Sixty-one years ago, I received the second greatest gift a 12-year-old boy could ever hope for (at least in that era) - a Red Ryder BB Gun. The greatest treasure, of course, was a bicycle, which I also received that year. The bicycle I worked long and hard for and purchased myself. But the BB gun was a Christmas gift. It was tough to have to wait for spring to arrive, so I could go hunting with my lever-action, multi-load Red Ryder BB Gun. Even before the snow melted, it was taken away from me twice for shooting holes in the plaster walls of my attic bedroom. But, by the time we were heading for the cottage at the end of June, my prize was paroled back to me.
I was Hawkeye that summer, Uncas, Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett too! I was Red Ryder himself, a cowboy and a woodsman. It was my last summer of near innocence. Little did I know that childhood would be relinquished to the days of Brylcreem, pegged pants, flight boots and leather jackets. And that it was the last summer to dream dreams of what might have been before I challenged tomorrow and yesterday would be left in the dust.
It was a summer of long goodbyes, although I didn't know it at the time. A summer of adventure and a BB gun, with tiny round bullets.
Our cottage was on Shea Lake in the Gatineau region of Quebec, between a place called Kazabazua and Danford Lake. There were only four other cottages on the lake at that time and we were the only ones who stayed for the full summer. The other owners came to their cottages on weekends.
A quiet and peaceful place, I remember the loons crying in the early morning and as the sun set in the evening, and the sound of the whippoorwill after darkness had settled in. We had no electricity. We used coal oil lamps and had what we called a “cooler” dug into the ground lined with tin and a locked lid. We had to go for ice twice a week, pulling a kid's wagon a mile and a half. Then, with a chunk of ice covered in a cloth, we'd pull it back a mile and a half and chip it into the cooler. We had an outhouse too, which we called “the library.” It was spooky to make the trip after dark with a flashlight in hand. There were bears, skunks, elk and deer. There were magnified noises in the woods that surrounded us.
I felt very safe that summer. After all, I now had a BB gun to protect my family. After breakfast, the adventure would begin. Going deep into the forest, knowing exactly where I was but pretending to be lost, I shot my BB gun into the air, alerting imaginary companions to where I could be found.
I would have to put my foot on the stock of my BB gun, hold tightly to the top of the barrel and crank the lever with all of my strength. I had a tube filled with BBs and I rationed them out.
I went hunting for water snakes in our red and white rowboat. The snakes were three- to five-feet long and were far better swimmers than I was a shooter.
In August, friends visited with their boy who was about my age. He was a show-offy type and I couldn't stand him! After about five days of his irritation, I knew what I had to do. In those days, boy's bathing suits were made of some kind of shiny material. Nylon? Rayon? I don't really know. But they were skin-tight.
I positioned myself on the little balcony that overlooked the lake. I hid behind the slats, as any good sniper would do. I cradled my lever-action, multi-load Red Ryder BB gun and hugged it to me. I caressed it, talked to it and tried to explain to it why this would probably be our last time together.
The sun was hot that day, and I felt its warmth on the stock of the gun as I held it to my cheek. I remember sighting down the barrel at the shiny blue bathing suit as it danced past me and then away from me, never suspecting I was laying there in wait. I squeezed the trigger and felt the air gush from the barrel sending the BB straight and true, like a bee stinging the left buttock of a boy who yelled louder than I ever dreamed he could. For a moment, I thought the wound might be mortal.
Well, anyone can guess the outcome. I got the tar licked out of me and I never saw my beloved BB gun again. My adversary sported his wound to anyone who cared to look, while I was grounded from going into the woods for a week. I knew my imaginary friends were mourning me. But a man (or boy) must be willing to sacrifice and suffer for his convictions. I knew what the cost would be for my action.
Still to this day, I do not regret my act of discipline in bringing a whining, irritating kid to deserved justice. But I sure miss my lever-action, multi-load Red Ryder BB Gun! Over the years, I have met many people who I would have liked to introduce to it.
I am known now as a peacemaker and, indeed, I am.
JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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