From the Editor in Chief: To Have and Not Need

Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,

It’s not at a pathological level, but I am a hoarder. No one is going to come to my house and make a show about me. I don’t need a roll-away dumpster. But I am cripplingly nostalgic and I do live by an adage a Marine Corporal taught as I marveled at his ability to build a scrap wood radio tower in the middle of the Okinawan jungle, “Better to have and not need than need and not have.” 

It didn’t take much to convince me of his wisdom. My brother and I come by the tendency naturally, from a songwriter father who saves screws and nails; old electrical cords and salvaged antique doors. Some may look askance at the cane bottom chairs hanging from the ceiling in his workroom “because someone may need them”. Likewise, the tool drawer in which I keep nineteen hammers. Or the esoterica found in the back of my brother’s SUV. But when we are vindicated in the eyes of the non-believers? When we need and do have? Well, that’s the finest eight-cent screw anyone ever retained for seven years after installing a ceiling fan and we celebrate it with a look, and a smile, and an understated, “Yep” as a means of affirming the connection of father and son and brother, speaking the unspoken language of family.  

Now I find myself entering a phase of life in which the generation above mine is divesting unto me things that I’ve long considered inextricably theirs. A transfer of items like that imparts a spiritual weight I doubt I will be able to put down until I have no choice. 

As I write to you, I periodically lean back in my chair and cast my eyes around my office. There, on the wall in front of me is the only piece of taxidermy I have. It’s a pheasant in flight, shot by the grandfather I never met from the back of a convertible driven across the Texas Hill Country by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. As a conservationist, it’s not my proudest bit of lineage, but as a grandson and history buff, it’s pretty cool. My cousin Cap has the deer mount our grandfather took there along the Pedernales. 

Casting my eyes left, there are two first editions of “The Old Man and the Boy”. My best friend gave me one in celebration of my retirement from the Marine Corps and my assumption of this writing life. My Uncle Jim found the other in a used book store in Bishop, Georgia in the 1980s. Inside it bears the name of a cousin, a Georgia-born doctor and passionate hunter who moved to Alaska for the game opportunities. That connection revealed it to be a book stolen from a family home years before in a much broader burglary. I hope there’s a separate hell for a book thief, one filled only with instruction manuals and airport books. Our gracious cousin told Jim to keep it and the last time I saw him, a few weeks before he died, I told him about the part that Robert Ruark’s efforts played in spurring this column. He put the book in my hands, the last thing he gave me before departing this world. I believe there’s a cosmic throughline from the Old Man to my Uncle Jim, who taught me the kind of lessons the Old Man (or the Old Men who inspired him) gave Ruark a scant thirty miles from what is now my home. 

My Great-Granddaddy Guy Worth Wall, wore Red Camel overalls every day of his life, or at least those I can remember. Besides the name we share and the black fedora he wore to town, they are all I have of him. When I hold them, I can time travel to the banks of a cow pond to again find myself hauling in a fingerling catfish, held in the mouth of another whiskered fish grabbed in turn by a snapping turtle as I slowly reeled all of them using all the strength an eight-year-old possesses. “Grandaddy Guy,” his eyes twinkling from a face deeply lined by years of farming, again leaps into the pond to grab that “turkle” and bring the whole assemblage ashore, only to be unable to wrest the snapper from the muck before it gives up on my second catfish and makes good its escape. It sounds like a fish story, but it’s a turkle story and every word of it is true. 

The desk at which I now write is made from old barn beams and a slab my Uncle Jim helped me cut from a mammoth fallen oak on a family farm. It’s a place we no longer have but I still need. I handed that wood to Dan Perrin, a man more commonly found outfitting homes and restaurants in South Carolina’s Low Country with artisan cabinetry, and asked only, “Would you make me a desk?” 

I can’t walk the woods and pastures or swim in the pond anymore. I can’t sit on the breezeway and rock with my Nana as we drink tea so sugared the spoon stands up straight. But every day I sit at this heirloom desk and try to arrange twenty-six letters in a way that will matter to people I’ve never met, people in the midst of their own lives and their own realities. I believe the decades she lived under the oak rise into my fingers and give life to words I hope give you just a moment of the peace I find in thinking of her and that tree. 

Nothing is permanent. There will always be things we need and don’t have. But I am learning to hold on to those things that I do. I have a daughter I suspect will need them. 


Russell Worth Parker Editor-in-Chief Signature

Russell Worth Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Tom Beckbe