My father kept his guns in a homemade gun cabinet that was located in the “den”, which was really just a room that was over our small attached, barn. He had a homemade fly tying desk, a couch, an overstuffed chair, a record player and a small portable black & white TV, and this room was where he would tie his flies and clean his guns. But that was about it for him but to me though it was filled with wonders and I would spend many hours in there, doing homework, listening to records and imagining the day when I would be allowed to use one of his guns. In the cabinet there were shotguns of various guages as well as deer hunting rifles. Among these was his semi .308, a lever action .32 Special with a scope that Dad bought for my big brother Dennis and with which I fantasized using in the Old West with my pals Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. There was also an old octagon barreled .32 Special that was my grandfather’s farm gun and which was used for deer hunting and also to dispatch old and broken down work horses, a bolt action .22 and then my “gun”, a Red Ryder BB gun…
Don’t get me wrong I loved that BB gun with it’s leather tassel hanging from a ring and I got into plenty of trouble with it in the years that I used it. But..it wasn’t the real thing and I really wanted the chance to throw some real lead at a real target.
Back then there were several places that men would gather to talk over the important issues of the day and one of those special places was our city dump. Every Saturday morning Dad and our next door neighbor Uncle Oscar would load up the pickup with our weekly accumulation of garbage and refuse and the three of us would go to the dump. I really looked forward to the dump run. There were all sorts of treasures , new ones every week, and Dad or Oscar would bring back home some of these to be added to our household necessities. But the best reason to go was all of the wildlife that could be observed..seagulls, crows, dogs, hogs, and of course rats! They were everywhere under the piles and would scurry around if the trash was disturbed in any way.
And it was those little demons that were my first quarry. In a time honored tradition we would spend a few warm summer nights standing among the fragrant mounds of trash, headlights blazing, beholding a spectacle of Biblical proportion. In the high beams was a writhing, slithering, carpet of rats, their glowing, beady eyes glaring back at us for a split second before they turned tail and tried to return to the Netherworld from whence they came. But we were ready..locked and loaded and with itchy trigger fingers. Finally my chance had come to send some of these little devils back to Hades.
Of course Dad, not really wanting to take a chance with a crazed 9 year old whose eyes were glowing red with blood lust and with a fully loaded firearm, took a precaution. Even though the 22 had a clip, he would only allow me one chambered round but that was good enough for me. I don’t remember if I even aimed or just pointed and pulled the trigger but in the course of the evening I got my share of rats..maybe one or two. And driving home with my clothes and hair bathed in the perfume of burning paper, wood and rubber, I knew that I had crossed a rubicon…
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