more of the fabric of the old jacket than the original canvas cloth.
The day finally came when my old canvas jacket had to be discarded. It had lost any semblance of usefulness. Its time had passed. It was a relic.
I don't remember throwing it into the trash. There are things we do in life that we choose not to call forth from our memories; the things that cause us anguish. Like putting an old and ailing dog to sleep or trading a favorite shotgun. But somewhere along the way we discarded the old jacket. Maybe my wife did it and didn't tell me. That would have been easier for me and perchance that is how it happened. I just don't want to think about it.
I miss the thing. Yes, it nearly froze me to death several times when I couldn't get enough layers under its thin canvas. Yes, it spooked several deer because it had no camouflage pattern. Yes, it turned many heads in its latter years in McDonalds, their customers feeling sorry for the poor hunter who couldn't afford a decent hunting jacket. But they didn't understand. They didn't know the bond that had been forged between the old jacket and me. They couldn't know where the wrinkled jacket had taken me and what wonders of nature we had experienced together.
Today as I flip through the pages of my photo albums, I see myself in the old jacket in many of the places where we found adventure together. Its new smell comes to mind there in the shot of me and my first buck. Its more familiar musty smell touches my senses as I see the1967picture of the big seven pointer and me. There it is on my son John as he holds up some ducks in a shot of him with some friends.
Right now I wish I could slip my arms into the old jacket's sleeves and feel its frayed collar against my neck and push its quarter-size buttons into their holes along the front. Perhaps this wish emanates from a deeper wish to go back and live once again those treasured times in the woods and fields that happened to my old canvas jacket and me.