The neighbor kid lived without a dad in the house, so his mom had to try to make up for it, and one year there was this BB rifle under their Christmas tree, a Daisy ‘Spittin’ Image’ facsimile of a Model 94 Winchester, and while the lady may have had some misgivings about turning her kid loose with a .177-caliber lever-action repeater, she wisely had greater misgivings about not letting him be a boy, and have a boy’s mis-adventurous childhood.
So I took it upon myself, at the ripe old age of 14 or so, to teach this kid sight alignment, trigger control and accuracy, having had by then my dad’s Model 69A Winchester .22-caliber bolt-action as my own for a couple of years. It was a great rifle, with a little dent in the stock where it probably rubbed against the handle bar of a bicycle when its previous owner was, himself a kid.
One of the other neighbors was what my grandpa used to call an “Old Bitty,” who one day warned sternly from across the street, “You’ll put your eye out with that!”
Maybe, maybe not, but learning boyhood responsibility is easier when the crotchety old neighbor isn’t trying to terrify you.
Christmas BB guns are magic things. And this one was especially so because it was hellaciously accurate, as I demonstrated one night when nobody was home but me, him and my little brother. At that time, there was no dad in our house, either, but somehow we scraped together a buck for a pack of BBs.
We set up a rest in the hallway and hung a wool blanket from the rear bedroom door, closing it to hold the blanket up, for a backstop. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
We then commenced to shooting wood kitchen matches. I fired the first few shots to make sure the rifle was properly sighted, and then turned the neighbor kid loose. It was a joyous thing, watching my friend whack those strike-anywhere matches. We were lucky none of them ignited.
There was the year that we visited another family whose kid got a chemistry set from Santa. Evidently St. Nick was not fully aware of some mixed chemical reactions. Never did quite get over that odor. But, at least there was no BB gun involved, so it must have been okay.
One year, dad didn’t have a lot of money for presents for his somewhat estranged kids, so he boxed up his .22-caliber double-action H&R Model 922 revolver, stuck it in a shoebox and gave it to his older son for a Christmas birthday gift. Mom was not a happy camper, but I shot several raccoons with that handgun, hunting with a mentor who also ran hounds. Cold or warm weather, snow or sunshine, I was always ready to go, and that revolver stayed clean and oiled with a full cartridge belt close by. That may have been the gift that set a life’s course.
There was the year my own sons found Marlin single-shot .22-caliber rifles under the tree. Both had scopes, and both were accurate. Their dad saw to that. There is nothing like the smile on a boy’s face when he can punch holes in a target at 15 yards, or reel in his first fish, learn to tie a hook, or do other “boy stuff” that now has a lot of girls joining in. Success makes youngsters want to do it again…and again!
There is still a tradition in much of America to have a BB gun or a .22 rifle, or maybe a .410 shotgun under the Christmas tree for a youngster. It’s a good tradition, frowned upon only by “Old Bitties” or sheepish adults who maybe skipped their own childhoods and never learned the wool-blanket-from-the-hallway-door trick, demonstrating that some boys are creative and others, well, maybe they learn croquet or lawn darts or something.
But Christmas is a time for wonderment and appreciating that mom and/or dad, or maybe grandpa thinks you’re trustworthy enough to have a special box to open even before first light, when the smell of alder burning in the fireplace or wood stove combines with that from the morning’s first pot of coffee and the scent of hot cocoa and cinnamon buns baking in the oven, making it impossible for kids of any age to stay under the covers.
May all of you have that kind of Christmas.
And thanks for reading!