I had just returned the pair of binoculars my boss had given to me for Christmas, needless to say the exact kind he bought the year before for all of his team. Lazy but easy shopping I guess on his part. I liked the idea so all I had to do is to get a sporting goods store credit and buy what I really wanted. Binoculars for a horseman or handicapper is a necessity and since that is what I was, I had binoculars coming out of my ying yang, I had that many.
The year before I bought a meat slicer, some spices for smoking, a dinner triangle bell and some polarized sunglasses, the type that goes over your real glasses and makes you look in your nineties. My wife and I scoured the store for something that we would use but came up empty-handed other than some cooking tools, some spices, a lodge cast iron dutch oven. There was still more to spend so we moved downstairs for another look. She went one way and I went the other scanning down the aisles and end caps for something that would grab my eye.
As I moved, I would move my head left then right then left again. I passed an aisle and down past the adjacent aisle on the only visible side of the far end cap was a 6 inch dangling piece of leather fringe. I stopped immediately and took two longs steps backwards arching my back so my head would get there first. “What is that?” I murmured.
“Can I help you find something?” a small slender girl in a green vest asked.
I was still standing with my back bent as far as it would go and eyes fixated down the aisle when I put my hand out in a ‘stay away’ manner. “Nope, I think I found just what I was looking for,” I answered her without making eye contact. I spun and walked briskly to the other aisle as what I had spotted came into full view. Stacked neatly on the shelf was 10 boxes with one of the items unboxed and on display. I picked it up and held it away from my body in admiration.
I couldn’t speak. I’m not sure if I was breathing. My lips became instantly chapped. I was afraid to blink thinking the image of what I was looking a would go away. I heard a harp in the distance.
“What’d ya find?” my wife had come up behind me.
I shook the discovery up and down feeling the weight of the finely tuned machine.
“A Daisy 25,” I turned and said as my eyes welled up in tears. The store filled with mood music from Muzak. I heard Dad.
— Time Travel Time —
“Nebraska, Aksarben, Nebraska, Aksarben?” I quizzed George without admitting stupid, “I don’t get it?”
“What don’t you get?”
I just shrugged.
“It’s backward ya dope,” he affirmed the stupid in me.
“Aksarben, Nebraska, Aksarben, Nebraska?” I answered with a questionable tone.
“Oh my God, Turd. You can’t be that big of a turd,”
“Why do you say that George,” Even though I knew why George called me that. It was his favorite word other than, ‘Nice’, as he would say stretching out the end of the word until his breath ran out when Bindy Belino walked by the apartment’s open door.
“Cuz it’s backward. You know, backward. The other way. Uh,” he paused in disbelief, “Aksarben is Nebraska spelled backward.”
I just stared up at him.
“Oh, now I got it,” I really didn’t but I answered positively to protect my innocence.
George pushed the needle through the leather as he shook his head slowly. George and Mike, his older brother, made whips and fixed broken saddles and tack for their Dad, Arland who was the Jockey Attendant at Omaha’s finest race track.
“Did I tell you that Dad is going to buy me a gun?”
George didn’t break stride with the needle.
“A real gun George. Gonna be my first and Dad said he’d make me a target to shoot at in the hallway of the trailer.”
“You ain’t gettin’ no gun Billy. No way Jose,” he stabbed the pointed thread into the next hole.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Dad said he’s gonna buy me a gun and he’s gonna show me how to use it right.”
“You remember your Grandpa?”
The reality of the breakable promise my Dad had blurted at me in the heat of my begging for a gun hit me as hard emotionally as was the first time I heard the story of my Grandpa. Dad was a hunter, a woodsman, a farmer, a handy man and a respectful horseman beside him being a regular attendant at the neighborhood Gin Mill.
Because of his Mafioso background, he could fix anything, literally. If you were broken, he would fix you one way or another. Another usually sucked if you was who he and friends were fixing.
