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Paul Smith: Contemplating stuff at Christmas

Stuff - some stuff is imbued with memories
My happy daughter Megan at five years old washing dishes. See the frying pan. — Paul Smith photo

It’s the day after Boxing Day, night actually, and the wind has been howling now for 48 hours or more. And it’s freezing cold, with a wind chill something quite frigid I suspect. I looked at the forecast and it predicts powerful winds for tomorrow as well. That’s winter on the Avalon Peninsula I suppose, rain, wind, freezing cold with ice everywhere, and back to rain again. It’s like a climatic roller coaster ride, but we are tough and we will survive.


By the glow of LED life becomes clear. — Paul Smith photo
By the glow of LED life becomes clear. — Paul Smith photo

Luckily, I’m sitting in a warm house and not struggling to survive in the lee of a boulder on the barrens. That would be rough tonight. Anyway, I’m warm and cozy by our Christmas tree, basking in the glow of Christmas and Chianti.

This lovely atmosphere, koselig to Norwegians, gets one to thinking about what’s important during our walk on this planet. Some philosophical folks might say that stuff or material things are insignificant. I suppose a valid point, experiences trumping things you know, but I love my stuff, too. Good friends and family I think trumps all.

You may think I’m being overly superficial, declaring the importance of stuff. Not really. Let me explain. I’m not just talking about frivolous stuff, like Cadillac cars and Rolex watches. Although to some folks these might be their stuff to take on that final burning wooden raft voyage to the next season, like a Viking cremation. If you love cars, greasy hands all your life, spreading wax for comfort and escape, then bring a Cadillac along by all means. You deserve it. My neighbor June Hutchings loves cars. He is the best mechanic I know. 

I once met a man who loved finely built mechanical watches and fishing.  He had worked all his on a GM assembly line. He couldn’t have cared less about the cars he helped build, Corvettes and mini-vans all alike to him.  He vowed in his twenties, that upon retirement he would buy a Rolex and wear it on a fishing trip to Great Bear Lake in Canada, to catch a huge lake trout. So there he was, retired and photographed with a 30-lb laker and a Rolex Explorer on his wrist. Do you think it frivolous of this man to value that watch dearly, to wear it to the afterlife? It’s not like he won the bloody lottery and bought it on a whim. You see what I mean, stuff and life is connected. Ancient peoples like the Norse and Native North Americans understood this better, I think.

So here I am thinking, the glow of multi-coloured LED, another Chianti, life is getting clearer. Not all stuff, but some stuff is very important. Friends are precious and family, of course. So when I have to leave my friends and family what stuff might I want to take along on that final trek? Let’s say I can choose two items from all the stuff I’ve collected on this nearly six-decade journey.


First things first

The first is easy. I’m going nowhere without my Remington Model 870 Wingmaster. It’s a finely crafted firearm that can shoot a lifetime, like a Rolex tells time with no battery. But that’s not the point here, in this context. I bought it from my first ever paycheck when I was 16 years old. And can you imagine how cups of tea I’ve shared with friends, over a campfire with that shotgun leaned against a tree. You see? It’s all intertwined. Events and things become one.


A full dozen egg capacity. — Paul Smith photo
A full dozen egg capacity. — Paul Smith photo

Second choice, let me see, a bit tougher decision, and my first fly rod is long gone. I’m going to choose my 15-inch steel frying pan with the long pipe handle. This masterpiece of culinary engineering has a long history with me, family, and friends. It came into my life as a wedding gift from Goldie. I picked it out.

We were on our honeymoon in Sudbury, Ont., visiting my older sister. We walked into one of those roadside sell-everything stores and I spotted it hanging from the ceiling.

Goldie wasn’t impressed at my choice, wanting to buy me something more meaningful I suppose. But I wanted the frying pan for a wedding present.

She bought it and I grinned from ear to ear. Its first taste of grease was frying fish in my sister’s trailer at a trout fishing camp up north. We went there alone, honeymoon remember.

I have dragged that pan everywhere, family camping, rabbit hunting, duck hunting, salmon fishing. What yarns it could spin. My two daughters love fried chicken legs. When they were kids we would leave home in early July for a couple of weeks camping in our hardtop trailer. I’d set up the Coleman stove on the picnic table and fry chicken in that big pan, one batch feeding a full hungry camping crew. What a wonderful pan it is, and fantastic memories. They remember that pan.

I asked them just a few days ago, although they don’t see it much anymore. I think I might fancy a winter fish fry with all the family.


Here’s a funny story

Speaking of stuff and friends, here’s a dandy funny story to end my last column for 2017. Some of you may know Charles Piercey from Carbonear. He’s a well-known all around great gentleman and a good friend of mine. We used to go salmon fishing together on the Great Northern Peninsula, early ’90s, along with my daughter Megan and Charlie’s stepson Clifford.

We were on a multiday, three-canoe, six-person trip down Main Brook, destination Wiggy Steady. My friends Chris Coombs and Frank Samson were with us. We had a lot of gear stowed in boats, but Charlie and Chris riding together in a homebuilt 15-ft fibreglass had only my precious frying pan.

Charlie and Chris capsized in a rapid up ahead. Megan and I had to coordinate a tight manoeuvre to avoid a collision with Charlie. He was sitting in the middle of the river with water flowing around his shoulders, pinned against a rock I think. Chris was hanging on to the water-filled canoe, trying to drag it ashore.


Charlie and Megan getting ready for a night at Wiggy Steady — early ‘90s. — Paul Smith photo
Charlie and Megan getting ready for a night at Wiggy Steady — early ‘90s. — Paul Smith photo

The first thing that crossed my mind, you guessed it, where’s my frying pan. Charlie is still amused by my fuss over my frying pan, and lack of worry about my buddy in the drink. That was more than 20 years ago. I knew he was safe enough; a big tough ex-military lad, and we had to eat. No pan, no seared salmon. In short order, and without concern for personal safety, Charlie rescued my pan from the bottom of Main Brook. Thanks buddy.

Charlie got dried out over a rousing open fire. We caught a bunch of salmon at Wiggy Steady. A plump one got fried up with fat pork. Drinks and laughs were shared around a campfire. We slept that night so well, fatigued from paddling, and lulled by salmon splashing in the river. Stuff is important in life.

I love that frying pan. Goldie had no idea at the time, but she bought me the best gift ever. Thanks. Charlie, I know you are reading this, and I know you are laughing.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock  

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