And Then There Were None.

Harry Patch has died.

He was born in 1898, trained as a plumber at age fifteen, was conscripted into the army of Great Britain in 1916 and was the last living combatant of the First World War. There are three other men still alive who served, but Harry was the last who actually fought. A soldier who, on the day of his nineteenth birthday, entered the trenches for the first time to experience something that no one alive today can fully understand. It’s not possible that we could.

He had a good idea of what lay ahead of him. Not only did he have an older brother who had already been wounded in the conflict that would reshape much of Europe and lay the groundwork for yet another, far bloodier war, but also, this was not 1914 anymore either. By 1917 when he had completed his training, citizens of all nations understood the meat grinder that they were throwing their teenagers and young fathers into. By then, the enthusiasm for glory was diminishing daily. It was understood by all except the embroiled governments that there was no real glory to be had but rather, death, dismemberment, mental anguish that would last a lifetime, reducing men to shadows of their former selves. The wide eyed, naivety and excitement that so commonly clouds the minds of otherwise sensible individuals had been mostly scoured away in the mud of no-man’s land and blood of millions of young men.

Harry was trained as machine gunner, an invention that was used to such effect in those years it became the signature weapon of the Great War. The device, invented years before the outbreak of war, was perfected in this conflict and refined to a point where even for the next generation, designs were near duplicates and carried once again to the fields of France to fight in the war after “The War to End All Wars.”

Machine guns were feared by all on both sides and as such, were prime targets to be taken out as quickly as possible. This was to be the fate of the gun crew Harry was attached to. As they lay in the slime of Passchendaele, a shell exploded over the team. Three, out of the five man team were blown apart. Harry suffered a wound from the flying shrapnel but lived. With a visit from a battlefield medic, a run on a stretcher to an aid station and then to the rear and out of France, he made it back to the Isle of Wight where he would convalesce. Later, still in England, as he drilled on a rifle range, preparing to return to the front, he would receive the news that the Armistice was signed.

stretcher

The war was over. The lives of over eight and a half million soldiers had been lost. Over twenty one million had been wounded. Far more had wounds that did not show outwardly. It took Harry over eighty years before he could bring himself to talk about it. In 2007, he found the strength to return to the fields of Flanders and see the land again where so many men were unlucky enough to not be wounded like himself, but instead mingled with the soil, unseen even to this day.

That one battle alone consumed over 850,000 men.

One battle.

I am a student of history. I have a thirst to know and find awe and respect in the items that have been carried and cared for by those who have held these things; who have lived or just as often, not lived through the fires of past conflict. I am not alone.

Collectors of history cover the globe and the hunt for the right helmet, the correct rifle or the authentic letter spurs on a lively commerce. What worries me is the disconnect that can occur with these items and the stories that refuse to cling to them. An object can’t tell you the story of it’s owner and with the death of those who knew, we loose that human element, and it is a loss. The bayonet that is snapped up at an antiques show that might have ruined the life of a family a century ago. The canteen for sale that once was filled but never drank from. The extra overcoat that was ordered but shipped back unworn. We can’t forget where these things come from or whom they might have touched. We should, however, care for them since we can no longer care for their one time owners. They are not ours, however. We are only stewards and need to teach why there are items of humanity. Why they are special.

In 1914, the European youth were electrified with the promise and thrill of war. There had been a long wait between conflicts and the populace had forgotten that glory was a lie. It wasn’t glorious. It was riding into the jaws of Death and hoping to be the survivor, even as your friends die all around you. The elders of state ordered them to go and they did their duty.

Lions led by Asses.

We can debate the argument if the Great War was inevitable or avoidable. We can question who actually started it and where the fault lies.We can point fingers at incompetent commanders and mourn those who died due to the idiocy of suicidal orders handed out with no care or strategy. What we cannot do, should never do, is think for a moment that the Great War was that. Great. It was a charnel house. We should never for a moment confuse that with glory.

