When I was about 10 years old my Grandfather took my brother and I out to a dusty middle of nowhere open range along with a bucket of fried chicken, a few cans of soda, and as many guns as we could fit in the back of an old Volkswagen beetle. We drove for what seemed like hours, the badly working A/C did little more than blow the already searing air around the tiny cab of that tiny car.
When we finally got to our destination and climbed out of the car, one of the first things I noticed was the heat and dryness of that desolate Southern California hillside, nothing but rocks and rattlesnakes, as my Grandfather had said.
My brother and I had never shot a firearm before and the day was filled with revelations; the acrid smell of the burning powder, the physical force of recoil, and the pure joy of destruction that is an intrinsic part of shooting for a young man. That day remains one of the fondest memories of my childhood. My Grandfather was a strict military man: large, intimidating, and a bit of a mystery to my brother and I. Our father was never part of our lives and thus our Grandfather was the only man in our family we knew. It was a difficult relationship for my brother and I as well as for our Grandfather, we had never had a father figure and he had never had any sons. We simply did not know how to become close, or even how to relate to each other.
However, when our Grandfather took us out shooting, our awkwardness vanished and the focused school of learning to shoot was a bridge of joy where we could meet in the vastness between our two worlds. Learning to load each round into the gun was an indoctrination into, what seemed to my brother and I, an arcane secret society. We were being entrusted with a power over our environment we had never even known was possible. To us that is what a firearm was: Power. A power that came from outside ourselves, a power that was more dangerous than anything we had ever been given access to and the weight of that responsibility was heavy on our young shoulders.
When my brother and I went up the hill to change out the targets that our rifles had torn to pieces, I was handed a .22 revolver by my Grandfather; "Just in case of snakes." I was awestruck by that trust, I was the oldest and I was being entrusted with protecting my brother and I. I felt like I had passed some rite of passage, I was given a gun to manage. I was being trusted to carry a firearm without supervision; my Grandfather was trusting me with an instrument of death and trusting I would have the wisdom and maturity to know when to use it.
Well, we found no snakes on our short hike up to the targets and the revolver was never fired on our hike. In a way, I was more proud of the fact that I did not use that little revolver than if I had had to shoot it. I had shown that I knew how to make an important choice, shown I understood the true weight of the weapon I had been allowed to carry.
I don't know if my Grandfather really thought there would be a snake in need of shooting on our way up to the targets, now being a father myself, I think not. I think he was testing me, offering me a choice, and trusting me to make it a good one. As the day passed into evening we sat with my Grandfather ate fried chicken, drank warmish soda, and enjoyed a day like we had never had. My brother and I were proud that we had gotten to shoot guns, and we talked endlessly on way home about which gun was our favorite and retold again and again the stories of our best shots and most memorable moments.
As my brother and I grew older, our trips out with our Grandfather grew fewer and fewer. We became more interested in girls, music, and cars than in a day spent out shooting. And sadly, some of that awkwardness grew between ourselves and our Grandfather again. Nevertheless, my brother and I still carry those early lessons from our time under the hot Southern California sun with our Grandfather and those memories of those times are still among some of the best of my youth.
Now as my son grows before my eyes I keep my riffles clean and wait for the day I can take him out under a hot California sun and teach him the lessons my brother and I were taught. And I'll be damned if, when he is ready, there will not be a small .22 caliber revolver for him to carry up to the target stand "just in case of snakes".
Thank you Grandpa.
--Jed has spent the last 18 years working EMS in California's Central coast and now lives on a small farm with his amazing wife, fearless 3-year-old son and more farm animals than he can remember. A recreational shooter, part time blacksmith and avid student of history, Jed has recently become a fan of the Hi-Point line of firearms and a regular visitor to the Hi-Point Forum.