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The Christmas gun: A holiday tradition

COMMENTARY

Jim parked his car in the driveway and approached the old house. He climbed the steps and knocked on the door. Inside he heard a dog bark, and soon the door swung open. An old man stood in the doorway, with a tiny Jack Russell terrier at his feet.

“He won’t bite,” said the old man. “He just thinks that everyone comes just to see him.”

Jim introduced himself and the old man invited him in. “You Ted’s boy?” Jim smiled. At 40, it had been a while since anyone called him Ted’s boy. When Jim answered in the affirmative, the old man continued, “Knew your daddy. He was a heckuva turkey hunter.”

His host ushered Jim into the living room and bade him sit. “What can I do for you, young fella?”

“Your nephew told me you might have some guns for sale,” Jim said. “I’ve been looking for a shotgun for my son. He turned 11 this summer and passed his hunter’s ed this fall. All he’s asked for this Christmas is a shotgun.”

The old man chuckled. “Yeah, I might have what you’re looking for.” He left the room and soon returned. “What do you think about this one?” he asked, handing Jim a 20-gauge double-barrel.

“I think it’s just what I’ve been looking for.” The shotgun showed some wear, but the bluing was good. Jim broke open the action and held the barrels up to the light. The bores shown like mirrors.

“It’s in pretty good shape,” said the old man. “We always kept our guns cleaned. It’s a Stevens. I have a 12-gauge just like it. Always liked a side-by-side. No better gun for a kid to start out with.”

“I had one almost like it,” Jim said. “I saved my haymaking money and bought it the year I was 12. Then when I was 16 I traded it to my cousin for a 12. He was getting older and wanted something that didn’t kick quite as much.”

“This one belonged to my boy,” said the old man. “You probably don’t remember him. He would be a little older than you are.

“It was a Christmas present for him. He was 12; his birthday was in the spring. That fall I borrowed a .410 single from my neighbor to start him out with. He did all right with that gun, but all he talked about was a side-by-side like mine.

“That had been a rough year. I was laid off, and back then unemployment didn’t amount to much. Looked like it would be a pretty lean Christmas, and I couldn’t see how I could swing a shotgun for the boy.

“Then I got lucky. I bought a raffle ticket from the Lions and won second prize, which was $50. I went down to Donaldson’s store, and they had this gun used for $60. I did some talkin’ and got it for the fifty, with two boxes of shells thrown in.

“I’ll never forget that Christmas morning. When my boy opened that gun, he couldn’t even talk. He just sat there and held it. Then he got out my kit and cleaned it, even though it didn’t need it.

“After dinner, he wouldn’t rest until we went out and hunted. I remember he killed two rabbits and a squirrel. Then we came home and he cleaned it again.

“He hunted with that gun every fall. He got a couple turkeys and even got a buck and a doe with it, though a side-by-side ain’t the best for punkin balls. When he was 14, I had good work that year and bought him a rifle for deer.

“He sure was a good boy. He did good in school and was a good football player. And he worked on farms after school, on weekends, and all summer long. He graduated with honors and was gonna go to veterinary school that fall. Just loved animals.

“He was getting’ up at 4:30 every morning and going to milk. I was at work when the preacher called and told me to come home. I got here and there was a police car in the driveway. Seems a drunk driver had gone through the stop sign at the crossroads and hit him.”

The old man pulled a bandana from his pocket and wiped his eyes. “We was expectin’ big things for him. And all of a sudden his life was over. My wife was never quite the same after. She got kinda funny. Kept his room just the way it was. Changed the sheets every week, just like he was still there. Even set a place for him at the table every meal.

“Son, I hope and pray you never have to go through what we did. Worse thing ever is to outlive a child. One thing I never regretted, though, was the time I spent huntin’ and fishin’ with him. I always took the time for him. You spend as much time with your boy as you can. You’ll never be sorry.

“The wife died last year, and here I was left in this house alone. I figured it was time to let the boy go. I was hoping this gun would go to a kid who would enjoy it as much as he did.”

When Jim was finally able to speak, he asked, “H-how much do you want for it?”

“Tell you what, since it’s for your boy, how about $50 and I’ll throw in a couple boxes of shells.”

Christmas morning dawned cold but clear. Jimmy raced downstairs to the living room. His eyes were immediately drawn to an elongated package with his name on it.

“Ohhhhh boy. Is this what I think it is?” Paper flew. “Oh, Dad, it’s just what I wanted!” Jimmy sat with the gun in his arms as his parents opened their presents and helped him with the rest of his.

“Dad, can I clean it? Man, I wish I was 12. I can’t wait for next fall. Think we can shoot it later? This is the best Christmas ever.”

“After dinner we’ll go down to the sportsman’s range and I’ll throw you some clay birds. Hey, Jimmy. Who’s your best pal?”

“Hey, Dad. You’re my best pal.”

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Harry Guyer Jr. writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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