A gun has a kind of heft and authority and power that cannot be conveyed with words. When you pick up a Colt Python .357, you feel its weight. You are holding a machine that can take a man’s life. The magnitude of the notion itself is hard to understand until you have gone to a range, pulled on your goggles, stuffed foam ear protectors into your head, and pulled the trigger. The blast shocks you. The compression wave riffles through your body like a croupier thumbing curtly through a deck. In an instant, you have lobbed a ball of hot lead into an inanimate target at 2000 feet per second. I remember Dad cleaning his rifles. I remember the first time I saw Dad bring home a deer tied to the hood of Jack Walker’s Ford Apache. It just shocked me. It was a real dead animal that Dad shot with one of his rifles.
An M1 Garand is a heavy rifle. You cut your fingers stuffing Springfield 30.06 rounds into the square of tin that serves as the magazine. You stuff the magazine into the rifle, You set the bolt back and let it pop forward and chamber the first 30.06 round into the gun breech. You pull the trigger…the blast…the recoil…the world slows down for a second. The round itsellf will knock a man running full steam ahead towards you flat ass backwards and deader than Elvis by the time he is down. It will rip a hole through you so violently that death is the only compassionate sequel.
I write this on Father’s Day thinking about my Dad. He liked guns, he was comfortable around guns, he knew gun safety though he didn’t always practice it. But he had a closet full of hunting rifles and pistols. The guns I remember were the M1 Garand, the Smith & Wesson Model 10 Combat Masterpiece .38 cal snub nosed revolver. He had a High Standard 9 shot .22 caliber revolver with an action on it that required you to use your entire body just to pull the frickin’ trigger. It was like being an English Longbow archer. You had to crook your leg this way and your knee the other way. it was a cool looking gun and actually an interesting idea. But poorly executed. Excuse the gun pun. He had a German P-38. He had a Broom Handled Mauser that fired a 9mm Parabellum round. He had a 12 gauge shotgun. He had two Browning High Power 9mm Automatics. There were others that have been taken, borrowed, stored, sold or slipped from memory.
Once I went hunting with Dad. This was unusual because most Saturday mornings I went to synagogue. But we left Friday afternoon and by sundown had set up a tent by his station wagon. To the north a gradual climb rose into a fairly large hill, and to the south just the opposite, a gradual drop off. So we were on a ridge in between. We could see a long way. Dad told me there was a deer trail that ran in front of us headed downhill. He pointed out the subtle marks on the ground and a hint of trail easily adumbrated in the eyes of someone who has been looking at this for years.
I remember he cooked and talked and he was calm. He snored so loudly I could hardly get any sleep in the tent. But there is something I have always loved about camping. In the morning he made a great fire and we had eggs and toast and milk. He loaded up and we headed out to find a spot and hunt on foot. He had a tree stand up but I was with him and he decided since there was only room for one tushy, we would do it another way.
If he hadn’t had five kids, Dad probably would have had a workshop. He loved tools, and equipment and he had an almost intuitive facility with heavy equipment and drafting tools. Harvey, the oldest and Barry, the 4th in the sibling line both have workshops. The entire basement of both of their homes are filled with drills and saws and things that you light and things that you fire, and things that make menacing noises and things that take crap and turn it into something. Barry in particular is like the Doctor on Gilligans Island. He could make an atomic clock out of a coconut shell. (But he couldn’t fix the boat!!!!) Harvey and Barry both have heavy safes and yet what they do is not that incredibly arcane. Neither Harvey nor Barry have children and I think that is why they have a workshop. It could not be otherwise for them.
During the trip Dad talked about hunting and nature. He was fascinated with nature and watched every single Wild Kingdom and particularly enjoyed Marlin Perkins lecturing us while his assistant, sporting a Daktari like costume wrestled a Tapir on camera.
We saw nothing that weekend. Maybe a red fox later in the day. But the hunt itself was a bust.
Sunday late afternoon we struck camp and folded the tent and began to pack up. As we were loading the station wagon, he said “Give me the rifle.” I yanked the Garand out of the back of the car and he was looking up hill. He shoved an eight round magazine in, popped the bolt forward and put the butt up to his shoulder. I just caught sight of it when he pulled the trigger. It looked like a buck, but when he fired it disappeared.
We walked up the ridge and just the other side of it, lay the deer.
We spent the last few hours of daylight field dressing the deer. We loaded it into the back of the station wagon. “You shouldn’t put the deer on the hood. The heat from the engine will cook the meat,” the Jewish Redneck said.
We stopped on the way back at a meat processing place and left the deer for Dad to come back and retrieve.
Our relationship all and all was strained. But there are times when I really miss him. I often wonder if people like me imagine Dad in a better light because we all secretly wish our father had been Andy of Mayberry.
You can spend your time trying to live life out in grand gestures. But life is best lived in small moments. At the end of the day those are the only ones you remember when you are at Death’s door. Dad telling dirty jokes while he cooks eggs over a campfire; watching the Falcons with your brother; running a comb through Mom’s hair at the old folks home. All the while chatting about this and that. It’s funny but that is the ultimate irony about life. It isn’t the big things that are important. It is the small, the insignificant things that you miss the most. Like this weekend. Dad, a deer, and me.