An Outdoor View: Bragging rights

I’ve seen the term “bragging rights” used many times, and I recently got to wondering about it.

You won’t find bragging rights specifically named in the United States Bill of Rights, but many modern dictionaries include the term. According to my Mac, bragging rights is “the supposed right to brag about an accomplishment.”

Are bragging rights good, bad or something in-between?

Would you claim bragging rights for catching and releasing 50 silver salmon in a morning of fishing?

If you survive a trip from Homer to Seward in a 12-foot john boat with a 10-hp outboard, would you have bragging rights?

Let’s say you’re flipping flies for sockeyes with a fly rod, and you snag a 5-foot-long king salmon in the tail. After a two-hour struggle that exhausts both you and the fish, you finally drag it to shore. Would you claim bragging rights?

During the first few years of my life, my parents, grandparents and Sunday School teachers drilled into me the admonition that bragging — boasting about something you accomplished or possessed — was bad. It meant you were overly proud. I was told that pride goeth before a fall, and that pride is among The Seven Deadly Sins. With all that hellfire and damnation hanging over me, what little bragging I did was with a close friend or one of my brothers.

Having been deprived of bragging-rights in my youth may explain why I’ve caught myself bragging now and then in the ensuing years. What’s more, I’m competitive, so when people start airing their bragging rights, the urge to compete sometimes overwhelms me.

It’s a funny thing … my first memory of bragging involves fish. When I was 5, my mother farmed me out to a babysitter who lived near a creek. The only fishing I’d done until then had been in mud puddles, so I was determined to fish that creek. In my imagination, all kinds of fish lived there. A concertina wire fence couldn’t have kept me away from it.

Entirely on my own, I put together my own crude fishing outfit and dug my own bait. With a string, a stick, a bent pin and a worm, I walked through a cow pasture, found an opening in the concertina-wire-like wall of blackberry vines and cast my line. I felt a pull. I pulled back, and a silvery fish soared over my head and landed on the ground behind me in the blackberry vines. The fish had come unhooked, and was flipping and flopping its way down the bank, toward the creek. Tearing through the thorny vines, I grabbed it, just it was about to slide into the water.

That was enough fishing for me. Clutching my squirming prize, I ran back to the house. My dad wasn’t home, but I had to tell someone, so I called my mother. The phone was one of the old kind that you had to crank and tell an operator a number. Kids weren’t allowed near that phone, so my babysitter placed the call, then handed it to me.

“Mom! I caught a fish!” I said.

I was later told that my fish was a rainbow trout, but its species meant nothing to me, nor did its size. For several days, I felt compelled to tell about my fish to anyone who would listen. No question about it, that fish gave me bragging rights.

Nowadays I’m inclined to believe that bragging rights is another one of the things you lose with age. At age 78, I can’t think of much of anything of which I’m excessively proud. I’ve done many things that have given me satisfaction, yes, and a few of which I’m proud. But in retrospect, most of my accomplishments required some dumb luck, someone’s help, and talents I was given at birth, so what’s to be proud of?

To sum up, the careless, undeserved use of the term “bragging rights” simply must stop. Only if you persist despite great odds, only if you suffer great pain and difficulty, only if by your own skill, guile and good fortune, only if you accomplish something notable and truly worthy, only then should you be able to claim bragging rights.

Given those stringent requirements, the last bragging rights many of us will ever have will be our first fish.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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