I started to write this ten days ago, but have been unable to finish it with the intervening events. It felt self-involved to go on writing about an oddly painful memory of my father inspired by a replica firearm. So I put it away.
Tonight, this just felt right, sitting alone on a thursday night, my family sleeping, the smell and feel of winter in the air for the first time this year.
This is one of those things that’s stupid. One of those things that hurts for no real reason. I’m finding it hard to even talk about it.
I don’t want to get into politics (About this anyway – start me up on what’s wrong with our current administration, I can go all night); I’m not political about guns. This is about guns, but what I’m really talking about is my father, and the few things I shared with him.
My father wasn’t a particularly masculine man. Not that he was a big nelly or anything; but he was a classic academic type. He wore cardigans and penny loafers, madras shirts. He smoked a pipe. I’m not sure he’d ever actually been in a fight. In his own way, I suppose he was brilliant; he overcame pretty serious dyslexia to make a career in academia back before anyone knew what dyslexia was. He worked his way through, earned a PhD in logic, speech-communication, something along those lines. He understood obscure principles of logic and philosophy that leave be vaguely confused.
But my father loved the trappings of masculinity. He rode a motorcycle; he had heavy boots, riding leathers. He loved weapons. He had machetes and butterfly knives and finnish pukko knives, buck knives, throwing knives and daggers. When he died, my mother handed be two bags full of his knives; one just swiss army knives of all shapes, sizes, colors. Dad loved axes, tools, chisels, anything sharp and a little dangerous.
My father gave me my first knife when I was about five, and then later, took me on my first trip to get stitches when I cut myself with that knife. Every xmas, I’d get another knife from him, buck knives, hunting knives, a bowie knife once. He taught me to flip a butterfly knife (He called it a ‘batongas knife’, which is still what I think of it as).
We had bb guns and pellet guns around from the time I was little. Always. I still have my pellet gun, too old to really shoot anymore, and I have my father’s bb pistol with its Co2 cartridges. I don’t know if it will shoot either.
When I was a teenager, dad started buying guns. I guess he decided we were old enough that it was safe to have them in the house. He bought a few. There was a winchester .30-30, a beautiful gun that wasn’t really much fun to shoot, but I loved anyway. There was a colt .38 police special, a little snub-nose five-shot revolver. Again, not really much fun to shoot, but cool in a sinister way.
Later he bought a several .22 pistols and a tiny .25. Dad liked little guns for some reason, maybe some secret spy fantasy.
But those guns didn’t mean a lot to me. The ones I cared about were older.
We had a 12ga double-barrel shotgun that, family legend has it, came across the plains with my great-great-grand-parents in a covered wagon. It didn’t work, it was rusty and beat up and missing some parts. It was always in my father’s study, and I liked to handle it. It represented the old west to me, it represented my family’s history. We have a history that dates back to the early days around Jamestown, and this gun, though nowhere near that old, meant something to me about my family and where they came from.
And there was the one I really cared about. An army colt .45; your classic World War I 1911.
It was a gun with a history. Evidently my grandfather bought it from a cop friend. It had its serial numbers filed of; it had wear on the wooden hand-grip from years of use. It was a beat-up old gun that had clearly been fired a lot, and for all I know, used in crimes, maybe taken lives.
It didn’t work. Some key parts were missing. And since it was un-registered, it was never going to work, we could not take it to any reputable gun-smith.
I loved that gun. I took it apart, cleaned it, oiled it and put it back together a hundred times. I practiced proper fire-arm safety and gun handling with it. My father would never let us play with it; it was a real gun, and we were taught to treat it like it was a real gun, no matter that it would never again fire a bullet.
When my father died, there wasn’t much I wanted. He didn’t have a lot, we didn’t share a lot. Hid books were all obscure textbooks. His musical equipment, flutes and recorders, were things I’d never play. His art supplies were nothing I’d ever use, and for the most part, his tools were not as nice as mine, for all that he made better use of his.
I wanted his weapons, though. And I wanted his Jeep.
Mother gave me the Jeep, though it was difficult for her, and the knives, which she didn’t much care about, aside from keeping a favorite one or two for herself. But she would not give me the guns.
I could not figure out why, at first.
This is where this story gets complicated.
I’ve talked a little about my brother Ian; his long illness, his suicide. About how my father died the same year my brother killed himself.
It was only later, after Ian’s death, that I learned he’d made several attempts, or at least, tried to make attempts. Pills taken, and then vomited up, maybe other things. The details blur. But there was a day when he found my father’s .30-30 and my folks found him sitting in the back yard next to the hole where we used to bury dog crap, the gun in his hands. They talked him out of it that day.
My father sold the winchester after that, but kept the pistols. But I think they terrified my mother, represented something about my brother’s illness; maybe they represented his death, or maybe they represented his mental illness that she could never face. I’m not sure what it meant, and don’t really feel any need to ask.
After my father died, maybe after my brother died, I’m not sure, she gathered them all up and took them to a gun shop. She never asked me if I wanted them; for some reason she could not.
It didn’t matter. I would not have kept the .22s, the little .25, the police .38. They’re interesting objects, but I’d never have fired them. I like to target shoot, and have no objection to owning guns; but those guns are no fun for sport, they’re meant for carry.
But for some reason I will never understand, she took that old .45 down also; the one that meant something to me, the one that, more than any other thing my father owned, represented our bond, and she had the gun shop destroy it. It was an illegal gun, so they could not do anything with it. So they cut it into scrap and dropped it in a bin. That gun would never have fired, was no more dangerous than a hammer or a rock.
With all the pain of losing my father, my brother, with all the confused feelings, the anger. With all I felt that year, that’s the thing that stayed in my head. The simple, useless object.
The other day I was looking up a picture for some completely unconnected reason, and I ran across this; replicas of GI 1911 pistols. They’re not exactly the gun my father had, which was, I think, this. But looking at this new gun, with the distinctive double-diamond pattern in the wooden hand grips, brought it all back to me. I want to own one of these. I need to own one.
It’s these odd, small things that bring back memories of our parents. Not always things that make sense. Not the high points, riding of the back of dad’s motorcycle, or chopping wood with him in the back yard, camping trips or boating, or woodworking projects in the back yard Nor the low points, fighting with him over stupid, pointless things. It’s the weird, irrelevant objects, like a cane my father used to carry even though he never had any need for a cane, or the odd hats he collected, or the weapons this non-violent man loved.
…and so much, I wish I could have that old gun back, in a way I could never explain to do justice to. I want that old gun.