Christmas Day Humiliation

December 24, 2008

A newspaper photo published this week shows a “Leave It to Beaver” family posing next to a Christmas tree in 1956. The family includes a boy holding his new shotgun.

Except for his well-coiffed hair and fancy bathrobe, the boy reminds me of what I might have looked like six years later when I turned twelve. I held a gun that Christmas morning but not a shotgun or the .22 rifle I desperately wanted. My father didn’t like guns, so the compromise gift was something smaller and far less dangerous. I hid my disappointment and was eager to shoot my new BB gun.

My father, a safety zealot, thought it wise to go to a gun range. There was an informal one at the dump on the outskirts of our small Central Florida town, Maitland. Nobody else was around, and he watched me fire away at bottles and cans. The rifle didn’t make much noise, but the sound of glass breaking when I hit a bottle was a thrill.

Then a classmate showed up with his gift. He set up next to me and began firing away. Compared to the pings of my rifle, his .20 gauge shotgun sounded like a howitzer. The kabooms hurt my ears. He made bottles vaporize. Luckily the guy didn’t rub it in or say anything later at school. I was humiliated enough as it was and maybe he sensed this.

Looking back, I give my old man credit for not getting me the .22. I had no business with anything that could kill somebody. I took my frustrations out on a few innocent birds, thrilling at the hunt but feeling remorse when retrieving their limp bodies.

The BB rifle met an ignoble end. I left it in an orange grove one night when my friends and I were up to no good and saw a cop car nearby. I came back the next morning to fetch it, but a tractor plowing under weeds had mangled the rifle. My shooting days were over.