Key to the Past

“What are you doing down there?”

This is something I’m completely used to hearing from my wife when I’m at my workbench in the basement. Half of the cellar is my undisputed domain and although my wife has no issue with that, she does get curious and/or concerned when whatever I’m doing isn’t under her watchful eye. It’s not a lack of trust issue as much as making sure that I’m not burning up time on a task that is utterly frivolous and fool hearty. I’d like to say that she has no reason for this concern… but I’d be speaking an untruth to say that my track record is without blemish. I’m rather drawn the overly-ornate-task-for-no-reason, in a moth to a campfire sort of way.

No. It’s worse than that.

A raccoon to a bag full of trail mix might be more like it. Both the raccoon and I know that it’s going to be awesome and it takes some serious countermeasures to keep us away.

“I’ll be right up. I’m… getting a key fob for the spare front door key.”

I wait with head cocked toward the staircase.

There’s a thoughtful pause from the cellar doorway. “I don’t want to know, do I?”

After more than twenty years of this sort of thing, my wife is getting better at reading situations like this.

I put my head down and move faster. The key fob was not lie in the least. It’s exactly what I’m up to. The part that was not proffered was that I was actually constructing one from scratch. It was going to be sort of special actually, at lest to me.

We are going away for a couple of days and our good friend Coley is coming over to feed and water the cat for us. To do this, he needs a key. More accurately, what he needs is a second key since the one we lent him last time we zipped off overnight was regrettably lost. The lost key was really sort of my fault since I had simply slipped the key off our ring and gave it to him all by its self. He had put it in his pocket and at some point, it had slipped out and was gone. For most folks, this isn’t a really big deal. You just go and have another one made for a buck somewhere. What made this a bigger problem than normal for me was that my front door key is the good, old fashioned, skeleton type.

At one time, all keys pretty much looked like mine. It’s long, toothy with a large ring at the back and cast in bronze.

I love it.

When Action Girl and I had bought our house, I was tickled to see that the front door still had the original lock and knob assembly from when it was built in 1900. There was a modern dead bolt carved in above it, but still, after a hundred years of upgrades and remodeling, it was perhaps the only bit of architectural originality still possessed by this pile of timber. It was the last piece that hinted to where it had come from and how far back. Everything else was new-ish. At least it had been new in the 1950’s, 1970’s and 1990’s. A lot of the house was faded and worn, but the beautiful front door still had its lock. What was missing was the key.

I’ve seen a lot of old doors in my time, interior and exterior and one thing is nearly always true: the key is long gone.

Big, jangly skeleton keys get played with by kids, lost out of pockets or worst of all, put somewhere “safe”. Shortly after moving in to our new home, I found myself in the as yet unfamiliar shed out back, rooting through the few items that the previous owners hadn’t bothered to take with them when they moved. I have no idea what prodded me to stick my fingers into the cobweb covered eaves in there on a hot, summer day, but when I came out with that key, the first thing that went through my mind was, “NO WAY!” Without hesitation, I bolted to the front door, completely expecting to be disappointed.

I wasn’t.

This was perhaps the first time in my life that I had ever found a skeleton key that matched some far off lock. Giddy with the discovery, I decided then and there that this would be my front door key form then on. I gleefully put it on my key ring and there it has stayed. The hard part was getting copies made. Pretty much no one can duplicate them any more. Even locksmiths. What I needed was a real, honest to goodness, old fashioned hardware store. The kind with dusty bins of patina covered metal bits and pieces, marked with faded labels written by hand. Luckily, there’s Dupuis’

Dupuis’ is everything a hardware store should be. It’s musty and badly lit. Items on shelves had been stocked easily as far back as the Carter administration. There were unboxed items for sale that probably had gone out of production a decade or more ago, but still had a place of honor at Dupuis’. My eighty-eight year old grandfather calls this place the, “Iron Monger’s Shoppe”.

I call them amazing.

The whole place is like a museum to hardware Americana. Oh… and they can cut skeleton keys. Usually, when I have keys made, I just drop them off and come get them later on, but not in this case. When I saw the belt driven, cast iron lathe that they used, I had to stick around and watch the process. About 20 minutes later, I had two copies and happily forked out the ten dollars per key. It was worth that much just to watch a master key maker at work using vintage tooling. Many years later, it had been one of these copied keys that our friend had lost and now, I was going to do something to help that from happening again.

