I know exactly—sort of—when I lost the glove. I was standing there on the back deck of a bass boat, freezing my ass off and trying to keep sleet off my camera lens, while my boat driver droned on endlessly about that goddamned fried chicken.
He was a local weekend tournament angler who was being paid to drive me around the lake. He was also an assistant manager at a Publix grocery store somewhere in Alabama, and in between bouts of chain-smoking, farting, and the kind of rattling, emphysemic coughing that suggested looming hospitalization, he would extol the many virtues of the fried chicken from the Publix deli section. It was clear he had eaten a helluva lot of it over the years, and it had obviously made an impression. It was like listening to a white, fat, gassy, middle-aged Bubba Gump rattle off all the ways to eat shrimp.
“Ya know wut tha’ secret is? We pressure cook it. Yep, keeps it juicy. There’s a Publix in Guntersville, you want some after we get off’n tha water?”
The only thing I wanted to do after we got off’n tha water was to get the hell out of Alabama. I was in the middle of Lake Guntersville in early February, getting rained upon, sleeted upon, and shat upon by the thousands of startled coots that rose up before us as we barreled up and down the lake following the pros on the first tournament of the season. I was an editor for a bass fishing magazine, and it was my job to take pictures and send back updates. And learn about the superiority of Publix fried chicken.
So there I was, hanging with Colonel Sanders and watching my assigned pro through a 400mm camera lens. I looked like the Michelin Man. I had on sub-base layers, base layers, mid-layers, upper-mid layers, outer layers, and outer-outer layers, over which I had a rain suit, a duck-hunting parka, and a PFD. I had on an insulated mask, a stocking cap, and—when we were moving—a clear plastic face shield. Because warm, just-expelled coot shit at 60mph is no fun.
And my gloves. Not just any pair of gloves, though; my favorites. My bird-hunting gloves. Forty toasty grams of Thinsulate and Gore-Tex ensconced within a thin, buttery-smooth shell of calfskin.
I'd gotten them on a press hunt about five years prior, and they were perfect; thin enough to comfortably and effectively shoot, but warm enough to wear on bitterly cold, windy days. I wore those gloves hunting all over the country. They’d gone to Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Texas, and Oklahoma with me. They’d survived countless careless misplacements in hotel rooms, tailgates, and CRP fields. They’d managed to not get eaten by my dogs, stolen by my son, or pissed on by my wife’s cat. I fucking loved those gloves.
Now I know what you're probably thinking: "It's a freakin' glove, get over it," but bird hunters know what I'm talking about. It's hellaciously hard to find perfect cold-weather shooting gloves, and when you do, you hang on to them, baby them, protect them. And you damn sure don’t take them off on strange boats.
But that’s exactly what I did. As soft and thin as they were, my gloves were still too thick to wear for some tasks, so when it was time to break out my laptop and send photos back to the website, I had to do it bare-handed.
I took off the gloves, got out my laptop and set it on the back deck of Colonel Sanders’ boat while he continued droning on about chicken while casually pissing off the front deck.
That’s when things went to hell. The pro I was following suddenly pulled up his Power-Poles, which is a sure sign he’s about to blast off. Which means we’d better be about to blast off, too, because if you lose your pro, you’re shit outta luck.
“Now Popeye’s chicken ‘aint too bad, but our breadin’s a lot better’n theirs and our…”
“Goddamnit, he’s leaving,” I cried as I frantically started packing up my computer and camera gear into the Pelican cases.
By this time my pro had strapped down his rods, put on his PFD, and was cranking his big motor. Colonel Sanders reassembled himself back into his rain bibs and lumbered to his seat as I haphazardly threw lenses and camera bodies into cases and shoved them under the console as best I could.
I still had shit strewn all across the deck and was desperately trying to shrug my way into my PFD just as the pro roared by us heading up the lake. That’s when Colonel Sanders mashed the throttle forward and I fell right on my ass on the floor of the boat. I managed to grab my face shield and get into my seat, but as we got up on plane and the biting cold started turning my hands to blocks of ice, I realized in horror that I couldn’t remember what I’d done with my gloves.
The rest of that boat ride was a blur of icy spray, coot shit, and despair. When we finally stopped, I carefully checked every pocket of every article of clothing I was wearing. I checked every compartment in every case. I checked every compartment and locker in his boat. I found one crumpled glove stuffed into my computer case, the other one was gone, probably blown off the back deck as we took off.
I was crestfallen. After leaving Colonel Sanders at the boat ramp, still waxing poetic about the family pack of Publix he going to demolish that night, I repeated the searching process at the hotel: the camera case, the laptop case, my rain bibs, my parka, the pockets of my many layers.
No glove. It was gone. Irretrievably gone, lost to the water gods.
I finished out the tournament with a pair of borrowed gloves, bought some Publix fried chicken before I left Alabama (Colonel Sanders was right: it was pretty damned good. But no Popeye’s…), and drove all the way home to Oklahoma mourning the loss of my glove. There were still two weeks left in the Oklahoma quail season and I spent the rest of it wearing my surviving glove paired up with a thin leather driving glove on my shooting hand. It looked ridiculous and sad and reminded me of those people you see on the highway driving on their donut spare, and you know they’re not doing it because they just had a flat.
I threw that surviving glove in my gear closet after quail season, hoping against hope that somehow, somewhere, like some five-fingered Lassie, it'd come home.
And that’s where it stayed. Until last month.
I decided to clean out and organize that closet, and as I was going through a box of crap, I ran across that lone, lonely survivor glove, and with one last pang of regret, tossed it out. What good is one glove, right? Its mate, somewhere in the depths of Guntersville Lake, 'aint ever coming back.
Let it go, Chad. Have some glove closure. It’s a freakin’ glove, not the love of your life.
If I'm being honest, it felt good to finally move on.
The other night, as I’m digging around in a box of outerwear I'd stashed in the garage, I felt a lump in the pocket of a waterproof jacket I used to pack for all the tournaments.
Do I even have to tell you what that lump was? Of course I don't.