Good night to you Harry Patch, you and all those who saw the war of 1914-1918 with their own eyes. There are yet three more who were there, but you were the last to raise arms against an enemy you barely knew.

The fields are quiet now except for the sounds of traffic and tractors. The memories you shared are written in the annals of history.

May we never forget the price we as men paid to hear them.

“I met someone from the German side, and we both shared the same opinion: We fought, we finished, and we were friends. It wasn’t worth it.”

~Harry Patch

HarryPatch

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How Much to Get Drown and Shot? VI

We had all piantballed before. In fact, Mountain Man had gotten me into it many years previously when free time was more copious and bones tended to bounce rather than break. Ioseph had joined in with his own paintball gun that he brought with him from Ohio when we moved to our area. Only The Doctor had shied away from it and I attribute that partially to his mother being mortified and the expense that accompanied the game. I almost called it a “sport”, but that’s a bit like calling water tubing an Olympic event.

The groom-to-be had stopped going paintballing long ago, but I had gotten into enough to cough up the dough to buy my own, top of the line, paintball gun. Naturally, by this time, what was once my cutting edge paint thrower was old and outmoded by whatever coolness was being sold these days, but still, I was familiar with it, it shot well and bringing it along gave me the air of a professional yahoo, rather than that of the laymen yahoos whom had to rent their guns. It’s good to be a professional!

As we suited up with face and eye protection, bought fifty bazillion paintballs and got our CO2 tanks filled up, we started looking at the others who would be joining us out there.

Uh oh.

In the prep area were a bunch of guys (yes, and a few girls) chatting and standing around in matching outfits, tricked out gun rigs and WAY too short haircuts. One, I remember specifically looked like a dead ringer for a shorter, fleshier Rutger Hauer from “Bladerunner”. Not good. This was a team, and obviously, one that played together a lot.

Bad!

I’ve been down this road before. What happens is this: You, the unknown in the jeans and US army surplus jacket picked up on the way to the field with the tag still attached the collar…. YOU… are expendable.

Or worse…

Bait.

If we were in a Star Trek episode, we would have all been wearing red shirts and named Ensign Smith. We were grist for the mill.

This was going to be no different. No sooner had teams been decided, safety jargon gone over and the field opened for the day, then the four of us found ourselves pinned down under a flying curtain of paint. Abandoned by the others, we were wiped out in the first few minutes.

*WHACK!* I’M HIT I’M HIT I’M HIT!!!!!!

Yelling this is vitally important since it’s the only way to stop the pain and humiliation. Also, the one who is shooting you had likely disappeared into an adrenalin fueled haze that is hard to hear through at times. Being so close to Montreal, I probably should have been screaming, “Arrêtez s’il vous plaît!”

As we managed a head-low run back to the staging area, we looked at each other knowingly. This would take planning.

Games of paintball only tend to last about ten minutes at the most, so in short order, we found our selves back on the field, and this time, with a super secret, sub-plan to our team’s plan.

It was this: Screw em.

We were the four musketeers and the rest of the team members who were ostensibly there to fight along side us would be used only as human shields. If possible, we would keep them between the other team and us. If we beaned one in the back of the head by accident… well… those things happen sometimes. This plan worked much better. For us, anyway.

In the next few games, we managed to survive far longer and if we didn’t actually win, we could at least claim not to be the first ones heading back to the benches covered in multicolored splotches. I don’t think Rutger thought much of us, but hey, we were having fun and he was the guy who had hung us out to dry the game before.

Eventually, in the last game of the day, the four of us wound up holding our fort with our flag with only one other team member. The dire circumstance we were in was the thing of movies. Gunga Din comes to mind. Holed up in our fort, surrounded by an overwhelming enemy, running low on ammo and getting picked off one by one.

“THERE’S ONE!” *POP POP POP POP!*
“WATCHOUT OVER BY THE BARRELS!” *SPLAT! SPLAT!*
“OW! I’M HIT!”

