For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

Monday Poem, A Year and a Day

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

The barrel is warmed by my hand’s reverent grip,
rounded edges looking improbably soft.
Its walnut stock, marred here and there,
each scratch a story I can never know.

This is my Grandfather’s gun.
A long ago present from a father to his son.

A harsh gift, some would say, viewed through the lens of today’s world.
Yet a tender and well reasoned one for so long ago.

The hours it has spent hanging over his young shoulder.
The woodland glades it has crossed, reflecting the autumn sun.
The ducks and pheasants that have fallen to it,
and the dinners and sandwiches they later became.

I am told it is a good gun. A collector’s piece, now.
I am told of its value, but I know its real worth and I am rich to have it.

This is not my gun.

I am but its steward.

It will be kept clean and dry,
oiled and shining,
just as he kept it.

This is my Grandfather’s gun,
and always shall be.

Double Exposure

A few months ago my father sent me a scan of an old and half forgotten photo of his father; my Grandpa. It was taken by my Grandmother while they vacationed in Canada. Yesterday was their 70th anniversary and It’s been along time since I’ve seen my either of them. I was twelve when he died and though memories from that age can be incredibly vivid, they are also extremely selective. There are only a few times that I can recall, with real clarity, time spent with my Grandpa. General memories run along the lines of his voice, his silhouette and his smell.

He had a gruff, raspy voice after a life time of smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day. I can still hear it echoing around in my head. For some reason, he always called me “Little Rebel”, which I remember being both confused and bemused by. It was made doubly strange by the fact that my entire family came from New Hampshire and that I was a ridiculously good natured, trustworthy kid. But hey, “Little Rebel” it was, and since he was the only one who called me that, thinking about the monicker warms my heart to this day.

This was the man who gave me my first gun. My beloved .22 caliber, single shot Stevens. They were the one who lived too far away to visit easily or frequently and so, through that infrequency, gained a kind of mystique. Plus, as my Father’s Father, that made him all the more impressive to a boy who knew that his Dad could do anything in the world. Grandfathers hold a very special place in the minds of little boys.

There are a few things that stand out in my mind about him. First of all, the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He always had one going and I can’t really picture him with out one screwed into the corner of his mouth. Then, there was the coffee that he always seemed to have a half full mug of. He couldn’t make it through the night with out either. On the few times I spent the weekend with them, I can remember him getting up consistently at two AM and going to the kitchen for a smoke and a coffee. It was something that called him out every night.

When my Dad was kid, his Father started drinking. It got bad. Bad enough for his young, only son to leave home when he was still really just a child and move in with an older sister and brother-in-law, half a country away. My father grew up strong and confident in his own abilities and and moved along in life. Then he got married and I came along, That was something kind of extra special in the extended family. I was the only son of an only son of an only son. The line ended with me… and my father would not take me to his parent’s house. Not until my Grandfather stopped drinking, and you know what? He did.

It took a long time. I only really got to know him when I was somewhere around eight. But I did, and here’s the interesting thing. This man who made my Father’s childhood so awful and so sad at times; this man who had been out of control with drink for so long, I have nothing but tender memories for. When I was with Grandma and Grandpa, I had a wonderful time. He taught me how to shoot, how to identify the different types of steam locomotive and that if you were sharing a house with him over night, you needed to be asleep before he was. Other wise his snoring would keep you up for hours.

I can still see the two of us sitting at the red picnic table in their back yard. The cup of coffee, the open pack of cigarettes, my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Coke. We’d spend hours there, shooting at targets that he set up on the hill behind the house and talking. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I’m forever glad we had those conversations. He seemed to enjoy them.

The photo my Dad sent is a classic accidental double exposure. Two exposures on the same film. The effect is a ghost image of a man who I knew in such a different way than my Father did. Rather an interesting allegory for the two ways his son and grandson saw him, I think. On some level I believe that my Grandpa was hoping to make amends with his son by being so good to his grand son. From the perspective I have, I’d say that he achieved it. I proudly named my only son after the Grandfather who was so kind to me. The only son of an only son of an only son of an only son.

Thinking about you today, Grandma and Grandpa.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid. Part III

This was a tense moment for me.

I immediately looked at my Dad, half expecting him to object or refuse it for me. He looked stern, but said nothing.

“You want to try it out?” Grandpa asked. You can guess my answer.

Dad left me alone with my Grandfather that afternoon and I learned to shoot. My very first shot was almost a bulls eye and from that point on, I was totally hooked. We had a great time shooting in Grandma and Grandpa’s back field and I could hardly believe that I was shooting, not only a real rifle, but MY real rifle. I was in heaven.

At the end of the day, my father came to pick me up and take us home. The deal was that for now, the rifle would stay at their house. We lived in a city anyway and there was no place to shoot at home. Grampa had set up his own range on his property, after all. That, and I think Mom would have passed out if we brought it home at this point.

On the way home, I asked Dad the obvious question. I was almost afraid to ask, lest I jinx the dream, but I had to know. “How come you wouldn’t let me get a BB gun but a real rifle is okay?”

“That’s simple.” he replied. “Because it’s a REAL rifle. Not a toy. You will learn how to respect a real fire arm and never confuse it with something to play with. If I feel like you can treat it with respect and show me that you know how to handle it properly, then that day, you can bring it home.”

As always, he was a man of his word. One day I did bring it home and it stayed in my closet in my bed room. I knew with out a doubt that if I EVER got it out with out permission then it would go away forever. I never once wanted to test him on that and so I never showed it to friends or played with it. It was a real rifle, after all. Not a toy.

I still have the rifle my Grandfather got me. He had bought it at a second hand store and had fixed it up him self. He had reblued the metal and refinished the stock and it still looks wonderful. He died only two years later and I miss shooting with him still. When I got to the range, I feel him there with me. He was a gun collector and aficionado. It skipped a generation. Dad couldn’t care either way but I have the bug. I am the proud steward of the small collection of Grandpa’s rifles and pistols and keep them clean and safe. Some day I’ll take Short Stack and Lulu Bell, when the time’s right. I’ll show them the rifle that Great-Grandpa gave me and I’ll teach them to shoot just like he did.

Until then. It’s usually just me alone at the range. Alone other than Grampa, that is.

Who needs BB’s when you can go “BANG” for real?

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