Embracing my love for the nostalgic, I rooted around in a box down in my basement looking for something special. Long ago now, my other Grandfather, my Father’s Father, had passed away leaving behind a few objects of interest. His tools mostly now hang on nails at my parent’s house but one particular collection went to me. This grandfather of mine had been an avid appreciator of firearms and through owning more than a few, had also embraced the hobby of loading his own ammunition. My own Dad doesn’t have that much interest in guns having gotten his fill shooting at groundhogs and crows on the family farm as a youth and then later, drilling with an M16 in the National Guard. Firearms never really did much for him and so, over time, he drifted away from shooting. For whatever reason though, the fascination seems to have skipped a generation in our family and I happily use the guns that I inherited and even reload just like my Grandfather did, often times using his equipment. This was why I was in the basement. That’s where the reloading supplies are.

At the bottom of the plastic tote I was pawing through, I found the faded, stained and repurposed Schraft’s Chocolates box that had long ago been picked by my Grandfather for a new duty. When my own Dad had been just a young boy, it had been filled with fired, cleaned and de-primed Colt .45 brass. The pistol that had once fired all this brass was long gone before my time, probably traded away for another pistol or rifle that had caught his eye, but being the picture of an old Yankee, Grandpa had naturally not thrown out the brass. There might be a use for it, after all! I doubt that he had expected it to take something in the time frame of sixty years, though. As for the bullets…

In the spring, the ground thaws and burps up all manner of stones and lost items as it heaves. If you happen to be at the firing range and look at the sand berms behind the targets, you can also find loose bullets! Here, having spent a winter or two in the soft sand, they wiggle their way to the surface and glint in the morning light like lost bits of treasure. I can never resist grabbing a few and here, on my reloading bench, I sift through the scarred and dirty projectiles until I find a nice, copper jacketed .45 round. The soft sand had left no mark and the paper target that it had gone zipping through probably didn’t slow it in the smallest way. It looked new aside from the rifling marks on its flanks.

“Okay, Grandpa. You’ve got the brass so you must have the reloading dies too…”

I often talk to him when I’m sifting through his belongings. It’s been twenty-seven years since I could talk to him face to face, so chatting to his spirit will have to do. I like to hope that he can hear me somehow. It would make us both happy, I think.

Sure enough, I find the right bits and pieces and after about 10 more minutes of work, I have a perfect looking .45 round, minus the powder and primer and plus a hole that passes right through the base of the brass to allow the addition of the key ring. I give it a quick buff with some emery paper and… not bad, If I do say so my self!

“Hey, basement troll.” It’s my wife, Action Girl. “If you feel like joining us above ground, Coley’s here for the key.” With not a little bit of triumph in my step, I emerge to a warm handshake and a cold beer with our friend. Coley and we have gone shooting several times together in the past and he laughs when he sees the new key and accompanying fob.

“Well, I guess I can’t lose that one!” he chuckles as he pops it in his pocket.

Our vacation now over, our friend had returned my front door key with my Grandpa’s bullet key chain. Making it probably wasn’t the most constructive use of my time, but it was certainly an enjoyable allotment of some of my minutes. The added bonus is that every time I feel it in my pocket or see it sitting on the sideboard, it reminds me of him, the old style key sort of echoing the history for me. My children will never get to know my Father’s father, hear his voice or see his face form into that crocked smile like I have, but there will be a little bit more of him in my house now, and that’s good.

And the best bit for me is, when I want to do something with him, all I need to do is creep down to the basement and uncover my bench. He’ll be there, waiting in that old chocolates box full of spent brass and reloading dies, and I’ll chat to him a bit while I load up for a day at the range with our guns or just maybe just mess around making another doo-dad to help keep track of one of the keys to my front door.

Better Living Through History

“Your wife has something she wants to tell you.”

It was my Dad on the phone and he was heading off the island to do some errands in town. Action Girl had been at work on the ferries since early that morning and the wind had been whipping with gusts pushing thirty-five miles per hour on the water. Winter had arrived with a vengeance and the temperatures were in the teens. I’ve never been able to remember how to correctly calculate wind chill factors and to be honest, I really didn’t want to this morning. I already knew what she was about to say. It was hard to make out her every word as Dad passed her the phone, the white noise from the wind covering up her voice, but the sentiment made it through.

“Anyone who would willingly go out in this when they didn’t have to is INSANE!”

That might not be a perfect quote, but it’s in the right spirit.

