“What happened to the gun,” my dad asked. I had to come up with something quick, but it was too late.
To tell this story, I have to go back to the beginning, to the home of my Uncle Talmadge and Aunt Jessie-Lee. Back to when the gun was in its original shape and not the hack-sawed monstrosity that hung on the wall of our mobile home.
Back to when dad was not fit to be tied because of his son’s stupidity.
We were poor down here in the South. Stories of ‘white privilege’ hadn’t been dreamed up yet, and one look at us sweating in the hot Mississippi heat would have killed any notion of ‘privilege.’ In the summer we fished for our dinner. Usually, we ran trot lines, and fished in the river. Ole Tallahalle gave us a bounty of meals in the form of catfish, bream, and more than one turtle. The fall and winter were dedicated to hunting. Dad, me and little brother hunted rabbits, squirrel, and deer. We never took more than we could eat.
Well, that’s enough background. This story is about the gun that we ruined.
Dad wanted a new shotgun because his old one was worn out. We had shot so much game with it that the barrel was no longer any good. So, we went to see Uncle Talmadge. Uncle T brewed moonshine and was a wheeler-dealer in his spare time. He had an engraved .20-gauge shotgun. It was the prettiest gun I’d ever seen.
My brother nudged me when he saw the gun. “Bet I get blood on it first, Possum.” My brother, we called him Mule, and I had a small competitive streak about a country mile wide. I shook my head. “Nah, man. You couldn’t hit Texas with a nuke, if you were standing in Texas with a nuke. I’ll get the first kill with it.”
There is about fourteen months that separated us in age, and we bickered like two old wet hens. He punched me on the shoulder while dad looked the gun over.
After some bartering took place, dad handed Uncle T the agreed upon sum. We went home with the gun. Dad was so proud of it. He would sit at the dinner table and look at it. His pride shined in his eyes when he would look at his new gun. I couldn’t wait to shoot it.
Summer transitioned to fall, and fall brought us squirrel season. We waited until we got a good frost, and my brother poked me one Friday afternoon.
“Wanna go kill dinner,” he asked me. I shrugged. “Sure. I’m gonna use dad’s new shotgun.” We loaded up and headed to the woods. We walked for what seemed like eternity and sat down next to an old oak tree. Squirrels were everywhere. We killed our limit in half an hour. “Let’s go by the creek and see where we can set up some traps,” I said. My brother nodded. “Yeah, coon is fetching fifteen bucks,” Mule said.
Both of us attended school in Purvis, Mississippi. The gas prices had risen to a staggering .68 cents a gallon. I was going to need a lot of fur to make it to Purvis and home five times a week.
The creek was usually just a small stream, but it had rained for the past week. Water gushed by and the small creek was out of the banks.
“How are we gonna get across, Possum?” I don’t know why he asked me, I was as daft as he was. We stood there for a moment and considered our options. Out of the blue, I had a thought.
“We will throw the guns across to the other side and walk across that log.”
“Yeah,” Mule said. “Sounds like a plan.” Both of us tossed our guns to the other side. My brother’s gun landed in the brush, mine ended up with the barrel stuck in the mud. Mule laughed.
“Well, that sucked. The barrel is jammed with mud. How should we get it cleaned out,” I asked.
Mule shrugged. “Shoot it out.”
“Yeah, okay.” I cocked the hammer back and yanked the trigger. What happened next, well, it isn’t something I have forgotten. The barrel split in twain. My brother and I stood there confused, astounded, and completely horrified.
“Oh Jesus,” I gasped. Mule nodded. “Yup, dad’s gonna kill you.” The constable’s house wasn’t far from where we had hunted, so we raced there. Thankfully, he was home. I knocked on the door. Mr. Dearman, or Johnny Law as we knew him, answered the door.
“Can I help you young’uns,” he asked.
“Sir, my gun barrel split. Can you do something with it?”
He looked at me and then my brother. “You two idiots are lucky to be alive. Come on out to the shop.”
Mr. Dearman took a hacksaw to the barrel and cut half of it off. I lost all my color and envisioned the multiplicity of deaths my dad would inflict upon me for ruining his new gun. Johnny Law must have noticed because he patted me on the shoulder.
“It’s alright, son. Your dad will be glad you’re okay.” I nodded my head silently. Fear gripped my throat; words could not express my disbelief. What was once a beautiful 28” gun was now an 18-inch gun.
“Maybe dad won’t notice it got shorter, Possum.” I stared at my brother, at that moment, I could have killed him. I probably should have.
“Nah. You’ll probably wish you were, but dad won’t kill you. You will probably be mostly dead.”
We trudged back home, and I put the weapon back on the rack. My brother and I skinned the game we had killed. I threw my coat on the shortened gun. “Maybe dad won’t notice.”
That evening, I heard dad pull up into the drive. He came in and sat down in his recliner and opened up the Hattiesburg American. After he finished reading the news, he called my brother and I into the living room.
“Tomorrow, we are going rabbit hunting in Greene County. We will leave before five. Be up and ready to go.”
I had horrible nightmares that night. The next morning came, and dad took down my coat. For a long moment he just stared at his beautiful gun. I could have sworn he had a tear in his eye as he gazed at the hacked off barrel of his prized shotgun.
“What happened to my gun,” he hissed softly. I stood rooted to the ground unable to answer. Thank God, Mule was there to answer for me.
“Possum threw it across the creek, and it got stuck in the mud. Then, he cranked one off, and then barrel went whoop!”
“I can’t have anything nice,” my dad muttered. I waited in silence for my death, but it never came. Dad never said a word to me. He just stared at that gun like I had ran over his favorite dog with his favorite car.
That hurt as bad as being murdered for my stupidity. I was given the ‘modified’ shotgun. Dad went back to using the old gun that he had upgraded from. He still managed to kill more squirrels, rabbits and deer with that thing than I ever did with any weapon.
I don’t know if dad ever forgave me for ruining his prized weapon. I don’t know if I ever forgave myself. We used that ole shotgun with the beautiful engraving for many years. It still served its purpose as a tool that we used to provide our family with food.
It just got a lot shorter thanks to two lunatics named Possum and Mule.