He also had a few patents already under his belt when I knew him. His Dad, and crazy as it sounds, I still not sure which name fits or what he was even about although I did know Grandma and her husband, the guy she was with after Grandpa left his family without knowing he would.
There was a farm or maybe just some land but the story went like this.
The day was to be spent hunting deer. Probably more like getting meat for the family. I have no pictures or anything about this but since my memory has faded somewhat I only have what I have.
There was a fence, an old style barbed wire fence strung out tight by the land owners to show the defining lines between parcels or homesteads. The barbed wire was deadly to anyone who tempted the height and tried scaling it. Livestock suffered devastating wounds from this late 1800 style of wire. Some called it the ‘Devils Rope’.
There was a field and a small group of hunters, probably neighbors or friends. There were guns in all shapes, sizes and calibers. There was a couch. There were deer. Then there was time which ran out.
The small group approached the fence line and crossed it one by one, each handing the gun to the crossing owner once safely over the blades of the Scutt’s arrow plate sheet metal barbs which was given the name because of the arrowhead shape and appearance.
Second to the last man over the fence was Grandpa. He turned back at the man holding his gun and reached for it. Memory fails me but somehow I thought it was Dad who handed it to him. Most likely it wasn’t or he’d still been in his straitjacket when I was born. Both barrels of the double ought buckshot wielding weapon were pointed directly at his gut. He grabbed the end and pulled.
BAM! The hairpin trigger, probably honed by Grandpa, released both barrels simultaneously through his belly by hooking one of the long prongs of the Devil’s wire over the firing trigger , severing any chance of life of the man who Dad called Dad. The story continues as Grandpa, miles from any medical help and in those days miles meant real miles, like 50 miles, laid helpless, in agony, for hours until the clotting failed. The brave man died in agony on the couch in the farm’s front room.
Dad watched it all happening from the second before the gun fired to the moment they buried his hero. He watched all of it.
The story has probably been embellished a bit and my memories have also faded over time but that’s what I have. That’s what I know.
Dad never touched a gun again and he sure wasn’t going to touch one on my behalf. I left George’s two room apartment and walked home to the yellow trailer. Sammy was swinging on the only swing set in the trailer park so I stopped by to swing a bit.
“Hey Sammy, Dad’s gonna get me a gun.”
Sammy leapt from the chain-held swing on the outward path and landed firmly on the ground like an Olympic gymnastic finalist. I was just moving slowly back and forth like a swing potato as the Judges scores came in.
“Hey turd, really? You remember your Grandpa? Sammy said in a laughter as he hustled a skip down the hill through the blackberry bushes and weeds to the first road to the park’s line of trailers, passing through two trailers and then to his road where his Mom and Dad lived.
I kicked a dandelion, exploding the parachutes in anger of the truth my friends had told me. I picked up a rock and threw it with all my strength and bounced it accidentally on the side of the trailer nearest the swing set. I ran like there was no tomorrow because the owner of the trailer was a short man who never smiled. George said he was a real troll and lived under the Papio bridge during the night.
‘If I had a gun, I wouldn’t run’, the thought ran through my pea-sized brain. “I’d show that troll who not to mess with now.”
The trail of dust from the dirt road rose into the humid air. Hunters could have followed me to my home easily. Dad’s car was parked in the slot next to our home and as I passed I could feel the heat of the Chrysler’s hemi. I opened the door to see Dad standing near Mom who was holding her arms akimbo and looking not so pleased. Dad only smiled.
He held in both hands a gun. A leather fringe fell from the end of the barrel. I saw Daniel Boone’s ghostly shadow appear in the window over the sink and he was smiling. I could hear the fearful calls of Mohawks in the distance.
“Breathe,” Dad said, as I must have stood static in surprise for over ten minutes. “This is yours.” He pushed the wooden stock of the Daisy 25 away from him as he handed the treasure to me in both hands like it was a crown of jewels.
