Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I'll admit to being a handful growing up.

Yesterdays post was about nothing more than a spat between a father and a son and Lord knows there were more than a few of those over the years. Just about all of these were out of love. Dad and I were pretty tight. It speaks highly of him the way he handled my little outburst. Instead of simply reacting and blowing up, he thought.

The man had a knack for raising boys, and my guess is that part of it was that he had a pretty punk childhood having grown up in the depression. I think back fondly of the chat we had just before puberty. It wasn't just the birds and the bees; he gave me a heads up on the changes I would be going through. When I discovered my nipples grown sensitive, meaning that if I were a woman I'd be developing breasts, I didn't bat an eyelash. I knew what had happened because I had been told ahead of time. When my voice cracked, I simply knew it was changing and I was growing up.

It was as simple as that.

Recently I was just thinking of my first handgun.

Prior to the Gun Control Act of '68, you could buy all sorts of things through the US mail. You could buy firearms of about every sort, rocket engines for Estes rockets, complete kits to make cherry bombs (they sent the powder in 2 separate bags, just mix them together.) and just about everything needed for a pretty good childhood.

Of course, on the coupon for firearms, you had to sign that you were over 21 for a handgun or 18 for a rifle.

I was reading an ad in the back of a Popular Science one day and in the back there was an ad for Klien's Sporting Goods. Incidentally, this was the outfit that later on wound up selling the 6.5 Cacarno to Lee Harvey Oswald that he used to assassinate President Kennedy with.

On sale at Klein's was a Webley MkIV pistol in .38 S&W for about $6.95. I decided I wanted one so I shoveled snow, raked leaves and did odd jobs throughout the neighborhood and saved my pennies for one.

Of course, even then there was pretty strict handgun control in the state I grew up in, but you could still easily purchase one and keep it home or carefully take it to the range if you jumped through a few hoops.

Now, I wasn't one for patent dishonesty because Dad had beaten it into our heads. On the other hand, where there's a will, there's a way.

Enter Bilbo Davis, a drunk. For the price of a quart of beer, Bilbo would sign anything.

Need someone to sign for Dynamite to blow up the old concrete blockhouse in the woods?

"Hey, Bilbo, I'm doing a scientific experiment and need some dynamite. I'll give you the price of a quart of beer if you sign this form!"

Scribble. Scribble. A quarter would change hands and all was good. One case of DuPont 40% coming our way.

"Nice to see you boys doing a science project," Bilbo would say, stumbling out of his alcoholic fog for about a nanosecond.

A couple of kids tried to torment Bilbo, but didn't get very far because we needed him too badly. The teenagers relied on him to buy beer for them. Back then it was assumed that a case of beer held 22 cans because the 2 missing beers were the bite Bilbo would take for buying it.

Nobody ever lied to Bilbo, if I recall.  Then again, in the remote planet Bilbo lived in, nobody asked questions, either.

Bilbo was pretty much assured a better protection than even the Secret Service could provide for the President because of his willingness to do or sign just about anything we thrust in front of him. We guarded him like a hawk.

So I carefully filled out the coupon, coughed up a quarter and had Bilbo make his mark where he was supposed to. The scribble was so illegible that it couldn't be read and I figured, correctly that Klein's would accept it. I was good to go.

A while later, a pair of packages showed up at the post office. Seeing one of my jobs was to get the mail after school, I was able to get them into the house and into the cellar without being discovered. I hid my goods carefully in a spot that was never discovered. I'd bet that if I went into that house this day, I'd find the cherry bombs I hid there almost a half-century ago.

Later that afternoon, I opened the package and discovered the pistol was covered in Cosmoline and when I started to wipe it off, the aroma came out of it and I figured I had best air the place out and re-hide my goods. The other package contained 108 rounds of .38 S&W in wax-coated boxes of 12 rounds each.