There was no surrender! Ammo ran out and one at a time, we were picked off by the opposing team and the flag was eventually lost. But it was a noble and valiant fight! Bruised, wet with perspiration and multicolor paint, we struggled to our feet, limped over to the other team and shook hands and laughed. We must have been the best losers that they had dealt with in a while because the compliments they gave us were charitable and copious. We told them about where we were from and why we were there. Congratulations were given to Mountain Man as the ref closed up the supply shed. On a whim, I called to him.

“Excuse me! I have a favor I’d like to ask you. This is our friend’s last few days of bachelorhood and I was wondering if there was any chance we could use the field, just for the four of us?”

I fully expected a disapproving frown and headshake, but instead, he paused for a moment and asked what we had in mind.

“Well, I was thinking that we could have a private game, just for a few minutes. The goal would be for us to shoot him.” I pointed over my shoulder at Mountain Man with my thumb.

I heard my friend/potential target laugh behind me.

The ref thought for a moment more. “Sure. Why not. Do you have any paint left?”

We didn’t, but our one-time enemies came to the rescue. I think they just wanted to see the massacre rather than being motivated by any kind of altruism, but the effect was the same. They happily forked over some paintballs and once our hoppers were full, I turned slowly to face Mountain Man and in a low a low voice, said one word.

“Run.”

The image of his thin body speeding like all get out through a pinewood as paintballs flew after him will always be emblazoned in my mind. The game was over when we were out of paint. No calls of, “I’m hit!”, it was a one sided battle filled with uncontrollable laughter, paint and black and blues. Though he defiantly came off the as the heaviest hit, he held his own well enough and laughed the loudest. It was an absolute hoot.

Later that day, I started my seven hour drive back through the Canadian countryside and toward more familiar lands. It was a beautiful day and not a cloud in the sky. The radio was filled with unknown radio stations, the traffic was sparse and the driving, easy. There were some fairly soar bits of my anatomy from two nights and days of being foolish in the open air, but I was smiling. I had even given Ioseph a hug before leaving on my trek back. It was great to see all my friends again and we had all made improbable plans to do this again soon. They naturally wouldn’t materialize, and we all knew that, but it felt good to go through the motions at any rate.

About a month later, Mountain Man was married and we got to see each other again in a more subdued environment. It was a good wedding to be sure, but no one was drowned or shot or made to sleep with mosquitoes trying to suck you dry. It just wasn’t the same.

Mountain Man and his lovely wife have two kids of their own now and The Doctor was married not that long ago and has one of his own as well. Ioseph alone continues on in search of the ultimate party and near death experience and he does a laudable job. One day though, I think he might get married too and THAT bachelor party… that one, just might do us all in for good. I’ll be there though! You can bet on that.

I just hope he wants to have it a bit closer, or at least…. NOT in Vegas.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part V

I’ve always been happily surprised about rocks encountered under the surface of fast moving, fresh water. That might sound odd until you understand that most of the submerged rocks that I’ve encountered in my life were in the ocean. These tend to be sharp, covered in disgusting, entangling seaweed and for a bonus, sprinkled with razor sharp barnacles or little living pincushions called sea urchins. The exposed bit of flesh that gets dragged across or smashed into it by the assassin like wave you never saw coming, tends to fair pretty badly. Then, there’s the fun of having salt water rushing into the new wound. SUCH FUN!

As my head scraped along the bottom, I looked out through what appeared to be the inside view of a snow globe. The water was crystal clear and what made for spray and foam on the surface, were zillions of dancing bubbles that tickled your skin, here in the belly of the river. The rocks were smooth and slime free here and it looked more like a meticulously carved waterslide than the maw full of pointed teeth that I had imagined. I began to realize that there was likely no way a person could actually injure themselves on the rocks, even if they tried. The water just swirled them safely away. There was still the drowning aspect to consider though and with that in mind, I pushed off the smooth granite with my feet. After a brief moment of “What-the-hell?” when I bonked my head on the upturned raft, I managed one again to suck some air into my lungs and was released from the watery silence and into the roar of the river and catcalls from others who were there to witness this scheduled car crash. We were helped out of the water, found our towels and headed for lunch.

