Daddy’s shotguns

Emptying my parents’ house was a big, hard job. My sisters and I dreaded it for months, years really, and it turned out to be a lot worse than we thought. In some ways we knew what to expect but still, some things took us by surprise. Mama and Daddy were both pack rats, but in different ways. Dismantling their holdings was both fascinating and appalling. More on that later.

Luckily for us they had moved once—from the house they built on the GI Bill in 1949 to their retirement dream home (astonishingly similar in plan to the old one) in 1989—although it turns out most of what they got rid of in that move was our stuff. Sadly, I’ll never see my Campus Queen lunchbox again (with its original thermos unbroken). Yet, last spring I found my mother’s entire collection of McCall’s magazines—fifteen or twenty years’ worth, from the 1950s and ‘60s—in the attic at the “new” house.

Anyhow, we finally worked our way around to the shotguns. An avid bird hunter all his life, both for sport and to put food on the table, Daddy cherished his shotguns most among his worldly goods. He didn’t wear his wedding band because it might scratch the finish. He always cleaned them immediately when he got home from hunting, and they shone more like jewelry than firearms. Of course, helping with the cleaning was the only time we got to handle them (except for a little skeet shooting when I was about twelve). No matter how fiercely we begged, he didn’t believe in taking girls hunting. It was unfair and unreasonable, but none of the other girls we knew got to go, either. (For some reason, fishing was an entirely different matter, but that’s a story for another day.)

We got the guns out earlier this year, thinking to divide them among ourselves. Of all the household belongings to be disposed of, it seemed inconceivable to part with the shotguns. They are too strongly associated with Daddy, at his best and happiest. Sure enough, the way they smelled and the way it felt to handle them didn’t just stir up memories, they conjured Daddy himself in a way that doesn’t happen very often. Although I never got to go with him, I think I understand a lot now about why he loved hunting—being outdoors, walking the countryside he’d known his whole life, working talented dogs, enjoying his own marksmanship, bringing home food for his family.

For several weeks, off and on, we discussed how we might divide them up. Finally, it occurred to us that maybe we didn’t need to keep these guns, after all. None of us hunts, or even goes to a shooting range more than every ten or twenty years. They’re really beautiful to look at, and hoarding them in locked closets for the next few decades seems like the wrong thing to do. At least two might be collectors’ items, but we’d like for them to be used, too, by people who appreciate fine guns and love hunting the way Daddy did, and will clean them as soon as they get home.

So we’re selling the shotguns. Mama could use the money, anyway. One has gone to a cousin, another to a family friend who in some ways was the son Daddy never had. The third, along with a gem of a .22 rifle, is back in the closet for the time being. (We got the house on the market and are taking a break.) We’ll find good homes for them before long, though. And we’re sure Daddy would approve.


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