My First Gun

My First Gun

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My first firearm, was a Daisy lever action Red Rider BB Rifle.

Well, I guess you could call it a firearm . . .  It did propel a projectile at a high rate of speed approaching that of the speed of light . . . (or at least I thought it did), usually at some unsuspecting varmit or fowl that needed attending to.

I'd found it while thumbing through the Sears & Roebuck catalog making out my wish list for Christmas.  The price?  A hefty $4.69!  It was a hefty price when you were as poor as our family was.

I remember dreaming of it for months.  It was that little Daisy lever action and actually had a wooden stock.  You had to unscrew the magazine, lift it out, pour your ammo in, then screw the thing back into place.  I loved the looks of it, dreamed of carrying it, shouldering it, marching with it, and of course . . . dispatching some foul critter to a better suited place!

Finally the moment arrived when I received the little gun.  It was a bitter cold December Christmas morning.  I unwrapped a package the correct size and shape to be the little gun, and there it was!  My own firearm!  A gun!  And it was all mine!

I can still feel the weight of it in my hands, or feel it hit my shoulder as I 'armied' for Dad and the rest of the family.  I can still hear the rattle of the BB's as I turned the gun over and over, inspecting every inch of it.  It was perfect!  I spent hours fondling the little gun with loving hands, dreaming of the fun I'd have with it.

Mom needed something from Harry Cossey's store, so I volunteered to go.  The wind was blowing quite briskly, and I'd stepped outside onto frozen tundra.  I felt important, depended on, and was chocked full of self-importance as well.

I was now, or at least I considered myself to be, (since I was the owner of a gun . . .), an adult.  I had bigger responsibilities.  I was automatically in the know that I'd be held accountable for any mischievous results afforded by the trusty little gun after being warned and lessoned on the use of it numerous times.

And, I got hurt with it sometimes.  But, being only a BB gun, there really wasn't a whole lot of damage I could do with it other than losing an eye, breaking a window, getting the stuffing beat out of me because of something stupid I'd done with it.  Or the worst thing of all: have it taken away from me.

I remember the time I had an idea that I could point the gun in one direction, take a common plastic straw, and guide the BB into a different direction.  So I had it all set up, holding the straw with my fingers, inside my bedroom . . .  Why do I come up with these crazy ideas?  Am I the only boy that has ever thought up stuff to do like that?  Am I the only one stupid enough to try that?

I pulled the trigger, but the plan went awry.  There was a flaw in the slaw!  And there was a hole in the straw!  And, why was my thumb hurting so bad?  And where was the blood coming from?  And why was the straw laying in the middle of the floor with a hole ripped out of the side?  And what went wrong?  Why had my plan failed?

I have, over the years, considered that whole incident, and for the life of me, can't figure out where that idea came from, or, why I thought it was a good idea to begin with!  Where do things of this nature begin?

So, there I was, bleeding, my thumb was numb and beginning to throb as the feeling was coming back into it.  There was a mess I was going to have to conceal somehow as I'd already been warned about losing my gun because of some ignorant thing I'd done.  But, I was still trying to figure out what happened.

So, I picked up the straw, and saw the bulge increasing down the side of it until the BB had burst through it, almost doing the same thing to my thumb!  The BB had not gone into my thumb, but it had certainly ripped it open, finally pushing up a hunk of skin before it lost momentum in the direction it was traveling.

Then, it went in a whole different direction, making a dent in the sheetrock.  Had it not already expended the biggest part of the original power into my thumb, it would have buried itself into the sheetrock.  I am happy to report that my parents were wise enough to refrain from giving me a real gun until I was much older!

I was able to conceal the mess, an luckily prevent my gun from being taken away.  The sore thumb was a different matter.  I don't remember too much about the story I concocted, but, I kinda got the feeling that momma wasn't too apt to believe it.

One day my Uncle Doyne Shelton came by the house.  He was in an ornery kind of mood, (most days that was his only mood . . .), and this day was no different.  He owned a couple of real firearms!  He actually owned a .22 and a .410 shotgun.  He was really grown up.  But, at that young age, (about 12 or 13), he didn't have too much in the way of adult actions (or common sense either . . .).  I'd ran out of BB's, and we had nothing to shoot so we just messed around in the house getting underfoot the way normal kids do.  He got the bright idea to shoot kitchen matches in the gun.  And it was great fun!.

Those old large wooden matches with the white head would pop extremely loud when fired out of a BB gun at a solid object.  And it was fun to hear them pop and explode into flame.  Well, that is until he decided to shoot me!  He told me to bend over and out of the spirit of acting just as stupid as him, I did exactly that.  But, I really didn't think he'd shoot me.  But, he did!  And it popped just like it did when it hit the wall or refrigerator, or other things he shot at.

And it also exploded into flames.  Only it wasn't a square hit, and the flaming projectile now landed on mom's hardwood floor and was burning into the finish.  Like a super hero fireman of today, mom was on it in a flash, stomping it out in record time saving her floor from too much damage.  I was too busy running around the living room screaming because of the perceived damage to my derriere.

Although the damage was not as drastic as I thought, it still hurt like the dickens!  And Doyne was laughing so hard he could hardly stand up.  But I'll guarantee you one thing: he didn't get a second chance at my caboose!  One time was enough!