Much of the rest of the day was consumed with…. Well… consuming. I did mention the bar, correct? Sandwiches were eaten, beers were had and as more and more waterlogged campers showed up, the four of us made room. In the evening, we chatted with others, compared rafting experiences and when those ran out, dragged out the war stories that every young man seems to have. More beer, more stories, bigger logs on the campfire. It was a great way to round out the day.

We were careful not to over do it too much though. Tomorrow we needed to be on our game. We needed to stay sharp. After all, the guy you sitting next to, laughing and offering you the next round, was going to be chasing us through the woods, trying like hell to shoot us. To be fair, we’d be trying to do the exact same thing. It was going to be fun!

(insert gross generalization here:)

We all choose to do stupid things. If you’re a girl, the stupidity tends to fall into the category of dating the guy with the huge motorcycle and the neck tattoos, spending a month’s wages on a pair of shoes or asking your flellah If he likes the green scarf or the blue one better. All in all, it’s mostly emotional pain they inflict on themselves. Guys, on the other hand, tend to make their stupid decisions with physical pain as part of the deal. Blood is a common sight among young (and old for that matter) boys. Both sexes will insist that it was all worth it. We humans are kind of predictably thick that way.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that if you could build a time machine and go back to an age before the invention of gunpowder, somewhere you could witness the moment where two little boys would be running around, playing and one boy would cock his finger, point it at the other, and as he brought his thumb down, yell, “BANG!”

“What was that?” the other would say.
“I don’t know. I just felt like I had to do it.”
Shall I try it?
“No, you can’t! I already shot you!”
Looking confused. “…With what?”
“I have no idea. But you’re dead and I win!”

The satisfaction felt by the first boy would be immeasurable. It’s in our DNA. What can I say?

Shooting stuff is a pleasure that seems to be innate in boys. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t avid female shooters out there. I know they’re are (and I’m not just saying that because I live with a woman who owns her own high powered rifle). It’s just that, like it or not, boys want to shoot things. Most of us make do with fingers, sticks or toys. A few of us get to actually do it for fun!

Technically, what we had were NOT called guns. Actually, if you called them a “gun” you’d usually wind up with some stern looking individual in body armor and protective mask wagging his finger at you and telling you to cut it out and use the correct term. They were markers. Paintball markers. And don’t you forget it.

paintball gun

I’m here to tell you something.

That’s bull.

They are guns.

Wonderful, WONDERFUL guns… that shoot paintballs!

The idea behind them was one of the best B.S. cover stories that I’ve ever heard. It goes something like, “The Forest Service guys needed a way to quickly mark trees for cutting. After years of first, tying on little bits of cloth to use as markers and then later turning to spray paint, some enterprising forester came up with the idea of using paint, held inside a gelatin ball. The ball could then be flung from an air hose… thing… that he cleverly decided to call a “marker” rather than, “An awesome paint shooting gun that you could ‘accidentally’ pop the other ranger in the back of the head with when he wasn’t looking.” You can guess which project pitch would more successfully receive funding. The final product was a gizmo that looked like a gun, made a sound like a gun and worked like a gun, but was called a “marker” so that it might slip below the radar of helicopter parents and anti-gun wonks.

Marker.
Gun.
Whatever.
Lets just call in what it is… A BLAST!!!.. I mean… paintballing.

Paintballing is perhaps the pinnacle of every little boy’s dream about shooting. No more, “I got you! – No you didn’ts.” No more, “You’re out of ammo – No, I’m not’s.” No more, “You missed – Nuh –Uh’s.” Here you got to actually shoot your friends and there was no begging off. It is awesome.

Oh… And it hurts. That somehow makes it all the better. To most boys, this is an important component. Don’t believe me? Ask any little boy if he wants to play touch football or tackle. Parents want to see “touch.” Kids want to pummel each other, and right now, we were getting ready to pummel everyone we could… using marble sized blobs of paint fired from high pressure air guns as many times as we possibly could. Tomorrow was going to be fun!