“Don’t care! I’m going! You knew I was nuts when you married me!” I momentarily distracted her with a tale of something cute the kids did and then made my telephonic escape with what I hoped was a completely stable sounding, “Love you!”

What I was getting ready to do was not only go out in this Arctic weather, but also do it while standing very still out in the elements in a big, open space.

Oh, and there would be guns.
The guns make it all worth it.

It has been since October the last time I made it to the range and I badly wanted to go. The rifle range is where I can relax and do something I truly love. I find it calming, head clearing and most of all, really, really fun. It was going to be bitterly cold but I had three things pulling for me.

The first card I had was the company of good friends. I had gotten a message that an old buddy of mine was in the area and had brought his 1917 German infantry rifle with him, “just in case” we could carve out an afternoon to slip away and have some fun. Another friend who lives near by had asked about shooing just the week before. His brother wanted to come as well and that made a group of four of us.

My great uncle Don had a saying about boys and groups. His theory was that to find the group IQ, all you need to do was find the median intelligence of the members… and then divide that again by the total number of males present. This, I feel, can give good explanation of some of the stupidity of what men do when present in large numbers.

The second card I had was that not only my wife, but also both my parents tried to talk me out of it. It wasn’t cold out. It was super-nasty-bonechilling-find-you-dead-in-a-snowbank-come-March weather. Polar bears, had we any in the area, would have looked at the day, thoughtfully chewed a strip of explorer jerky, and gone right back to bed. I don’t know what a polar bear bed looks like, but I’m willing to bet that it was more inviting that what was outside. Well, maybe not if you’re an Arctic explorer. BUT, as we all know, there is nothing that can change a single, dumb idea in to a burning quest faster like having your wife tell you that you shouldn’t do it… Except perhaps having your parents say it to you too.

My last card was my secret weapon. My ace in the hole. And though to an outsider it might have just looked like coffee, it was much more than that. It was coffee in… The Thermos.

This thermos was made by the Thermos Company long, long ago. Longer ago, in fact, than I have actually existed. It is big, plaid, made of metal and glass and is proof that they most definitely don’t make ‘em like they used to. It had been gathering dust in my folk’s basement for decades when I spotted it on my last trip back home. It was sitting on a shelf, wedged amongst other bits of family memorabilia and debris and with permission, I gleefully snapped it up and brought it home. Action Girl was unimpressed with it when I got home and showed her my trophy. I explained that it was, simply put, “The best thermos ever built.” She pointed out the rust on the bottom and the spots where the lovely nineteen-sixties faux plaid painting scheme that covered its surface was blistering off from corrosion in places. Wounded, I hugged it close for a moment and reverently put it on a shelf in the kitchen.

In her defense, she had good reason to be dubious. I have a fairly reliable tendency of looking at my past through a heavy miasma of rose colored nostalgia. Something that I ate and liked when I was twelve, easily comes back to me as tasting of ambrosia and honey. Maybe I really did love what ever it was that much when I was a kid, but often in the adult re-trying… well… these things do seem to fall a bit flat. This time, the thermos was being viewed with similar skepticism. I knew better though.

The really don’t, in fact, make them like this any more. At least not that I’ve seen. Outwardly it looks like you’d expect a thermos to look. The cap doubles as a cup, it has a built in handle and carries about eight mugs worth of what ever you want to fill it with. What makes it different from its modern counterparts is the glass. The entire lining of the thermos is a heavy glass and once you seal it up, it will keep stuff hot or cold for ages. I remembered that from childhood and it’s why I wanted it so much, now as an adult. I recall both of my parents reminding me to be careful with it lest I crack the glass and ruin it forever. I was being very careful and now. Filling it up to the tiptop with high grade, freshly brewed, black coffee, I headed out the door with it in one hand and my rifle gear in the other.

My GOD, it was cold out.

Within an hour, I was at the range with three friends, several guns, a pile of ice cold ammo and numb toes. The wind was biting, our fingers numb and, as far as we could tell, we had the entire complex to ourselves. It was great! When one of us couldn’t manage to physically pick up new rounds to load our weapons, we’d run back to the car and warm up with some of the atomically hot coffee in the thermos. I think we all burned our tongues at some point that day. When all was shot and done and I was heading back home on the boat, I poured my self another cup and had to blow on the contents of the lid before it was drinkable. It was just as good as I had remembered it!

