Many of you kind folks have written regarding my birthday this week and my eagerness to become an Old Grit, saying, "Donít rush it! Enjoy your youth!" etc. etc. etc.

Well, the truth of the matter is, Iím not really interested in rushing it, so to speak, but Iím not terribly afraid of it. Certainly I can feel that my timepiece is winding down, have since I hit 40, and the average age the menfolk on the Stouff side of the family head for Happy Hunting Ground (or Happy Fishing Ground, as surely must have been the case for my father) is mid-70s.

"Oh, that doesnít mean anything," people say. "Modern medicine negates all that, plus, you have your motherís familyís genes in you, too."

That may well be true, but Iím not banking on it. We are very traditional people, we Stouffs. My father was a boat builder, I am a boatbuilder. My father was a fly fisherman, I am a fly fisherman. My father was a musician, I Ö well, actually I canít carry a tune in a bucket, so there you go. But the majority tradition indicates that 75 is about my End of File mark, so anything beyond that is lagniappe.

So I appreciate your advice, but Iím going to go on living every day like itís my last. Iím going to approach every fishing trip like Iíll never make another one.

With recent events in my life going somewhat haywire and bringing my spirits down a bit, I have this terrible urge to go buy something. You do that? It makes me feel better. Problem is, what I am obsessed with going to buy is a new fly rod. Yes, a dadgum fly rod, and there ainít no fishing to speak of this year, but I want a new fly rod. Itís like ladies buying a new purse or new pair of shoes. I might not need it any more than I need a hole in my head, but I want it to make me feel better.

When I announce such things around the office, the staff groans and shakes their heads and admonishes me, "How many fly rods have you got already?"

I do a quick mental count and say, "Nine."

This always draws a roar of disapproval. "How many do you need?"

Folks just donít understand, but youíd think women would. Of all people, women should understand that they need different shoes for different purposes: Thereís dressy days at work and casual days at work. Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes. Outside shoes. Inside shoes. You get the point.

Itís the same with fly rods. I have rods for bass and bream, rods for redfish and speckled trout. I have rods for big lakes and bays, and rods for tiny canals and bayous. Iíve got rods for deep fish and rods for shallow fish. When I feel eccentric and nostalgic I fish a pre-WWII bamboo rod, when I feel powerful I fish a new bamboo rod, when I feel techno-babbly I fish graphite rods. Whatís so confusing? Shoes and handbags, thatís all it is.

Anyway, enough about fishing. I know some of you hate that. Canít imagine why. A buddy of mine just came back from a trip to California. Saw all kinds of wonderful concrete and steel stuff, but after sitting there and listening for five or ten minutes, I had to ask, "Yeah, but what about the trout?" He reluctantly confided to me that, while visiting California, he did not trek into the Sierras to about 6,000 feet in search of crimson-gilled cutthroat trout.

I donít mean to be judgmental or anything, but why the devil would anyone go to California if not for cutthroat trout in the Sierras?

Itís just me. Iím working on being an Old Curmudgeon, remember? Disney, my eye.

Oops, I said enough about fishing. Sorry. I forget.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Iím not rushing it. I donít want to fear it, being an Old Character. I live one day at a time, really. One moment to the next. Take each day as it comes. Paycheck-to-paycheck, so to speak, in more ways than one. Who can save for retirement when thereís so much sadness in life, resulting in fly rods that need to be bought for cheering up purposes?

Slap the hand, slap the hand, bad boy, no fishing, sssshhhh!

Itís all relative, really. Family traditions, good fly rods and Old Characters. When I was a much younger man, I thought Iíd be a multi-millionaire by now. My father told me once, "Boy, I donít give a dang what you do for a living, so long as you get rich doing it." I am, I guess, with good folks like you in my life, and with lots of good fly rods Ė er, make that, lots of good silverware. No, that makes no sense. Lots of good garden tools. Scratch that, thatís dumb, I donít garden. Takes too much time away from my fishing. Whoa! Wait. I didnít mean that, I meant, takes too much time away from my television watching. Yeah, thatís it, takes too much time away from my television watchingówatchingówatching--Fly Fishing America!!!