I don’t know how to write the sound of a deep gasping breath but you know what I mean. I took two steps toward Dad and reached out to retrieve what all had said was impossible. When the finely finished upper stock touched my hand I heard angels singing.
Dad nodded as that is all he needed to hear.
Mom picked up her smoldering Pall Mall from her thick glass ashtray and took in a deep drag. Her left hand was kept akimbo on her hip. “We’ll see how this goes.”
Two weeks pass and I’ve read every word in the Model 25 instruction manual that came with this magnificent gun. I would sit in the corner against the fake wood siding of my bedroom and read it over and over. I knew exactly when this gun was made and when they copied it. I knew this because someone had written, ‘Copyrighted 1913, The Daisy Corporation’, on the bottom of the manual. I knew Fred LeFever, the designer because he was listed as the genius behind the miracle in George’s Encyclopedia Britannica collection. I wrote him a thank you note as if he was Santa.
Dad walks in to my room where the gun, which has yet to fire a steel BB, was positioned next to me in the corner on the ready. Dad is carrying a cardboard box cut out inside another cardboard box and taped to the front is a Massachusetts Rifle Association’s authentic target practice target.
“Here ya go,” he said as he placed the target against the wooden dresser drawer at the end of the hallway leading to the back bedroom of the single-wide. He walked back and handed me a cardboard tube full of steel BBs. I twisted the top off and smelled the hardened steel ammunition. I knew then that only 50 of the prized spheres would fit into my gun at one time. There must have been thousands in the tube I thought, not reading the number 100 on the side. Guardian angels often send people the scent of flowers, especially of roses. I was in a rose garden for sure and the thorns were made of steel.
The instructions said clearly not to cock the rifle more than twice. The enormous pressure generated by the air rifle could fire a BB past Alan Shepard’s Mercury rocket with ease if you pumped it more than two times. I was in awe. Pump pump, pht, pump pump, pht, until there were only a few in the tube. I’d gather up all the spent BB’s in the box and reload. Days go by like they’re seconds. I couldn’t wait to shoot something, anything. Maybe I’d shoot George or Sammy or even Bindy, while they ran like moles scattering from a fox in the cornfield. Pump, pump, pht! I was becoming a sharp shooter for sure.
Dad and Mom left for the track and I couldn’t help myself. I stalked out the back door of the trailer as the babysitter, probably Bindy, even though I don’t recall and laid prone in the tall weeds in the back where the water meter was placed. The meter made for a perfect target as the dials faced me directly and taunted me to show my skill. Pump, Pump, careful, take in a breath like the manual says to and hold it. Squeeze slowly, barely, silently. Pht! The silver shot sprang out of the 25 like a bolt from the deadliest crossbow. The glass cover of the dials exploded.
I looked to my left and spotted another meter not yards away and totally unaware of my lethal intentions. Dandelions burst from side to side as I crawled within range. Pump, pump, I tried another pump for more velocity but was unsuccessful in capturing more pressure. I lined the sights with accuracy and released the bluish-carbon alloy of danger at the spinning hands of the dial. I watched as the meter died a glass-shattering death.
I turned and looked behind me down the spaced in between the trailers. There was a herd of meters the other way. They must have gotten my scent. Head down, eyes sharp, I worked my way down the row until all the meters were dead. I rolled over on my back to take in the moving clouds above me knowing I had successfully trimmed the herd down like pioneers did to Buffaloes from a train. I think I remember Davy Crockett’s likeness in the cloud shapes.
I snuck back into the trailer and secured my weapon in my room. “I’m hungry,” I announced to my babysitting servant. I ate my lunch and watched TV the rest of day knowing my job was done.
A couple of days later, Dad walks in and asks to see the gun. I slid the pocket door to my room aside and handed it to him muzzel down. He shook it up and down listening to the noise the rounds made in the barrel. “Feels like this baby is loaded and ready to go.”
I nodded big nods, “Yes Sir. Ready to go.”
