A father’s need to turn his son into a man and a mother’s need to protect her young are NOT naturally compatible instincts. Surely you’ve seen the movie “A Christmas Story,” where little Ralphie tells everyone that he wants an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle… but what did the department store Santa tell him? “You’ll shoot your eye out kid!”
Like Ralphie, I dreamed of getting my own BB gun. My dad thought, “Yeah… learning to shoot will turn you into a man.” My mom’s opinion? “Learning to shoot… will put your eye out.”
My dad was a member of the Jaycees, a community service organization that raised money for charity and encouraged opportunities for young people. They also sponsored an annual BB gun shooting contest. That’s right… a Community service organization putting guns into the hands of kids. Of course they preached “safety first” in their training program; never point a gun at anyone; take out all your ammo when you store your gun. But for a 10 year old boy – safety may be first, but reckless adventure is a close second.
To participate in the annual shooting contest, my dad bought me my first BB gun. I was 10… and I was armed. My brother Jeff got one too. These Daisy air rifles didn’t have much power – you had to aim 4 inches high so the BB would fall to hit the paper bullseye. But paper targets got boring after a while. And what do boys do when they get bored? That’s right, they shoot at each other!
Now we weren’t stupid. Reckless maybe, but not stupid. We discovered that you could shoot a BB directly at someone’s leg from 20 paces without breaking the skin. It would leave a red welt, but no blood. So we put on 2 pair of blue jeans, our fluffy “Michelin man” down coats, and we ran outside to “play.” My red rubber boots crunched on the crusty snow as I snuck around the corner. I saw Jeffy up in the tree. BLAM… gotcha!!
Now… for all you moms reading this, I can see your look of horror right through your computer screen. That’s exactly the same look on my mom’s face when she found out. She said “Give me all the BBs!” and took away our ammo. The guns could still shoot compressed air but there’s not much fun in that.
Yes, mothers have a need to protect their young, but necessity is the mother of invention. My brother Jeff was eating a tootsie pop as we sat there staring at our empty guns. He was getting down to the white sucker stick at the core. (It takes more than three licks by the way.) Just as he was about to throw it away he stopped. He noticed the diameter of the white stick was about an eighth of an inch – the same as the opening in the barrel of his gun. He tore off the mushy chewed up part and slid the rest down into the barrel. He cocked the gun, aimed at the bird feeder and pulled the trigger. BLAM!! Birdseed flew everywhere. The compressed air shot that sucker stick at least 30 feet with decent accuracy.
An evil grin spread across his face. We would not be denied our destructive birthright. We immediately pooled our money, ran to the Handy Andy convenience store and bought a whole box of Tootsie Pops. Thus began the great sucker stick war of 1971. All sugared up with plenty of ammo.
Later that evening, my mom locked our guns in the trunk of her car.
It only took us a couple of months to find the BB guns and BBs again, up on a high shelf in the attic (like a boy is not going to climb up there.) Jeff said “Come on, let’s go shoot stuff.” We walked a mile down the railroad track to the garbage dump. That was forbidden…by our mom…as a place to play. We climbed over some garbage to set up bottles and cans on the side of an old refrigerator. I took aim at a Gillette Foamy shaving cream can and knocked it over with my first shot. I took a second shot at the shiny concave bottom of the can. Just then some kind of heavy bug flew into my eye and I blinked it off. I rubbed it a few times and thought nothing more about it. We headed home to hide our guns in the attic.
A few days later, my eye started to hurt and turn red around my lower eyelid. I said “Mom I think I might have a bug in my eye.” My mom was a registered nurse and had no problem pushing gently around my eye with her fingers to see what was going on. She pushed up with her thumb under my eyelid and Boink!! A small BB popped out of my eye and bounced onto the bathroom counter. My mom looked down at the BB. I looked down at the BB. I looked up at my mom and said “Now how did THAT get in there?!”
For those of you wondering about the science of this… apparently, when I shot the concave bottom of that can, it hit at the perfect angle to ricochet back straight at my open eye. I blinked just as it hit my eye, forcing it down into my lower eyelid, where it left 2 little rust spots that had to be treated with special ointment.
I was busted on all counts – the BB Gun, going to the garbage dump, and most importantly, my mom always told me I would shoot my eye out… and I almost did.
So what have we learned today? Let’s recap.
– Young boys with guns are hard to supervise
– Anything, including candy, can be made into a weapon
– No matter how much you crave reckless adventure… you should always listen to your momma.