This morning I was cleaning up the kitchen and found a few ounces of coffee still in the bottom of my rusty, plaid friend. When I started to move to pour it down the drain, I stopped and decided to try it, just out of curiosity. It wasn’t hot… but it wasn’t cold either. Actually, I’ve been known to drink colder coffee than this when it’s been momentarily lost and neglected in a mug somewhere. I carried it to the bathroom where Action Girl was just exiting the shower.

“It’s still warm. It’s from yesterday.”
She looked at me, and then the thermos with doubt. “No way, Seriously? What does that thing have, its own reactor built into the cap?”

It’s not often that I’m definitively right about things like this and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to bask in being correct. Triumphantly, I returned to the kitchen, carrying it before me like a chalice to be carefully cleaned up and returned to its shelf of honor.

I know I have a habit of equating “older” with “better” and I know too, that it’s not always the case, but boy, things like this do tend to cement my faith in the items of the past. My lawn mower was made before my Grandfather was born, some of my favorite hand tools were from before my father was born and now my favorite thermos is older than anyone who lives in my own house. They’re all awesome in their own ways.

I hope that one day my grandkids can say the same of me.

But I doubt it.

*Siiiiiiip* Ahhhh! That’s some good, hot coffee!

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…

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part V

The day was spent making the cabin and the surrounding area more and more inhabitable. Clearing brush, stacking lumber and clearing more brush. The first real construction job Mountain Man and I had was digging and then installing the outhouse. Since there was only one saw and hammer allotted to the project, I helped with the digging while my friend did the actual building. When the hole was deep enough for me to need help getting out of, I went back to clearing brush as Mountain Man hammered and sawed like a pro. Prior to completing the outhouse, when nature called you ran out of the cabin, grabbing a shovel on your way and headed for the bushes. The real trick was to be fast enough with your digging so that when it came time to do what dragged you out in the first place, the mosquitoes didn’t launch a full scale attack on your backside. It was just as pleasant an experience as you’re thinking it was. When the diminutive shed was up and operational, it was like civilization had found us. We were all elated. It’s amazing how when you have only the barest scraps of convenience, the smallest improvements seem like high technology. Now, we had our own privy!

Later on during one of our breaks, I couldn’t help but ask Mountain Man’s uncle about the rifle I had seen him with that first night.

“Oh yah! I figured that with us way out in the boonies, I should get a couple of guns. You know, for the bears and such.”

I could see the logic. “That makes sense. What did you get?”
I admit, I was fishing. I figured that what ever he had bought to keep uppity bears at bay must be pretty impressive and I was hoping to play with it a bit.

“Well, I got two guns, actually. The first one is a .22 rifle and the other is a 12 gauge shot gun. Here, I’ll go get them!” He seemed proud of his purchases and as I sat there waiting for him to pull them down from the loft, I worked on a good poker face. A .22?! What on earth good would that do? If you ever want to get a bear mad, I mean really, REALLY pissed at you, start shooting it with a .22 rifle. It’s roughly the equivalent of trying to stab a Hell’s Angel to death with a cocktail umbrella. It’s POSSIBLE to do it. You might hit an artery or they may eventually succumb to blood loss, but your personal survivability does not look good. The 12 gauge was more plausible as long as he didn’t just buy…”

“I just got a lot of buck shot for the shotgun, but I wasn’t sure what to get. Do you shoot? How do you think I did?”

I smiled what I hoped was an encouraging smile and told him that they were very nice. “You might,” I added, “want to pick up some slugs for the shotgun though. The buckshot isn’t really likely to stop a bear.” I hoped that he wasn’t offended but I need not have worried. Not only did he take the advice to heart but told Mountain Man and I that we should go shoot the guns for a while. This, for me, is not a hard decision to make. I gathered up everything and headed out back with my friend.

Back then, Mountain Man, was a bit of a bohemian in some ways. He’s an unbelievable outdoorsman and very smart, and tended to sit comfortably in the very left wing of politics and associated schools of thought. One of these views which is common from that vantage point is that guns are bad, bad, BAD. He had never fired a gun before and wasn’t sure that he wanted to start today. He had an Achilles’ heal on this subject, though. He liked cool stuff, and let’s be honest here. Guns are very, very cool. They are also seriously fun to shoot. With some light arm twisting and mostly the prospect of making loud noises in the woods with explosives, he relented and joined me for some entertainment. We took the .22 rifle with us along with a bit of hapless cardboard that would be the object of our attention. After the standard gun use and safety talk, we loaded the rifle and started plinking. After a half hour or so, he was having a blast punching holes in cardboard and any hesitation was long gone.

