This story was first published in the September 2006 issue of Wildfowl magazine.
“What is it with these places, anyway?” I asked as we got we got into our car.
My wife and I had been visiting my mother-in-law at a retirement home.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re all so… well… feminine.” I nudged the car out into the stream of traffic and we headed for home.
“The walls are all peach or beige. Doilies everywhere. A man doesn’t feel comfortable in that environment.”
“They’re so feminine because ninety percent of the residents are women”, replied my wife.
“Sure”, I said. “ We work ourselves into early graves trying to keep you ladies happy”. She shot me a hostile glance.
“How would you like them to be tricked out?” she asked. “Wood paneled walls? Spittoons?”
“You bet! Nice dark walnut with a prominent grain. And shiny brass spittoons for the dippers and chewers.”
“Only slightly less disgusting than carrying a paper cup around to spit in like some of your buddies”, she said.
“ And who needs all those wimpy paintings of flowers and Parisian street scenes? “ I was rapidly warming to my subject. “At least one room in the place should have wildlife art on the walls…mallards or pintails coming in with their wings locked. Some mounted teal and wood ducks. And you know what would really set the whole thing off? A big old Canada goose hanging from the ceiling by a piece of monofiliment, right over the dining room table like he was coming in to join us for dinner.”
Carol cringed as she fished around in her purse for a pen. “Do you want me to take notes in case you actually have some input when your time comes?” she asked, only half facetiously.
“Maybe a deer head or two.” I was really getting into it now. “And a moose or elk if there was room.”
“Fish and big game would make it more inclusive”, said Carol, scribbling furiously to keep up with my rapid thought process.
As I drove toward home I kept thinking of more things I’d want in my customized retirement home.
“You know those rails they have along the walls for the inmates to hang on to?”
She shot me another glance. “I believe they’re called ‘residents’ or ‘patients’.
“Yeah, residents. Anyway, the rails in this place were obviously fake. Some sort of composition material or plastic. Why couldn’t they be made of nice burled walnut or cherry like a fine old gun stock?”
“That might work”, she replied. I got the impression she was humoring me.
“And speaking of wood”, I said, “A few old decoys sitting around would make me feel more at home. Maybe a pair of Mason snakey head mallards and a nice old Madison Mitchell canvasback…and a big wood burning fireplace for cold weather.” I was on a roll.
“Not one of those fake jobs like they had here, with phony ceramic logs and little blue flames.”
“Probably a risk management factor”, said Carol, always the practical one. I had to give her that one.
My hypothetical retirement home was getting better all the time but something was still missing. When I thought of it I was amazed it had taken me so long. “What would really make us old guys feel at home would be a few muddy dogs laying around on the floor. Say… a Lab in each of the three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. And a big old yellow-eyed Chessie laying in front of the fireplace licking his…. well… licking himself, and growling at anyone who tried to pet him.”
We drove in silence for a while until Carol asked. “What would you call this place?” I was glad she was at least pretending to go along with me.
“I don’t know”, I said. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“How about ‘Geezers Galore”?
“Now you’re making fun of me”, I said as we turned into our driveway. “Okay…. what about… say… Worn Out Waterfowlers?”
“Well”, I said, “it does lend itself to a catchy acronym. WOW”.
I opened the door and let her go inside ahead of me. I briefly thought of myself as the cautious buck allowing the doe to enter the danger zone first.
“I can see the promo material now” I said. “ A grizzled old duck hunter with a droopy white mustache sitting before the fireplace in a rocking chair…”
“Licking his…” interrupted Carol.
“No no”, I said. “That’s the Chessie. Anyway, he’s wearing a rumpled old brown Jones hat like they used to wear before camo, and a plaid wool shirt. He’s got a glass of bourbon in one hand …”
“With a mallard or a Lab’s head engraved on the side”, chimed in Carol.
“Now you’re getting it”, I said, delighted. “And he’s petting his old white- muzzled retriever whose head is resting on his knee. And there’s a wooden decoy, riddled with shot holes, sitting on the hearth.”
She had the big picture now. “And he has an ammo belt looped over his shoulder, only instead of shotgun shells, the loops are full of suppositories.”
“Come on”, I said. “Get serious.”
“Sorry”, she said. “I got carried away. Anyway, the headline could read, “When it’s time to case the old pump gun, Come to WOW and spend your golden years with guys like yourself, reminiscing about those hallowed days in field and marsh, surrounded by the things you’ve always loved.”
“WOW!” I said. “I think you’ve got it!”