I can't quite remember the first time I met The Old-Timer. It was probably my pre-teen years.
I always liked him, and lucky for me, it went both ways. That wasn't the case with everyone The Old-Timer met.
My dad and mom, God rest their souls, always told me, "If he likes you, then you're one of his best friends. If he doesn't like you, or if you ever cross him, you can forget about being his friend.
Fortunately, for me, my family, and several other people, The Old-Timer took a liking to us. Once he did, we were lifelong friends.
During my newspaper career at the La Crosse Tribune, I wrote many stories about The Old-Timer and our travails. Whether it was duck hunting, turtle hooking, rattlesnake hunting, trout fishing, deer hunting, walleye fishing, grouse and woodcock hunting, looking for morels, pine mushrooms or sulfur shelf fungi, ginseng digging, wild berry picking, or simply hiking steep hills, deep valleys and stream banks, The Old-Timer and I forged a deep relationship.
For more than 40 years, I wrote about our adventures. Yes, The Old-Timer was an outdoors sage in the Coulee Region, an enigma to some, and a mystery to others as he remained anonymous until his death, when I was permitted to reveal his true identity.
Thanks to The Old-Timer, I received many state and national writing awards about him. I wish I would have kept all those stories. I did save lots of them, but there are many more that I have yet to share.
Upon my retirement in 2010, I contemplated writing a book titled, "The Old-Timer and Me." I thought the title would be appropriate because The Old-Timer always said, "Me and Bobby," whenever he told his family, my parents or other friends about our travels. Why not, "The Old-Timer and Me?"
Well, I've learned that retirees procrastinate... at least that is my case. I was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than two years ago. That kind of delayed any thoughts about writing a book.
But, I'm back and feeling good. I'm very blessed and shouldn't even be around, but the Good Lord is good to me and I'm moving forward... not with a book, but more stories about, "The Old-Timer and Me," twice a month, maybe more if I have the energy.
These stories and photos will take on the same character as The Old-Timer always was. Gosh, he was a walking outdoors encyclopedia, a character, a clown, a close confidant, a second father, and so much more. He was pint-size in stature, but the outdoors lessons he taught me were immeasurable.
I distinctly remember his first words when I told him I planned to write a story about our first trout fishing trip, and that the story and a photo of him would appear in the newspaper.
"That's fine," he said. "But you can't say who I am or use a photo showing my face."
I told him I didn't think my editor or readers would go for that.
"Haven't they ever heard of a mystery? If not, it's a no-go," he said, with a wry smile.
"Well, I'll see if it gets by my executive editor, but I doubt it," I replied.
"If the guy knows anything about the outdoors and what the La Crosse area is all about, he'll use it," The Old-Timer countered.
Thank God, my editor at the time agreed. And so a long trail of stories and photos began in the Tribune about a little old "river rat," who became a favorite of outdoors and non-outdoors readers alike.
Through the years I urged The Old-Timer to reveal who he was and asked to use a photo identifying him. He always replied, "You can do it when I take the big sleep."
Well, The Old-Timer died with my hand grasped around his in a dimly lit hospital room on Dec. 15, 2005. A tear slid down his cheek, which he often told me was an old Indian sign that meant, "I love you and I'm leaving now." I'll always remember that tear as I wiped it from his cheek.
I used The Old-Timer's true identity and full-face photos of him in the Tribune outdoors section within the next few days. You may have that newspaper clipping and maybe dozens of other articles if you were a regular subscriber. Please keep them.
The reason? I'm starting over again on my website here at boblamboutdoors. You may recall some stories, but there are many others that haven't been told. Tell your friends, too.
And, as was the first story, I won't reveal his name until I'm unable to write anymore, and it will be my time to take the big sleep.
As for now, I'm looking forward to more stories. I hope you are, too.