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Barefoot boy with fishing license

IT was in the 1920s that I walked into Judge Randall's office and laid a 25-cent piece on his desk and he made out my first fishing license. I had gained the age when I could no longer angle lawfully without one, and Judge Randall was our town clerk as well as municipal justice and manager of the bank. The judge looked up at me, and began a scathing harangue against the members of the Legislature of the State of Maine, whose accursed thirst for gold had led them to abuse me - it was outrageous, he said, to make a barefoot boy lay down a quarter to do the one thing every barefoot boy had the inherent right to do simply because he was a barefoot boy and had a brook in his pasture. The world had come to a pretty pass, he said, and he was ashamed to take my money, but since the fee went with his statutory duty as town clerk, he had no choice. Furthermore, he said, the small percentage they allowed him wasn't worth his time. It would be more like it, he said, if the state began to pay little boys to fish, as the traditions needed to be perpetuated, and if things kept going to a wretched pot there would come a day, etc., and so forth.

I still have that first fishing license, now preserved in a plastic cover, and it says my privilege to fish in Maine is valid so long as I remain a bona fide resident of the state. It was but a few years later that the Maine legislators, still athirst for revenue, reneged on this permanency and began insisting on new licenses every year. And the price of 25 cents began to climb just about as fast as the chance to catch a trout declined, an indignity to the honest angler which is somewhat tempered when he reaches 70 years and the state honors him in old age with a free license.

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I've been hunting trout on my free license for some time, but I keep my original with Judge Randall's signature handy in my tackle box, and now and then whip it out to confuse a warden. Today's wardens never saw the 25-centers, and few have even heard of them.

Meantime, I saw an advertisement lately for some kind of cosmetic wonder that will turn gray hair back to the hues of youth, so an old man can rejuvenate himself and come forth like a bridegroom. Right there on the TV screen the fellow ran a comb through his hair and smiled in satisfaction and triumph at the metamorphic miracle - 30 seconds ago his bean was like the snaw of John Anderson my jo, John, and now it was a good bit like a chocolate pudding. True, if you were paying attention, the gent was the same old gent, but the smile on his face proved that he had been living for some time with the unhappiness of silvered locks.

He thought this was a good thing, and it put me in mind of the time Lippy Lewis went to town and somehow got himself inveigled into buying a wig. Lippy hadn't any use for comb and brush for some 50 years, and his new hairpiece gave him a rakish, derring-do appearance that brought back his lost youth. When he got home and put up the horse and came into the kitchen, Midge, his wife, didn't know who he was and whammed him on his new wig with a chair - same as for a thief or tramp.

Robert Burns tells us John Anderson's brow was ``beld'' in his years, but in my gathering antiquity I have all the hair I ever had, and except for one thing I might - I say I might - be a glad customer of the wonder that can so readily restore the charm and beauty of yesterdays. That one thing is my fishing license, where the bloom of my joyous boyhood is treasured up forever in unchanging magnificence.

On that day back in the 1920s, Judge Randall, while he was rebuking the Legislature, interrupted himself to ask my date of birth, my height, my age, and color of my eyes. Then he looked up at my noggin, and where the license called for ``Color of hair'' he wrote, ``Brown.''

Brown it was, and 60 years later the color of my hair is still brown. Not on my head, where things have taken on the facts and I am silver crowned and somewhat stately to look at, but on my fishing license, where youth endures and a considerable sequence of town clerks has perpetuated my ID by copying from expired licenses rather than looking up at me. What Judge Randall saw went on the record, and there it is.

I go in and put down last year's fishing license, along with the money, and out I come still brown-haired and lovely as I was so long ago. Doesn't an Arabian adage say that Allah doth not subtract from a man's allotted span the hours he spends a-fishing? The contemplative man's recreation, and the Apostles' own calling. I don't angle too much nowadays, but I don't let my license lapse, and I don't have to buy any of that stuff on TV.

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