My Grandfathers’ Guns

One I keep because I want to, the other because I have to. Feel free to skip this post. It’s more for me than anyone else.

I have my late grandfather’s shotgun, and have had it for several years. I’m the only one in the family with any big shooting pretensions, which is why I also have my other grandfathers’ pistol. I am the Family Repositor of Shooting Heirlooms, and I don’t mind. One I keep without thought, the other I think about. I cannot part with either, but for different reasons.

The pistol came to me after the death of my grandmother, and from the reports of its discovery all involved were surprised, as grandma had just kept the thing in a drawer for more than three decades. ?What to do with the pistol? GruntDoc shoots, give it to him. I’m glad to keep it, and have fired it, but being a weird caliber (38, not special, the old 38, lead bullets in a short revolver cylinder), it’s not fired often. Nice to have, though; it ties me to the stories of my maternal grandfather the Continental bus driver; long routes, picking up fares on the side of the road, men on their own in the ships of their day, etc. It’s a pretty gun but not terribly useful; for family reasons I’ll keep it until it’s my heir’s problem. And I never think about it.

My paternal grandfather (step-grandfather, really, but functionally my grandfather, and role model, long story) I knew during my life: a slightly built but sturdy man, one who worked every day because that’s what Men Do. He was not an elaborative fellow, and never one to brag or conflate so far as I know; his role seemed to me to be provider and pair for my grandmother. He had a good sense of humor and I will always remember his and hers bowling trophies they won in League Competition in Wink, TX, because that’s where the bowling alley was. They lived modestly, which is more their upbringing than financial status. That’s just who they were, as a couple. He loved my grandmother, completely, and she him. A good match.

When I was a teen I asked about his WWII service, and his only answer was that he was proud to have been ‘just a cook’ in Patton’s Army. He wasn’t elaborative, which was a little disappointing. Only later would I understand his reticence to remember. I wonder if he was ‘just a cook’ now, as time fills in gaps.

He took me ‘hunting’ once, which was some experience: he, quite the bird hunter (he went on frequent trips across many states to hunt pheasant every year for decades, it seems), me aged about 11 and weighing nearly 100 pounds wet, and my younger brother by a year and a half. I seem to recall waiting for dove to come to our tank, where we’d set up, but they were disinterested in displaying themselves for us.

So, out of boredom and I believe now a sincere desire to teach me something useful, an empty box of 12 gauge shells (roughly a box 4″x4″x3″) was set up, filled with sand and stood up about 30 feet distant. I was instructed on sight alignment with his Winchester 11-48, a 12 gauge shotgun, which I could just barely hold up at arms length while sitting Indian-style, in order to brace against the weight. (I’m told this method of sitting is now taught to kids as ‘cris-cross-apple-sauce’, and I wonder which is a more demeaning term and to whom).

There I am, cross-legged with a very big shotgun, and the sights occasionally wobble across the target box. I jerk the trigger (not a nice squeeze) and the next thing I know two things happen: I’m flat on my back in the dirt, and he’s laughing! For the record, my first kill is a box, and I was very proud of it. Unfortunately, we never went hunting again (I had the ‘teenager disease’, and he was not getting younger).

Many years later, Grandma died; we made a sort of pilgrimage with my newborn daughter to see her just before, but the latest and last stroke had ended her consciousness. Grandpa was appropriately sad, but eventually recovered; every morning found him at the Dairy Queen, having coffee with “The Smart Club”, a group of like-minded retirees. I suppose these were the first to hear about his prostate cancer.

Mortality from prostate cancer is low, as I was educated in med school, and his first round through the system went well. The mestatic recurrence, despite all medical therapy had to offer, was much more painful and less predictable. Pain was the determining factor in his death. Two weeks before he died he told me, in a phone conversation, that he could live with the cancer but feared the return of the pain. As I was a half a continent away I did what supportive relatives do, reassurance.

Reassurance wasn’t enough. He put a shotgun in his mouth and ended his life on his own terms. The shotgun I shot the box with. The shotgun I have now.

I’ll keep it, as a reminder of a good man, and try to stop thinking about it. And I’ll never let it go.