May 25, 2021
Ice clung to their gun barrels, and the old Lab's teeth chattered like a railcar. Three men and one boy hunkered with their collars up, chins tucked like prize fighters and hands buried in coat pockets. The thermometer said 10 degrees, but it was closer to minus 10 on the shallow, windswept water. Shane elbowed his father sitting next to him in the blind and asked what time it was.
"It's about 8. You in a hurry?"
"No," said Shane. But he had a secret he could never tell. His toes were so cold—well past numb and back around to searing pain again—that he thought they might actually feel better if he cut them off with his knife. Yet he didn't dare mention any of this because no one else had complained and he wasn't about to either.
So Shane sat, thinking only about his toes turning black and sloughing off. He wiggled each one 100 times, but he could barely move them because they were so tight in his boots with the three pairs of socks he'd worn. He began tapping them on the wooden floor of the blind. It still didn't help. Twenty minutes later, Shane's toes were colder than ever.
"Dadgum," mumbled Dave Gentry a few seats down. "You'd think birds would be piling in here with this front. 'Prolly don't help our hole's froze plumb up again though."
"Yep," said Steve, "better go clear it."
And with that Dave and Steve clambered out of the blind and began busting ice with the heels of their boots. Judging by the effort the men put into this activity, it seemed to Shane that they liked busting ice as much as hunting ducks.
"How ya doin'?" asked Shane's father as he leaned toward his son. "Feet cold?"
"Little chilly," Shane fibbed, "but I'm OK."
"Good man," said his father. "I guess you finally took my advice and only put on two pairs of socks this time."
"Yessir," Shane fibbed again.
"You see, son, sometimes less is more and more is less. More money often means less happiness; less talk gives more meaning to the words spoken; and less stuff crammed into your boots allows more air pockets to warm your toes."
"I wish less wind meant more ducks," said Shane.
His father chuckled.
"Hey son, we're about out of coffee. There's another thermos in the truck. Run fetch it for me, will you?"
Shane exited the blind and took out across the marsh. About a half-hour later he returned, unzipping his heavy jacket before tipping the thermos to pour his father a cup. He tilted the container almost vertical, but to his disappointment no coffee came out.
"All that for nothin'," said Shane.
"Maybe not," replied his father. "Do you know how your grandpa kept from getting frostbite during the war?"
"How?" asked Shane.
"He volunteered to be a runner, to deliver messages back and forth between platoons all night. While the other guys' toes were falling off in their foxholes, he kept his by staying on the move. Sure, he ended up getting shot in the calf," his father added sarcastically, "but his toes were fine. How're yours doin' now?”
Shane looked down at his feet, thinking about them for the first time in a while. He was relieved to find he could feel each individual toe again.
"They're a lot better!" he declared. "I think they might just make it home."
"Wonderful," said his father. "It's funny what a man is willing to lose due to pride. Now let's pick up these dekes and go. We ain't gonna kill any ducks anyway with Dave and Steve walkin' around constantly, trying to warm their feet."