Anyone who is competent and wants to get people involved with shooting starts off the new shooter with at .22. It fires a very small round, isn’t very noisy, and has virtually no kick. Mountain Man was enjoying his uncle’s rifle as he got the hang of it and improved with each shot. During his focused attentions with this new, noisy past time, I slipped back to the cabin and gathered up the shotgun. Holding it by my side so as to keep it from being conspicuous, I walked back just as he finished off the contents of the magazine. He stood there, hot rifle in hand, looking appraisingly at the job he had done on the cardboard box.

“Nice job” I said.

“Thanks! This really pretty fun to do.” He replied. “You want a turn?”

“Okay!” I blurted out with a big smile on my face and with that, I swung the shotgun up to my shoulder and with a reverberating blast, blew the target right out of the tree.

I know! I know! Not the best way to introduce someone to shotguns. At least I didn’t pull the cruel trick of letting him fire it with out warning of the kick. His eyes were wide open and I sported a huge grin.

“These are the really fun ones!” I said to him through ringing ears. The rest of the day was quite literally, a blast and we burned through a small pile of ammunition. Even the mosquitoes didn’t bother us. Or were they hiding?

A few more days of work and swatting and it was time for me to head home at last. All this time I had spent in the wilds of Minnesota, working in the woods and sleeping under the stars, I had not seen any wildlife bigger than a squirrel. At night as I lay in my tent, I could hear coyote baying in the darkness or the occasional snuffle of a skunk or raccoon and even loons in distant unseen ponds but no bear visits or other large mammals. To be honest, I would have liked to at least gotten a glance of something big.

After a week, early in the morning, I packed up my little cloth dome and other widely dispersed possessions, fastened them again to my pack and with Mountain Man, headed back to the car to be driven to the airport in Minneapolis. As we bumped down the railroad cut one last time, my friend hit the breaks hard. Out of the seemingly impassible woods strode a fully grown bull moose, antlers covered with broken vegetation.

moose

He stopped briefly, taking stock of our little blue car and judging us to be not more a threat than the halo of mosquitoes he no doubt wore, he moved across the track and into the opposing woods, disappearing almost instantly. It was the perfect way to end my trip.

Returning to the civilized world was wonderful and though I missed the rugged beauty of the cabin, the lack of being nibbled to death by a thousand tiny mouths was more than a little relief. That and not having to worry about being devoured by a huge carnivore as you tried to make it to the outhouse at two in the morning. I will never forget my trip and I’m very grateful for the experience. I’m also happy to reflect on it rather than relive it. I doubt that I shall see the cabin again, but that’s all right too. After all, I still see Mountain Man from time to time and I have faith that at some point in the future I will again find my self standing there next to him saying something along the lines of, “Are you sure about this?”

He will, naturally, be completely sure and I, naturally, will go with him. After all, when it comes to finding a unique experience that will stand proud in my memory, he’s never let me down.

Guns! When Do We Get Guns?

There are a few things in this world that I will never turn down, regardless of how busy I am or what else I’ve got planned. Drinking coffee, eating doughnuts, Going overseas and playing with my kids comes immediately to mind. One other item on the list is taking people shooting.

(Me) Hi. My name is Turkish Prawn, and I’m a gun nut.
(Crowd replies) Hi, Turkish Prawn.

Actually, the truth of the matter is that I’m an unabashed gun nut. I love shooting, collecting and lusting after the next rifle that I need to add to the collection. Call it an illness or a sport, but I do enjoy time spent with a quality built rifle, a cup of coffee, a stack of clean targets and a small mound of ammunition. Or even, a very large mound of ammunition. That is a morning well spent.

Because I do not tend to fit in with the archetypical image of the gun nut, friends and acquaintances who are, shall we say, left of center are often caught off guard by my participation in the shooting sports. To some, it has been viewed as a betrayal to the cause of striving for a better world. Right of center friends are also often surprised when they find out that love firearms, having long ago taken me, I suppose, as a pinko, commie tree hugger or something. The truth is actually somewhere in the middle. More accurately, I’m somewhere in the middle. Just about dead center I’d say, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I love to do is use this middle position I occupy to introduce the two sides to each other and the things that are important to both. Shooting is the one I think I’ve done the best at.

