Wednesday, June 22, 2005


In Which I Learn Of Bullets and Brandy...

My dad looms large in my life, and therefore on this blog. And while I may be prone to embellishment, my dad is one of those people who defies exaggeration. He is just as I set him down here on these pages:a genial, good-humored, quick-minded, fearless, coarse fellow.

He was not always this way.

Growing up, my father was exposed to two things early on. The first was firearms. My father lived on a hardscrabble farm and he and my grandfather hunted--sometimes poached--to put meat on the table. He's no gun nut, but he appreciates well-made tools, and that's what a rifle was to him. That, and a connection to his own history. When my grandfather died, there were only a few things my father wanted from the estate (such as it was). Chief among them were a Civil War-era Amoskeag Special Model Rifle Musket that had belonged to great-great-Grandpa John, and my grandfather's Winchester Repeating Rifle Model 1894.

Even though neither rifle worked at the time (the Winchester has since been restored) my father kept these--and three other working rifles--in a locked cabinet that called to my brother and me in much the same way I'm sure that pistol called to those kids in the schoolyard.

My mother was deathly afraid of guns and forbid my father from showing us how to use them. I found out later this was a source of great friction for them. My father believed that knowledge was power and once you knew about a thing, it lost its mystery, and you might just be safer for gaining that knowledge. But my mom didn't agree, so consequently we saw my father open the cabinet only twice a year: during hunting season and in the springtime, when he would retrieve the pump-action .22 rifle or the shotgun and wage war on the pests who would come in the night to destroy his newly planted garden. Woodchucks, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits; they all were the enemy and my father hunted them without mercy (early one Easter morning, he killed a woodchuck that was breakfasting on some greens, then caught a movement in the bushes, whirled, aimed, and shot an enormous rabbit. My brother saw the whole thing from the kitchen window and started bawling. "Daddy SHOT THE EASTER BUNNY!!! BWAHHHH!!!")

When I was 7 or 8, I found a .22 bullet lying by the side of the road and--don't ask why--I decided I wanted to get the slug out of the cartridge. So I went into the garage and laid the bullet on the floor, grabbed the heaviest mallet I could lift and proceed to start whacking the shit out of that bullet. My father opened the door just as I gave the mallet one last smack. There was a spark and a flash and the smell of gunpowder. The bent cartridge caromed off my glasses and went pinging up into the rafters (I'm lucky it didn't put my eye out). The bullet? Never found it.

I did what any 8-year-old boy would do: I dropped the mallet and ran like hell. But my father caught me. I waited for him to come down on me as if from a great height. He had a fearsome temper then, and I was totally doing something forbidden, so I deserved whatever hell I was about to catch.

But instead, my father dragged me into the house, calling to my brother as he went. He was muttering and swearing to himself the whole time. "Goddamnjesushchristlykidalmostshootinghisselflongpasttimewedidthis." And he unlocked the gun cabinet and took out the large shotgun and a box of shells and set them in front of me.

My brother was next to me, eyes as big as saucers. My father hunkered down in front of us. "I'm gonna show you right now what makes these shells work, and then I'm gonna show you what they do when you fire 'em at something and then, by Gorry, you're gonna learn how to handle a gun so you'll know how to make it safe." He exhaled, then grabbed my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye. "Don't EVER let me see you doing what you were doing in the garage. You hear me?"

I heard. I thought he was angry. It was years before I realized just how badly I had scared him.

My father exhaled again, stood up, looked at my brother. "Go get that old piece of plywood from the shed and set it up on the stump out back. We'll use that as a target. I'll be right out." My brother was gone like a shot and I started to follow.

But as I reached the breezeway of our old house, I happened to turn and see my father walking the other way. Towards the sideboard in the dining room. He had the open shotgun cradled in one arm, and with his free hand, he opened the cabinet where he kept the blackberry brandy and set a bottle up on the sideboard. He unscrewed the cap and took a deep, steadying pull.

Which brings me to the second thing my father was exposed to early on in his life...


There is a reason why you write for the magazine.


:) ... I am fan boy.
We are all seated comfortably. You may continue. :)
Anyone else hear "dum dum dum" at the end of these kinds of posts? ;)
I bow my head to you in admiration for the bravery of what you are about to reveal.

diane: hell yea!
don't know whether to laugh or cry --- booze and guns, such an excellent combination
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