-Ok. Maybe the next post will be the last one in the story…. No promises though.

Range Day

“You should go to the range this week.”

These are words that will always get my attention. When they come from Action Girl, they can almost bring tears to my eyes. This is how I know she loves me.

Things are finally getting warmer here in Maine and the snow banks are slowly creeping back into the woods. All this makes me itch to get my rifles back out after a long winter’s hibernation and spend some quality time making loud noises and punching holes in pieces of paper. Hey… the paper had it coming.

The problem that I’ve encountered lately is defining the time that I should get to go and play. Since I’ve left the Monday through Friday, nine to five world and put most of my energy into caring for the kids and working on the house, it’s been really hard to set aside time to go and do the things that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with my three year old and one year old every day. It’s something that is invaluable and immeasurable and I am unbelievably lucky to have the opportunity. It’s just… sometimes Dad needs some downtime… or rather, Dadtime.

Going off to play does make me feel a little guilty on some level though.

It makes me think of a public service announcement that ran on TV when I was a kid. The ad showed a father going away on yet another golf trip as he left his wife and kids alone and sad looking in the dooryard, one child asking him why he wouldn’t stay. The message was something like, “Did you ever think of having fun with your family instead of being selfish? Dick!” (I’m assuming here that his name was Richard)

I know that I’m hardly in the “absentee dad” category and that I do indeed, get to go have some fun sometimes but it does run through my mind when I’m going off to enjoy myself by myself. Just a few more years of this and maybe I’ll have a little companion who will want to come with me.

Target shooting, one of my very, VERY favorite things to do, has become exceedingly difficult to get around to for several reasons. The first thing that makes it tricky is the fact that I live on an island, and though blasting away with .22’s at the dump might have been perfectly fine a generation ago, those days are most defiantly gone for good. I need to get to the mainland if I’m going to justify owning firearms, and that takes time.

There is no such thing as a “quick trip” to town.

luggage

Pack up your bag, walk to the dock, get on board, find a seat and wait. Dock, disembark, walk to the parking garage, find the car, toss everything in and NOW… you’re ready to start. It takes a long time just to get rolling and if you forgot something back home, say… your car keys, you get to use some very colorful language and toss all your plans out the metaphorical window.

When I worked on the mainland every day, I could decide to go shooting during lunch and simply bring a rifle along with me in the morning. Now if I want to go, it’s a special trip and I have to set aside a big block of time and these days, those are few and far between.

So, with taking care of the kids and desperately trying to get a few things done on the house, I just don’t get to go shooting much. That, and the small fact that winter in Maine will make just about anybody think twice about sitting at an out door bench for an hour while you try to feed frozen ammunition into your frozen rifle with your frozen fingers. Some how, frostbite always seems to suck the fun out of any occasion.

This morning, with the help of Action Girl handling the kid wrangling and the lovely spring weather if not full of the scent of tulips and daffodils, at least holding off the rain, I headed out with a bounce in my step. I’d done the right thing and called several friends to see if they wanted to come along, but being the middle of the week, all replied that they just couldn’t make it. I enjoy taking others out to shoot but this was just fine. Time alone at the shooting bench is a wonderful thing.

As I steamed into town working on the first of my two coffee thermoses, I chatted with a few friends and enjoyed the notion that I would have the whole morning off. A rare and blessed thing. The obligatory stop at the local doughnut shop to pick up provisions and I was ready to start the morning right.

The drive there is an easy one and if not exactly beautiful and pastoral, it is at least quick. By the time the first chocolate glazed was reduced to crumbs on my shirt and lap, I was pulling in and switching off the car. It was still early and all the ranges were silent, but not for long if I had anything to say about it.

I’ve been here many times before, alone and with friends, but it’s always more relaxed when I’m there on my own. No one to wait for when setting up targets. No botching a shot because you flinched when the person on the next bench fired just a half second before you. No worrying if you’re going to bean the guy to your right with a hot and freshly emptied shell casing when you pop the breach open with the enthusiasm that comes over you after a perfect shot. None of that for me today!