It's amazing how fast one learns when that amount of pain is involved!

But my mind goes back to a more serious incident.  The waiting for Christmas so I could possibly get my gun was almost beyond bearing.  I could hardly wait, the anticipation driving me to the picture in the catalog to day dream about all the fun and neat things I could do with it.

On the morning I received it, I'd taken on the challenge of walking to Harry Cossey's store.  He was open every day, every year, and I was to retrieve some victuals for vittles.  On the way out the door I thought how exciting it would be to shoot something for breakfast!  Wow, what an exciting idea.  On my first day, with my first gun, bag the first game I'd see, and bring it home to spread our meager little meal a little further.  It sounded good . . .

I was almost through the little lot of woods separating our house from the street that ran by our church.  Then I saw it.  It was one of them pesky lil Sparrows!  Grandpa had told me for several months how they could eat seven times their own weight in grain.  No doubt about it: this bird was fixing to be d. e. a. d. dead fowl!

In the innocence of my youth, I'd never experienced the feeling of regret or loss over killing something.  Oh sure, I'd killed lots of varmints what needed killing.  Like snakes, bees, 'possums, coons . . . and mice.  Just all around nuisances around the farm.  But, varmints like this was justifiable, and I'd seen many killed in my short life.  I had even participated in the killings.  It just wasn't no big deal!

I'd seen and been around hogs, beef, chickens and turkeys being killed for meat.  I'd seen wild animals harvested for same.  So, the simple act of killing was not a problem; it was all justifiable.  So, the feeling regret, guilt, and depression over killing an animal, whether it be beast or fowl, I'd never experienced.

So, here I was on that cold December morning, looking almost straight up into that Oak tree, rifle at ready, already cocked, finger on the trigger, cold steel against my face, steam emitting with each excited breath, the biting wind tugging at my clothes, body taught with anticipation . . .

But, there was something that kind of went against the grain when I aimed that little gun at that bird in that tall barren Oak tree that morning.  I sighted down the barrel pointed at the little bird waiting for it to be still long enough to fire.  Finally, it stilled its singing for just a moment, I took a final careful aim and I squeezed the trigger.  Instantly, the little bird was upside down, dangling from one claw, swinging gently in the wind . . . blood trickling out its mouth.

Death was swift and sure.  I'd stilled one of God's creatures.  One that was mentioned that God was mindful of.  A creature that was not out on the farm eating the grain my Grandpa had grown; a creature that was not a nuisance to anyone.  Finally, the little claw lost its grip and the little bird fell bumping through the branches of the winter barren tree, lightly to the ground where it soon just kind of relaxed.

Gone was the quick, deft, excited movements of flitting back and forth, the singing, the flight . . . stilled forever by one little BB.  Suddenly, what just moments before flew against the grain and poking my conscience and warned me not to do it, was now an awesome burden of guilt, regret and depression.  Remorse brought tears streaming down the cold skin of my face.  I now knew what shame of something I'd done against my conscience was.

What should have been compassion on my part now weighed heavily on my mind as I pondered the very nature of it, how it had been shown me numerous times, but I'd failed to show it here.

The difference was, I'd been shown compassion when I was guilty of some misdeed and deserved to be punished, and I'd NOT shown compassion here in the unjustifiable killing of something which had done nothing to start with.

Oh, how my heart ached!  To this day, I can still see that situation, how the little bird instantly fell, hanging on the branch upside down, it's little body swaying the wind . . .  I still feel the same guilt I felt on that day, and it bothers me no less.  That day was to change my whole outlook on life, and there's no telling how many times I've re-lived that part of my life.

Tears stung as they emerged and ran hot down my face.  I still remember the taste of salinity of them, felt the bitterness of the cold bite into my skin through my clothes and wondered how the little bird felt, knowing the heat was leaving its little body.

Oh, how I wish I could un-pull that trigger.  I learned that day the inability to take something back like a bullet, or a word, an action and the heaviness it can cause.

I've killed many things since.  I even butchered all through High School, getting up very early in the morning, going out, taking a beef or hog, slaughtering it, taking it back to the shop, skinning, halving, hanging it up in the cooler before going to school.  I would also be involved in the cutting of the carcass into the various pieces of edible delight, wrapping it, then freezing it . . .

But that was different.  These acts of killing were for the survival of my own race, and never bothered me in the least.  And, I did go on to shoot other birds, even sparrows that ate Grandpa's chicken feed, but again, that was different.  How, I don't know.  But it was.

I looked at the little gun differently.  I saw the power of death, misery, heartache, pain, loss and regret in its cold steel.  Because of it I experienced the anxiety over doing something for which justice was demanded.  How could I ever fix it?  Was it a mother with babies that would starve now?

All these things were going through my mind as that little piece of death and destruction without a conscience rested heavily in my hands.  I was amazed at how a toy which only cost $4.69 from Sears & Roebuck had changed my very being in so short a time.

I laid the purchases from the store of Harry and Mable Cossey on the kitchen table, mumbled something about not feeling good, and went to my room.  I placed the gun into the back corner of my closet, covered it up and shut the door, then sat on the bed for the better part of the day.

That day, I became a softer, gentler soul when it came to the killing of God's innocent creatures.

But cats . . . now they are an entirely different story!  I still hate cats!

George Cavaness

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