I was born in December of 1950 and grew up in small towns in northwest Missouri. My family for generations were people who had been farmers, owners of small shops, and in service occupations. My grandparents made ends meet as best they could during the Great Depression. My parents were not wealthy. They married young; my father had a high school education, but my mother dropped out to get married and raise a family. Until I was ten or eleven, we lived within 25 or 30 miles of my grandparents.
My two younger brothers and I fondly remember hunting trips with Dad and his father, and even just with Dad and Mom. It wasn’t unusual for the meat on our table to be small game from one of those hunts. Yes, I’ve eaten rabbit, squirrel, duck, goose, quail, and venison and enjoy them all.
For eight years in the ’50’s my father was a trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol. He was gone many nights. My mother was home alone with three little boys. Atop the refrigerator was a loaded .45 caliber pistol. We knew exactly where it was. My mother was a dead shot. By the time we were six years old, all three of us had been trained to use it, along with rifles and shotguns. We weren’t allowed to carry a gun on any hunt until we were ten, if I remember correctly.
Just as with a BB gun or a bow and arrow, good marksmanship and safe practice were things we were taught from the time we were old enough to understand or big enough to receive training. My paternal grandfather was a president of the local NRA chapter several times, helped to build a range near Bethany, Missouri, and organized classes for those who wished to learn.
I spent many, many days tromping the river bluffs and hunting near our home in Rock Port, MO, when I was in junior high and high school. I liked hunting with a .22 rifle instead of a shotgun because I could kill a squirrel or rabbit with one shot through the head and not ruin good meat with lots of shotgun pellets. I’ve hunted and bagged pheasant with a bow and arrow.
My grandfather passed away when I was a senior in high school. It was a devastating loss to me. In many ways he had been a role model for me. He taught me manners, respect for others, the basic responsibilities of being a man (according to our time and place), and that I should always carry a pocketknife and a handkerchief.
When I was grown and had a family of my own—and a steady job—I became a life member of the NRA in order to support the educational programs the organization sponsored, and to honor my grandfather’s memory. No, I don’t own an assault rifle, large capacity magazines, armored vests, or pipe bombs. I have no need for them. I enjoy hunting and target shooting. Although my sons don’t share those interests, I spent some time teaching them the basics of those sports when they were young.
For me shooting a gun or a bow has always been a matter of skill…and I’ve been hunting without bagging anything more often than not. I’ve hunted with a camera almost as much. Tracking, observing wildlife, and just enjoying the outdoors are the main attractions, and I have not had the problem of providing food for my family.
These are skills in which I take pride. I like making a good shot, and sometimes I reward myself with a tasty meal that I can’t get in a restaurant. I don’t apologize for being a carnivore.
I used to take pride in being able to say, “I am the NRA.” This is the first time I’ve publicly acknowledged my membership in a very long time. I know the organization still sponsors shooting clinics and firearm safety classes, but its political stance has become an embarrassment. I believe in the 2nd Amendment. If the country is ever invaded, I’ll hope that the armed services and the National Guard are our “well-armed militia,” but I know that I can be my last line of defense, and I keep my doors locked to protect those who might want to break into my home. They’ll get a surprise from this old hillbilly.
I imagine most of those who grew up with me could have written something similar about their own lives. To say that it was a simpler time is ignoring three or four wars and the constant threat of nuclear holocaust. Today is different, however. The violence in our streets and homes and places of business and worship is nothing like we’ve seen in this country since it became a nation from sea to sea.
No, I don’t have any answers. The rhetoric on both sides ignores the realities of our complex nation. Unfortunately, the polarization I see happening is more a spark that enflames violence than either side has a solution. No one seems willing to talk about logical answers, merely to shout slanders and slogans and pocket the money from the advertisers, and the more I hear or read that we should “pray for healing,” the more I’m reminded of Twain’s “War Prayer.”
I think my grandfather (both of them) and my father probably had a better handle on how to fix this and other problems: be the kind of man (person) you would like to have as your friend, parent, child, spouse…. You know—do unto others…?
It is supposed to be the season of peace. May you and yours enjoy some.