The last and best thing about shooting alone is music. I don’t know who invented the “ear bud,” but to them, I shall always be thankful. In addition to looking slick, cool and coiling up in your pocket, the little buggers also nestle beautifully under a set of ear protection, thus saving your hearing from the sudden concussion of rifle fire so you can crush it under the din of your favorite music.

music-protection

It was a Motown morning for me as Dianna Ross and Supremes joined me for a while during target practice.

After an hour and a half, I stood seventy-five yards away from a well holed paper target and just to the left of a sizable pile of empty brass. It was a great morning. Just as I was picking up, our range safety officer happened by to check on things. He’s a nice old gentleman and I’ve been privileged to chat with him on a few occasions. After our initial greeting his eye fell to the bench as his eyebrows arched. “So, what do we have here this morning?” I pulled the bolt open and handing it to him.

“It’s my Grandfather’s Mauser K98k. His brother brought it back from Europe for him and he had it sported into a deer rifle. I don’t usually care for sported combat rifles but this is a top notch job and obviously, it’s got the family history going for it. It’s actually my favorite rifle to shoot. I can’t wait until my kids can come with me to do this.”

He looked on approvingly as I cleaned it in preparation for its ride back home and we talked about shooting. He told me about how he used to go with his son when he was younger and how much fun it was. “He doesn’t like shooting any more though. It’s too bad. I have quite a collection to pass on but no one to pass it on to.”

“Oh…” I groped for a way to ask without being prying. What would cause that? He solved the problem for me and volunteered the answer.

“He joined the Navy and that was fine. He still liked to shoot and we had a lot of fun when he was home, but then he joined the Navy Seals and well… lost his taste for shooting after that.”

I can only imagine what might have happened to cause that change and to be honest, I’d rather not imagine too hard. I’ve never been in the situation where I had to shoot at another human being and I hope to God, I never will. I have the same hope and prayer for my children. I looked down at my rifle and thought about the young German soldier to whom it must have been issued. I wonder what happened to him? I wonder whom he shot at or if he ever even had the chance. Whatever his story, it was lost to time. The rifle was mine now and I was in charge of its use.

As I drove back to my island home and awaiting family, I thought about how enjoyable it was to have some time to practice a hobby that I enjoyed so much and then about my range-friend with his futureless collection. I truly do enjoy the sport but what he told me was sobering.

One of my Grandfathers taught me how to shoot and the other has supplied me with my two favorite guns to take out. I hope that someday I’ll get to take both my children out to enjoy days like this with me but if they don’t, I’ll hang on to my collection for as long as I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get the chance, years from now to sit down with a cup of coffee, my Grandfather’s .22 and my own grandchildren. I’ll explain how their Great-Great Grandfather got it for Christmas when he was just eight, and then I’ll show them how to use it. When they’re strong enough, I’ll get out the Mauser too.

Firearms are nothing to be taken lightly and I treat them with the respect they deserve, just like I was taught to. I feel that it’s an important lesson to pass along. Short Stack and Lulu Belle may not want to have anything to do with them, I know, but they will understand how to handle them. I hope they will at least humor their Dad at times and go with him to the range for a sunny morning of shooting.

It’s warm and bright this morning. The wind is barely perceptible and I still haven’t had breakfast. It’s just right for heading back to shoot some more. Not today though. It’s time to work; shooting can come later. Anyway, waiting for it makes it all the more special when I do go.

Maybe next week…

You’ll shoot your eye out, Kid. Part II

I figured that since I seemed to have the trust of my folks, this wouldn’t be an impossible sell. Hard, I was sure, but not impossible. I scoped out the toy store and found what I wanted. I gathered all the particulars: price, availability, safety goggles, specs and formed my case for getting it in my mind. I waited for the right moment to make my plea. A few months before my next birthday was perfect. Not to late, so that they would have already bought presents but not too early either, so that they might forget.