A friend of ours is getting married soon and mercifully, she excused us from having to drag two small children to the festivities. We’ll be there in spirit but in actuality, well be at the beach with sand in our collective pants. At least Short Stack will, at any rate. She’s a very sweet person for realizing that this will work better for the kiddos and their parents. One evening not too long ago, she and another mutual friend came up with the idea of a bridal shower shootout. She wanted to get some girlfriends together before the wedding and go shooting. Now, all she needed was access to a range, guns and some instruction.

Enter, the gun nut.

While I probably have enough rifles to outfit the average Victorian era expedition to darkest Borneo, I am limited by range rules to bringing only four guests with me, and so, the four were selected: the Bride to be, my wife, our mutual friend, and the bride’s sister-in-law. This was going to be a hoot.

Only one snag was encountered. Action Girl (my wife) works hard hours. She’s a sea captain by trade and the hours that go along with that profession can be a bit harsh. The day before had been a twelve hour shift and most of it had involved fog. The next day, she didn’t have to go in until the afternoon, but the possibility of running in more fog looked likely. That can really take it out of a girl. With much gnashing of teeth and hemming and hawing, she elected to get more sleep in preparation of a long night ahead rather than blowing stuff up with guns. I was sad that she wasn’t going to attend, but I understood as well. There will be another time with just the two of us, coffee mugs, pastries and a couple of Mausers. That’s what I call a romantic date. *sigh*

We picked up the ladies and headed out to the field. In addition to the firearms, I had come prepared with a thermos of freshly perked coffee and about five hundred rounds of ammunition. Come to think of it, it might have been more like eight hundred.

We arrived nice and early and had our pick from the many ranges. I found one of the smaller, fifty yard ones that I knew we would fill with our group. I had visions of shooting at the larger ranges and having other gents on the line seeing me there with three ladies all to my self and wanting to “help me out”. I could imagine that getting… uncomfortable. I’m good friends with at least two of these nice ladies and didn’t think any of them would especially like enthusiastic assistance from just anyone down there toting a rifle and a high caliber smile. Woman at the range are few and far between and I thought that it might be just too tempting for some of the boys. With a range to our selves, the potential problem was averted.

The day was perfect for shooting. The sky was overcast but not gloomy. The temperature was warm, but not hot and the morning dew had almost completely evaporated off the benches. I opened the case and pulled out three .22 rifles. Two of them were mine and one belonged to our friend who cooked this up with the bride. Her rifle had belonged to her grandmother and it’s a beautiful Mossberg 42MB(a) target rifle and it’s in beautiful shape. She actually has a picture of Grandma competing at a shooting match with two other friends. Go Grammie! The other two rifles were my Savage made, single shot .22 that my Father’s dad gave me for my birthday when I was ten and the Springfield .22 single shot that my Mother’s father had been given for Christmas when he was eight.

All three rifles were laid out on a bench and I began the safety talk. Once that was covered and ears were plugged, the first shot was taken by, naturally, the bride to be. I had set an empty paper cup on the berm for zeroing in. I find that if you have folks shoot at an object on a dirt hill, they often have an easier time figuring out what they are doing and how to compensate. The flying dirt is a good indicator where you are hitting versus simply knowing that you misses the paper target on the stand.

CRACK!

The first shot was taken and I heard the unmistakable sound of paper being punched. A quick peek through the spotting scope and a sound that is not often heard at the range broke out. Happy girl squeals. This was the first time that our soon-to-be-married friend had ever fired a rifle and on her initial try, she had hit a paper cup from the standing position at fifty yards . Not too freakin’ bad! She was thrilled!

Soon after, we were all having a great time making little holes in bits of paper. Everyone was having success as well as fun. I didn’t get to shoot much, but that was fine. I get a kick out of introducing shooting to people who normally wouldn’t go near a fire arm and watching the them realize how safe and fun it is. The sister-in-law had never shot before, but was doing fine and having a kick. I knew that she has two young daughters and I brought up the fact that one manufacturer makes a .22 rifle with a chrome barrel and pink stock. She thought that was a great idea and told me how much her older girl would love it.

After a few hours and a lot of ammo, we headed home, happy and black fingered. Each lady kept their targets as souvenirs and the bride had her lucky cup as well. She insisted that it would somehow get worked into the reception. I almost regret not being there, just so I could see that. It was a great morning and I only wish Action Girl could have been there too. Next time, I hope. In the mean time, I have a lot of rifles to clean, but I don’t mind that one bit. It was a blast. Some day, perhaps Lulu Belle can join us shooting, with her little pink rifle slug stylishly on her shoulder. I wonder if Coach makes a sling for that?

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