Saturday, March 29, 2003
memories, part I
I'm 8 years old and it's Saturday morning. I want to watch cartoons, but I know today is special. A mixture of excitement and nervousness is in every breath as I lay there in my bed... staring at my blue Snoopy alarm clock, watching the hands... tick... tick... tick...
It's 6:30 AM.
My bedroom door opens and my Dad walks in. He's already dressed, sweatshirt and jeans... I know because even though I'm pretending to sleep, my eye is peeking out of the covers to watch. He sits down on my bed and puts one hand on my shoulder to gently shake me.
'Time to wake up, buddy. Get changed, I'll be downstairs.'
I get dressed and go downstairs to meet my Dad. He's in the kitchen, drinking a glass of orange juice. He gives me a glass to drink and we're off.
Sitting in my Dad's blue Ford Mustang, I shift my weight to just hear the black leather seats creak. The entire car is immaculate, so I close the door gently because Dad scowls when I slam it. We don't talk during the ride, though my Dad hums along with the radio while I stare out the window at the rolling landscape. The Mustang gets us there loudly and quickly.
When we arrive at the range, we walk into a dusty building. Inside, the shelves are stacked with boxes of ammo and an assortment of pistols, rifles, and shotguns hang on racks. An old man behind the counter smiles and nods at my Dad as we approach the counter. The old man pulls out a stack of targets, black concentric circles on brown paper, and hands them to my father.
'You sign in too, young man.'
The old man's voice interrupts my daze, a daze the result of the strong smells of gun grease, metal, and powder. He pushes a log book to me and hands me a pen; I print and sign my name under my father's entry, my childish letters looking incredibly messy on a page filled with neat signatures. Oh well, at least I manage to stay between the lines.
Exiting the building and walking toward the range, I can already hear the sounds of gunfire. Sporadic shots, some small cracks, others are loud booms. Stopping at the car trunk, my father pulls out our gear - 2 sets of earprotectors, a metal toolbox, and a long case. He asks me to repeat the rules he's made me memorize before we came.
"What did we talk about Garrett?"
"Ummm... always treat the gun like it's loaded until you're 100% sure it's empty. Never point the gun at yourself or anybody else. Only point the gun at something you're supposed to shoot. Never put your finger on the trigger unless you're about to pull it."
"Good. What's the last one?"
"Always ask Dad for help."
My Dad smiles and nods approvingly. We put the earprotectors on and walk into the outdoor shooting range area.
It's less spectatacular than I thought it'd be - just a covered, paved area with benches on one end, and a high set bar on the other to look out over a dirt field, where metal stands for targets are set out at 25 and 50 yards, like row upon row of small football field goal posts. Where the paved area meets the field... a gutter filled with old shell casings, weather-beaten and forgotten. Dad puts down his toolbox on the bar and opens it. After pulling out a rag, his own pistol, 2 clips, and setting up the monocular on the tripod, he flips the safety alarm switch and walks downrange to mount our targets up.
Coming back to me, he opens the long case we brought to pull out a small, single shot bolt-action rifle - it looks insanely tiny in his hands. Standing behind me, his arms coming around me, he shows me the procedure to load and fire it, then places it in my hands for me to do.
Holding the lower stock in my left hand, I grab the bolt lever with my right hand, turning it counter-clockwise and pulling it back, opening the action to reveal the firing chamber. My right hand grabs a .22 bullet from an open box and I nervously load it into the breech. I then reverse my motion to close the chamber... push forward, turn clockwise, all while using my right hand again. The sound of the metal chamber makes a satisfying ka-ching.
Pointing the rifle down range, I cock the firing bolt with my right hand... click. Still behind me, my father steadies the rifle against me into a firing position, my left hand supporting the rifle up and into my right shoulder while my right hand wraps around the grip, right elbow cocked out. My right cheek rests against the stock and my right hand trigger finger points downrange.
"Whenever you're ready, buddy... hold it steady and pull the trigger."
The sights rock gently up and down with my breath. Or is my arm shaking? I try to get a bearing and just point it at the center. My finger begins creeping along the trigger. The metal's cold. I give it a firm squeeze.
The sound is loud, but not overwhelming... the ring echoes up and down the field to come back and dance around my ear. I feel the recoil from the shot push the buttstock into my shoulder, a gentle nudge, as the muzzle rises up. Instinctively, I tighten my hands to keep grip on the rifle. My father looks through the monocular on the tripod to check my shot downrange on the target.
"Good job, come look!"
My Dad motions to me to come, so I put the rifle down on the bar and scoot over to the side to look through the monocular - there through the sight, I see the target with as small hole on the paper, to the far lower right of the center... not close to middle, and not even close to the black inner ring at all.
"Hey, at least you hit the target on your first shot, huh?"
My father is smiling and chuckling to himself. I wonder if he's disappointed.
"Load it up and give it another shot! Get it? Haha. C'mon, I'll help you again."
Maybe it doesn't matter that I didn't hit the bull's eye. My Dad, with a wide grin, comes over to instruct me on my firing stance again. I smile too, as I eagerly reload the rifle and take aim again.
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