I would be turning 10 and I thought that I was ready for such an item. The moment was finally ripe and ready to pick and I walked up to my parents like a lawyer before the Supreme Court and stated my case. I laid it all out as matter-of-factly as possible. To my horror, my dad (who had just recently finished out his time in the military and attained the rank of platoon sergeant) barely looked up from his news paper and stated flatly, “No way. Not a chance.”

I was dumbfounded. I figured that it would be Mom that would throw up road blocks, not Dad! I knew that he had grown up shooting real guns on the farm when he was younger than I was. He had been IN the military, for Pete’s sake! I was astonished that he would not even take the subject up for debate.

My father is a very good man. He can be goofy and playful. He’s always honest and will do what ever he can to help when ever possible, but… BUT, when he says “no”, that was the end of the discussion. Zero room to wiggle was given and I learned early on that to push it was a fruitless move that only brought trouble. All I was left with was to ask why in the most non-whiny way possible. He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s too much like a toy, but it’s not a toy. It’s almost a gun, but not quite. People treat them too lightly and I don’t want you to have the temptation and underestimate what it can do. You can’t have one. I’m sorry. End of story.”

Crushed, I went on with my plastic cap guns and tried not to linger too much in front of the BB gun display at the toy store. I wanted one so bad that it hurt. I can still remember the longing and I will forever feel a special kinship with Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”. The only difference was that he GOT his Red Rider BB Gun. I never would. I could bank on that.

The next few months rolled by and my birthday came and went. I’m sure I got some neat stuff, but I honestly don’t recall what. A week or so later, Dad and I went on a road trip to visit his folks, my Grandma and Grandpa. They lived about two hours away and since they didn’t drive too much and both my folks worked, we didn’t see them all that often. Visits were always special and I remember them fondly, filled to the brim with cigarette smoke, coffee mugs and a huge german shepherd named King, who, though friendly, scared the hell out of me.

We came in and gave out hugs and had some lunch. After the plates were cleared, my Grandfather stood up and told me to follow him to living room. When we got there, he reached behind a warn chair and pulled out… a rifle. A .22, single shot, bolt action rifle, to be specific. He opened the bolt to make sure it was empty and handed it to me, telling me to keep it pointed at the ceiling. Never having seen a real gun other than those carried by policemen, I was in awe and held it like it was made of glass and diamonds.

A REAL rifle! “That’s really neat”, I said, or something approximately goofy.

“It’s for you.”, he replied.

My eyes must have been the size of dinner plates.

*Last bit tomorrow*

You’ll shoot your eye out kid!

My folks were very good to me and as an only child, I had the chance to do things that most kids never did. I traveled, I got a lot of one on one attention and I because I was a good kid and rarely got into mischief, I was often left on my own recognizance and thus, got to make a lot of decisions for my self. I was used to being given a lot of slack, because I pretty much never abused it.

There was one area that was not up for debate though, particularly with my mother. No guns. I didn’t have any toy guns for most of my early years and my folks wouldn’t get me any. This was back in the day when parents actually controlled what their kids had for possessions. If I had any money of my own, it was in my little savings book or in my piggy bank and, for all I knew, might as well not exist at all. Kids, little kids anyway, simply did not have money to buy toys on there own. If a “big kid” had some money that he or she had made raking lawns or washing cars or some such thing, anything purchased with that money had to be cleared by the parentals first. It seemed that there were very, very few exceptions to this.

So… back to guns. No guns in the toy box for me meant one thing and one thing only. Everything was a gun. Now, I’m not a violent person and was really not an aggressive kid at all. If anything, I over empathized with situations, people and what ever. When something got hurt, be it animate or inanimate, it really bothered me, still does in fact. I was no cry baby, but I was the kid rescuing the toad from the jerks with the sticks and fire crackers. I didn’t do “mean”. This made my fascination with guns all the more perplexing to my Mom, but there it was. A stick in the yard would be made into a gun. A yardstick held up to a shoulder would become a rifle and failing having something to make a gun out of, fingers and thumbs would be transformed into six shooters. BANG!

