My boyhood died. Time of death: 15 March 2013

In Editorial on March 21, 2013 at 9:52 am
Photo: Delaware Open Carry

Photo: Delaware Open Carry

I admit it. I’ve got a soft heart. My wife and I regularly share a box of tissues when watching a sad movie. I cry when my pets die.

And just when I thought life in the United Soviet Soyuz of Amerika could not be much worse than life under Stalin, I clicked on this story:

After I finished reading the story, I laid my glasses on my desk and dabbed my eyes with my shirt sleeve. The story didn’t make me angry.

It made me unbelievably sad.

When I was about eleven years old, my father (of Blessed memory) and a family friend spent several hours with me at the friend’s farm, shooting the heads off of cattails with a .22 rifle. We lived in the Detroit suburbs, so it was my first real encounter with a ‘real’ gun.

Before I was even handed the rifle, a semi-automatic of long-forgotten manufacture, I got the same instructions Pop got from his father about safe firearms handling. The entire lesson took about five minutes and then the shooting (fun) began in earnest.

I was hooked. All the way back into town, I pestered to have my own .22 semi-auto. The ‘Old Man’ just smiled and said something like, “We’ll see.” I had long ago learned that phrase meant probability was high that I would be granted my wish.

A long, slender box appeared on my bed a few weeks later. Inside was a much newer model of the rifle we had shot at the friend’s farm weeks earlier that same summer.

[NOTE: I speak vaguely about the rifle because it ‘disappeared’. Pop always kept it. It had sentimental memories of happy times that, for him, would vanish with his late-in-life misfortunes. After he died suddenly, a family member quickly snatched up virtually all of his possessions and then lost them to an endless procession of wives and ‘girlfriends’.]

In a box, on some dusty shelf, resides a photo of me with my new rifle. Facebook did not exist in the early 1960s. Instead, kids went out to play. Adults played (and shot guns) with their kids. We even drank out of the garden hose (After each other and without using hand sanitizer!). But if social media or blogs existed at the time, Pop would have most surely posted the picture of me holding my new rifle there.

The police would not have descended on our home. Child protective services would not have been notified.

A couple of years later, we moved to the (comparative) wilderness of Northern Michigan. For my thirteenth birthday, I was given a 12-guage double barrel shotgun. I still have the old gun and, aside from a few scratches from swamp brush encounters and fence-crossings, it looks like new.

My .22 and my shotgun frequently went with me to school. An always-laughing mechanical drawing teacher kept student’s guns in his coat closet. If we arrived at school too late to take the guns to his classroom, we’d just stick them in our locker until there was time to drop them off with him.

The first day of deer season was an unofficial school holiday for students who hunted deer (or ate venison, or once saw a deer). Throughout deer season, the school hallways looked like the lobby of a hunting lodge. Red (there was no blaze orange) shirts were on almost every student. Boys (and more than a few girls) sauntered through the hallways casually carrying cased high powered rifles. (Many of the rifles were ‘military style’ Garands, Enfields and Mausers brought home by WWII veteran fathers.) Bullets clanked inside of student’s pockets and, during Study Hall, they were diligently put in cartridge belts or ammo wallets; in full view of an unconcerned teacher who spent the hour sharpening his own 8-inch hunting knife.

Despite the presence of so many armed teenagers in a school, there was no SWAT team standing by in the parking lot. The principal didn’t shout lockdown codes over the school PA system (the term ‘lockdown’ having its origins in prison lingo). My bitter ‘enemies’ and I walked within inches of each other, bearing high power rifles, and never dreamed of inflicting deadly harm on each other.

I was Blessed.

Shawn Moore’s son will have a much different memory of his boyhood than mine. He’ll remember his new rifle being celebrated with the arrival of jackbooted goons on his father’s doorstep.

That’s why the story about Shawn Moore and his son made me cry.


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