“You want to go for a ride and learn how to shoot?”
Dad knew I’d been practicing like crazy but didn’t know of how many meter kills I had under my belt. Dad kissed Mom and we boarded the white Newport with the Daisy lying on the back seat. The giant of a car lumbered out of the trailer park and onto Dodge Street. The destination was unknown but I was sure we were heading deep into an unknown wilderness in search of game. Dad slowed and turned on the dirt farm road east of our home.
I now knew where we were and knew that about two miles further through the tall cornfields was a large red barn that from the high side of the Papio creek one could barely see it in the distance above the green. Dad pulled the car to a stop once the road became bordered by large Cottonwoods and the fields were open. The range was fenced with barbed wire and numerous islands of trees and high shrub peppered the landscape.
Dad pulled out the rifle and started talking about gun safety and knowing right from wrong when using the weapon. He was lecturing and teaching. I saw an image of a water meter in my mind and missed most of what he was saying. Dad filled the gun with BBs and off we went walking down the road. A small mouse ran in front of us. “Don’t kill animals just for killing them and for sure don’t kill birds unless you are going to eat them. Understand?” I nodded.
Dad loosened up and shot the gun a couple of times and then he let me try. We started out shooting twigs and leaves but graduated up to a target Dad had tucked into his back pocket. He hung it by piercing it on a low hanging branch and let it move with the wind. For every bullseye he said he’d give me a dime for the pinball machine at the cafe.
We must have been there for a couple of hours and this time was really more about Dad and I just spending time together. I felt Dad’s pride and sat up from a prone position in the weeds on the side of the road and said, “Thanks Dad. Thanks a lot for the gun.” He smiled and without saying a word I knew he had finally put the terrible experience in his past behind him and his family.
We started back to the car about a half a mile down the road shooting occasionally at a wind-swept leaf on the road ahead of us. With the car in sight, a large draft horse slowly worked past us as he fed on grasses just outside the fence line. Three large hogs were keeping him company as they headed back to the farm over the hill. The hogs were shiny and huge and stayed right along side the horse but were out about 100 feet in the field.
“Hold on Billy,” Dad said. “Let me have the gun.” His voice filled with excited anticipation.
I handed it over and Dad shook it to hear the BBs. He pumped it two times then he looked at me. “When I was a boy about your age, I had a 25 just like yours. We had hogs and chickens and cows on our farm. I loved plinking the hogs because they wouldn’t even feel it whereas the horses or cows would run and your Grandpa would get mad at me for making them do that. But ol Dad never cared about them hogs.” His eyes focused on the moving animals. He pumped the gun two times again.
“But didn’t that hurt them?”
“No son, they don’t even feel it.” He pumped the gun twice again.
“But I thought you told me never to do that unless we’re going to eat it.”
“Well we’ll just have to have bacon and eggs tomorrow morning at the kitchen,” Dad chuckled as his own joke. He pumped the gun again and then once more making it ten times including the two pumps I had in already. I imagined an eruption of pressure so huge it would kill all life within one mile of our location if he pumped it once more. I gritted my teeth in fear of the pain I was about to endure.
Dad rested the gun on the top of the fence post and looked down the sights, “A perfect butt shot. Don’t tell your Mom,” he said, held his breath and with one twitch of his finger he released the tiny projectile from the highly-pressurized barrel.
Pow! Smack! Thud! Three distinctly different sounds all at once. The hog bolted in spinning circles like he’d been snake bitten. I heard the BB hit bone. I watched until he finally stopped running away. I thought he was dead for sure and we’d have enough bacon to last a lifetime.
“Here, take this,” Dad said in a low tone.
I turned to take the gun and could see a drip of blood and a thin blood trail coming down Dad’s forehead starting at his hairline and just about to drip off his chin. A previous drop had made it off his chin and onto his white neatly pressed shirt just below the pocket. Dad pull his handkerchief and caught the second drop. More were starting to follow the trail as Dad pressed hard on his hairline.