The breaking point for Mom was the day I bent a coat hanger in the approximate shape of an pistol, used an entire roll of masking tape to cover it and then used black shoe polish to make it the right color. That was the day I finally got to have toy guns. The savings in masking tape alone would make it worth while. So, I got to have the toy guns but my eyes soon fixed on a new passion. Something more then just pointing a plastic toy and yelling “Bang”..

I wanted a BB gun.

More later…

Yoga and 8mm ammo.

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With only a very few days before the birth of our daughter, I’ve been trying to get things done that will be difficult, if not out right impossible, once she arrives. This will be the case for a month or so, anyway. I’ve been setting things up. I’ve been fixing this and that. I’ve been visiting clients who are some distance away; that sort of thing. The one thing I haven’t had much luck with is doing something for me. The closest I’ve gotten to “Daddy time” is sitting in my car at a scenic overlook and eating lunch off my dashboard. I don’t mind that at all and it beats the heck out of sitting at my desk, but it hardly elicits a “WOO-HOO!”. Every time I’ve said that I was going to leave work early and go do something fun, I inevitably wind up running behind on my “to do” list and more important things take over what was supposed to be my fun time.

Yesterday morning I finally did it. I just had to make a sneak attack on the day. I filled up my coffee mug, visited our local hand made doughnut shop and drove to the range. I had coffee, doughnut, my matching 1915 Oberndorf, Gewehr 98 and about 120 rounds of ammunition. In an effort to keep the local inhabitants from attacking with pitchforks, or at least going to the city to complain, there’s no shooting allowed before 8 AM , and since I was there at about a quarter ’till, it gave me a lovely chance to get all set up and enjoy my beverage and breakfast.

Our range is very well run and extensive. There are large areas for pistol, trap, skeet and, my favorite… rifle. Personally, I find pistols to be not worth it. They are very expensive to buy, easily stolen and not very accurate over any appreciable distance. For the most part, I’m a target shooter so any firearm that requires you to be close to the target, just doesn’t light my fire. And to be perfectly honest… firing a pistol just lacks something for me. The “Crack, crack, crack” of the report and this little piece of metal jumping around in your hands just doesn’t do it for me. Skeet and trap shooting is fun and I like to do it from time to time but you need other folks participate with you. We all know how easily plans with friends can fall apart at the last minute, so I don’t put a lot of energy into trap. High powered rifles though… Oh, they are fun.

The rifle I brought this morning is one of my favorites. It’s in great condition, which is a minor miracle in its self. It was likely picked up on the battle field of France sometime in 1915-18 but probably, 1918. Chances are that an American doughboy came across it during or after a battle in the Great War and later, brought home. It might have sat in a closet for decades or perhaps under the bed, wrapped in old sheets. I’ll never know for sure, but it’s mine now and I love it. It’s long and heavy and much of the gun blue has worn off.

The bore is still very nice and it functions just as well as when it rolled out of the factory in Oberndorf nearly 100 years ago. I have to sight low on the targets that I put up. The rear sight has a minimum distance setting of 200 meters. The maximum is 2000. That’s almost 1.25 miles. After about an hour, I’m out of ammo and my shoulder is a touch tender. It was such a wonderfully warm morning that I decided to clean up the rifle right there. By the time I left, I was still the only one there. I had the place all to my self and thoroughly enjoyed it.

If someone asks me why I like to shoot, I tell them, “It’s like yoga”. I usually get a smirk or an out right laugh for that, but it’s true. I love yoga but I simply don’t have the time. Shooting fills that need for me. Think about it. Controlled breathing, concentration to the point of pushing all else out of your mind, stance, staying loose and pushing your self. It’s all there. Plus, it goes “BOOM!”. I have to admit, I like the “boom”.

Oh well, back to the work-a-day grind. I’ll try to get away a few weeks after Lulu Belle is born and get a little more “Dad Time” in. Wish me luck.

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