The next day I asked Mr. Whalen, the bus driver, about how the army used to cover things with grease and he explained the workings of Cosmoline and told me that he had once used gasoline to remove it. During lunch in the cafeteria I asked Mrs. Dobson for a number ten can and I carried that back to class with me and took it home.  After school I bought fifteen cents worth of gas, dumped it in the number ten can and grabbed my toothbrush and cleaned the Cosmoline off of the pistol so well that it would pass the inspection of a Marine Gunnery Sergeant.

When I was done, I used some leftover gasoline to clean my toothbrush, but it was a dingy shade of grey. I frowned for a second, dipped in the gas again and looked at it and decided it would be OK after it dried out. It was, too. After I brushed my teeth with it a couple of times you could never tell the difference.

I came into the house smelling like a service station, which was not all that uncommon for kids those days. Nobody was the wiser.

The next day was Saturday and I think it rained, so I stayed pretty much inside, but that night it cleared and after some Saturday morning chores, I grabbed my pistol and several of the small packages of ammo and headed into the woods down back.

Believe it or not, at that age I was careful enough to pick out a spot where a hill would serve as a backstop and I set out a can as a target, paced off a distance, broke open the action, loaded my piece, aimed and let fly.

The recoil wasn't too bad and after I got my first six rounds off, I reloaded and did it all over again. I guess I did OK, as there were a few holes in the can. I opened another package of the Crown's ammunition, reloaded and repeated the process. I had fired about twenty shots when I felt something kind of strange, so I fired the last three or four shots and turned around and there was my father standing about twenty feet behind me watching my every move.

"Keep shooting," he said, calmly. I reloaded and fired another six and turned to look at him. I knew my goose was cooked.

"My turn," he said.

I broke the latch opened and emptied the fired shells out of it and cleared my piece and handed it to my father, leaving the cylinder open for his inspection. He took the pistol and I handed him the last six loose rounds and he loaded up and fired at the can and made it dance a little.

"Where did you get it?" he asked.

"Mailed away for it," I answered.

Years later I think he asked me this to make sure I wasn't dealing with some kind of criminal element, which is something I have appreciated about him a lot more as I grew older.

"How much?" he asked.

"Six ninety-five," I answered.

"You got rooked," he replied, putting the pistol into the pocket of his jacket.

When he did that, I knew I'd never see it again.

When dad took something away from my brother or me, two things happened to it. Either it went into his dresser drawer where we would generally swipe it back months later or it disappeared. The gross of cherry bombs he took from me I pinched back two or three at a time over a long period, as per the rules. The real reason he took them was to keep peace with my mom who hated fireworks.

I knew this one was going to disappear.

A couple of months later, he walked into my room and laid a ten-dollar bill on my desk.

"What's this?" I asked.

"I sold your pistol to Chris Winders for ten bucks," he said. "It wasn't my pistol or my money and it's not fair for me to keep it. Be a little more careful as to where you spend it." If nothing else, dad was honest. I never saw him take something that wasn’t his.

Of course, part of the ten bucks was promptly mailed to someplace in New Jersey and a couple of weeks later a pair of packages arrived at the post office containing enough supplies to make several hundred quarter-stick sized M-80, but we’ll tell that story some other time.


Some time later we discussed the events that surrounded the pistol. He knew that he had taught me well when he noticed that I was shooting against am embankment that day and when I handed him the unloaded pistol to him with the action opened, it was just the way he had trained me.

What bothered him were the legal ramifications. Having a handgun was just not a legal thing to do, even back then where I grew up. He told me he had impounded it simply to keep me out of trouble with the law.

Forty-seven years later.

Recently I saw for sale a Webley Mk IV in .38 S&W and I think I’m going to buy it and in memory of my dad, I think I’ll take it to the range and fire 84 rounds so as to finish up the 108 rounds I started on when I was twelve.

my other blog is: http://officerpiccolo.blogspot.com/ http://piccolosbutler.blogspot.com/

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