The penetrating BB Dad had sent so viciously at the animal ricocheted and returned to its sender catching Dad’s forehead and entering the skin three hairs in. The bullet was still inside him somewhere as there was an exit wound that was evident.
The car scattered gravel into the air as we sped back to the trailer. Mom was standing on the stairs when he opened his door with the bloodied cloth pressed against his face. I came running around the back of the car and through the dust cloud Dad had made from braking so hard. “Mom, Mom, Dad’s been hog shot!” I said, sending the alarm ahead. “The hog shot him in his head!”
She just shook her head, “I knew it, I knew it. Get inside and let me look at you.” She opened the screen and he followed her inside. The gun was in the backseat so I grabbed it and walked in to put it in my room. Dad was sitting on a vinyl covered kitchen table chair while Mom was spreading his hair apart looking for the lost steel.
“Here it is,” she announced with a Pall Mall hanging from her lips with a long ash just waiting to fall. “Right here,” she said as she put her finger about six inches back of the entry wound.
“OW!” Dad screamed.
“Live by the gun, die by the gun. I’ll have to cut it out,” she pulled the smoking cigarette from her mouth. “You shot a hog?” Dad just looked at her reflection in the mirror over the couch.
“I’m telling you Mom, a hog shot him right in his head. You should have heard it.”
Dad gave me the look knowing I had been told not to say anything to Mom.
Mom used a straight razor blade to excise the ball from Dad’s head. The ash was on the back of his head already. Dad went directly into the bathroom in back to wash the wound. I heard swear words as the soap became effective. I knew the gun was ‘goodbye’ so I made my way into my bedroom to pay my last respects.
I watched from the stairs as Dad placed the gun in the trunk of the car and slowing eased it shut, “I’m sorry Billy but we just can’t have guns in our house. We just can’t”
I backed into the trailer and let the screen bounce closed. I knew he’d have done the same thing once he found out how many meters I killed.
Dad went to work and had returned home. He was sitting on the divan drinking his clear liquor watching Cronkite. I sat down next to him and a couple of minutes I broke the silence.
“Can I have a bow and arrow.”
Dad took the last drink of his short glass. Spun the ice around a couple of times as he looked straight at me with a cloth band-aid which one end was already peeling up on his forehead. I looked away. Dad stood up and took a step before he spoke. “No.”
That was good enough for me.
— Time Travel Time —
“Sir? Sir?” the clerk was trying to get my attention. My wife poked me in my side.
“What?” I asked clutching the box containing the magnificent weapon tightly to my chest.
“You have to let her scan it if you want to take it home today,” she said as sarcastic as one could be. She doesn’t smoke but I smelled the smoke of a Pall Mall. Mom was somewhere near me standing akimbo.
“Oh,” I looked at the girl behind the register, “Here, I’ll hold it and you can scan it.”
I threw the bag of stuff in the trunk of the car and sat the box securely on the back seat and put a seat belt over it.
“Hold it,” I said. “I forgot something.” I opened the car door and raced back inside returning in a couple of minutes with a small bag.
“What’d ya forget.”
I shook the bag at her and she shook her head in disapproval. “BBs? You know, there was a good reason your Dad never bought you a gun. Remember your Grandpa?”
I leered at her. Sammy had taken over her body.
Today the precision firing rifle stands tall against the back wall of the bedroom patio so all can see. Beer cans set up on a skeleton of a dead saguaro provide countless hours of plinking and practice. The sights are deadly and the ground around the shooting range is starting to become solid copper. Whenever friends stop by, I can always spot the men in the group eyeing the fantastic weapon. I only have to say, “You want to shoot it?”
They hold it up as the trophy it is and alway ask, “What model is this?”
I proudly smile as I look for Dad’s likeness standing by the aluminum can targets. Then I give them his warning.
“It’s a 25. Only pump it twice.”