Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lessons From Our Parents

There is no greater enhancement to beauty, than confidence.
- Brigid

I found it there in the closet of my big brother's room, a little Savage, that had been my Dad's. It still had no child safety lock and didn't when I first picked it up when I was 12.

My parents believed in providing us challenges. I was on the back of a big horse before I was even tall enough to climb on without assistance. At first I sat with an intrepid awkwardness, even with some lessons and the adventuresome spirit that seems to have been inherited by all the women in our family. The mare had been ridden by all the kids in the family and she seemed to sense my timidity and moved slowly and patiently as I took measure of her and myself as my parents watching carefully. I broke into a grin as she began to pick up speed with my encouragement. Leaning forward I let out a yell as we broke into a gallop, as if by doing so I could outpace the mare. We ran out free of the fence lines, free of ourselves, racing with a quality of movement in our motion totally separate from the pound of hooves or the whoop of joy as I discovered flight in its oldest form. So it was with all discoveries my parents exposed us to in that wild country, the next of which was in the form of that Savage .22.

For my parents a firearm wasn't some purpose of evil, but something that would help us learn and grow, with learning to use it as important as the possession. I held it, wood smooth under my hand, the sun at the quarry where we would shoot it shining off of the barrel. When I touched it, I felt an excitement of responsibility and promise whose reason I could not put into words at that age, being too young to articulate that. I felt responsible. Yes. Responsible. For something that cost most than many months allowance would ever replace. Responsible for the trust my parents put in me in handing over the legacy of guns in our house. Responsible for myself, my brothers. To use it properly.

So we watched, we learned. We started with soda cans in that old quarry, or out in the woods, using the center of the can as a little target area. We were well aware that for an adult it was a right, but a child it was a privilege, and one we worked hard at our schoolwork and chores, to maintain. Responsibility had to be earned. Trust had a price.

We paid attention, we listened. It didn't mean we didn't make mistakes, but they weren't potentially deadly ones. We weren't taught just how to clear a misfire, or clean our weapon or to hit a nice grouping. We were given the talents to be safe and ethical shooters, guardians of an outdoor heritage of survival, stewards of the essential liberties which we now pass on to our children.

When we showed we could handle the smaller rifles and shotguns, a family member let us try out an 8 mm Mauser. It was heavy, it seemed to be as long as I was tall, and when I fired it, the recoil about knocked me down. There was a flash of powder and light as Thor's hammer struck in a slow, solid repercussion of sound and force that I felt all the way down my legs, in muscles and places I'd forgotten I had. Then the air cleared, a vacuum, an interval of recognition and amazing clarity and I knew something; in the tremble of flesh and the warmth of my hands. I wanted this. I wanted this again. I don't care if it will probably hurt me some in the process.

So many days where we would go out. We shot until we were out of ammo and our arms ached, and even then, worn out from the day, handed the guns back carefully with deep and somnolent reluctance. Even today I feel that, ammo can echoing, trigger finger aching from the pull of the .38, and I hate to leave - one more, one more shot. Please. The last bullet is carefully loaded, and its discharge explodes into sound; a report out of proportion to the small piece of air it pushed aside, as if by firing it obtained some sort of ravening possibility, not to be inhibited by anything, not by threat, or by cold or by wind. It fired in a burst of sound that put one last neat clean hole through the dead center of the target. Then the echo of silence.

I gather my range gear in an old green military tote bag in which are a just a few pistol pouches and supplies. The bag is old and worn, not much different than that I used as a child. The smell of gunpowder kissing my hair, the ache in my arm and my hand making me feel so very alive, no different than those days so long ago. In the quiet of a range gone cold, I hear my Dad's voice in my head. Well done kiddo, well done. I'd been here two hours, I could tell that from the sun, and the sound of the many birds in the trees. They were everywhere, constant and ceaseless, happy, chattering along with the various conversations as the shooters took a break. Shooters sharing information, knowledge and history, just as my parents shared with us.

I was a bit stiff, the knee aching as it does when there is a pressure change in the atmosphere.  But the walk to the truck parked away from the range line would cure that, the urgent beating of my heart timed with the slap of the gun bag against my hip as I covered the distance across the now empty parking lot. My weapon, so much different than my first, yet still a paladin of equity, a fighter for justice.

I walk with that steady gait that is both aim and purpose, being free with that singular carrying of arms that abrogates both timidity and hesitation. It's a stride borne of training and practice so as to relegate fear to a place far away. I may be alone, but I am safe. I am safe because someone loved me enough to give me the tools to be confiden