Yes, another gun post.
Oh, but this one is different. There will be no range report. No random gun porn. No showing off my latest acquisition from the gun store. No bragging photos of my tightest groups. I won't be sharing the latest exploits of me and Husband In Law.
No, this gun post is much more than that. It's a story about rites of passage, about bonds shared and broken, of memories both fond and painful, memories that shaped me into the man I would become just as surely as the first time I ever did CPR on someone.
It's a story of small towns and dirt roads, and growing up in the rural south. It's a tale of dusty hay fields of a sweltering September afternoon, and of January dawns in rice fields so cold the ice encases every clod of gumbo mud dislodged from your boots, sparkling in the waxing light like a trail of geodes strewn behind you. It's a story of a father and a son, and the gulf that divided them.
And the gun that bridged it.
Like all good stories, this one doesn't begin in the present day. This one began in 1898, when an itinerant firearms designer from Ogden, Utah went shopping around his latest creation to the big manufacturers of the day. It was a groundbreaking design, this latest creation; an autoloading shotgun operating on the long recoil design, in which the barrel and bolt recoil together en bloc to eject the spent shell and load another from the magazine.
I could wax eloquent about the impact of Browning's genius on modern firearms design, or list the various iconic American guns to his credit. I could give you a voluminous laundry list of modern weapons that trace their lineage back to an idea that flowed from his fertile mind, thenceforth to a pen and finally onto paper, now yellowed with age and the ink fading, sitting in a dusty archive in Ogden or Liege.
I could point out to you the inherent beauty in his elegantly simple designs. In an industry where many firearms are the mechanical equivalent of a Faulkner novel, John Moses Browning was a Hemingway; master of the short, declarative sentence, writ eloquently nonetheless in his preferred medium of wood and steel.
I could do that, but so many other bloggers already do it better, and with greater scholarship. And ultimately, it would only be appreciated by the engineers and the gun enthusiasts.
No, this is the story of just one gun. One, among untold thousands of such guns, identical in appearance to all its brethren and unique only in terms of the serial number stamped on the bottom of its receiver…
… and perhaps in the memories embedded in every little ding in the stock and worn spot in the bluing. Those dings and scratches are what makes the gun special.
We are all shaped by our fears and prejudices. For some, guns embody everything in our society that there is to fear. For a great many others, the opposite is true. But in the end, it all boils down to individual perspectives, and the memories and experiences that shape them.
Tom Brokaw called them the Greatest Generation, the men and women of my father's age. They were shaped and annealed by the privations of the Great Depression, and tempered by the fires of World War II. They were stoic, and hardworking, yet imbued with a boundless enthusiasm.
They liberated Europe for the citizens who couldn't, then rebuilt it for those who wouldn't, and fulfilled the promise of America only to turn it over to a generation who didn't.
Theirs wasn't the callow naivete of their children and grandchildren, borne of indulgence and freedom from hardship. No, theirs was in spite of it.
And they literally saved the world.
My father and uncles were of that generation. My grandfather was a railroad engineer, and the Depression hit the railroad industry especially hard. Work was scarce, and cash money almost nonexistent. To say they were poor would be an understatement, and I fear a description of the times would be lost on today's youth who think privation means not getting a Wii for Christmas, and only having one plasma television.
In the rural south during the Great Depression, you raised your own food. If you didn't have the acreage to do that, you took to the rivers and woods to feed your family. As an elder son, the job of hunting fell to my Dad.
On those occasions, Grandaddy sent him afield with a shotgun and four shells, with the expectation that he come back with something for each shell fired. Not only that, with a set of parents, three brothers and a sister to feed, he'd better shoot something big.
"Shells cost money," Dad would explain with a wink, "and money was hard to come by. So before you shot that rabbit, you had to run alongside him and feel his ribs to see if he was fat enough to feed everybody."
And the gun he used was the zenith of shotgun design of its day; the Browning Sweet Sixteen. Grandaddy bought it back in better days, when money wasn't as scarce. It was the shotgun every country boy wanted to own. Sure, you might pay a little more for them up front, but you only bought them once. They shot better than you were capable, and they rarely broke. If you could only afford one gun to do it all, chances were you owned a shotgun. And if you had the means, that shotgun was a Browning Sweet Sixteen.
It could scratch a squirrel from the top of a tall oak or pluck a rising greenhead from the sky, or roll a zigzagging cottontail trying to stay ahead of your beagles. Change loads and the friction rings, and it could fell a deer or defend your home and property. And in an era when missing meant going hungry, Dad and my uncles became adept enough to stay well fed.
As men, during B17 bombing runs over Germany, that wingshooting prowess kept Dad and my uncle Jerry alive. Luftwaffe fighters took the place of quail and ducks, and the Browning .50 caliber machine gun stood in for the old Sweet Sixteen, but the techniques were the same, and the purpose no less serious.
Daddy made it through the war, and came back home to his job as a Harley Davidson mechanic. He borrowed that Sweet Sixteen for another eight years, time-sharing it with his brothers, lusting all the while for one of his own.
He still didn't have his own shotgun, and borrowing Grandaddy's didn't count. A man paid his own way, you see, and a good craftsman supplied his own tools.
Radio was still king of media in those days, and television was still a rarity in Monroe. But when KNOE went on air as the first television station in northeast Louisiana in 1953, Dad and Uncle Jerry smelled opportunity, and opened their own radio and television repair service.
And as a present to himself to celebrate the opening of his own business, Dad bought a Browning shotgun of his own.
Its official name was the Browning Auto 5, but in the south in the first half of this century they were known simply as "Belgium Brownings."
Belgium, not Belgian, as if in grudging acknowledgement of the fact that they were manufactured overseas, but they were most definitely not of that place. They were American guns. Where I grew up, if you were gonna own a foreign-designed gun, the only honorable way to procure one was to pluck it off the body of the German or Jap that you had killed in battle with your, well… American gun. Southerners are rather funny that way.
The A5 wasn't the only Browning design manufactured by Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre, but mention the name to a country boy, and it will instantly conjure an image of that distinctive humpbacked receiver, one as indelible as those conjured by words like 1911 or Peacemaker or Model 12.
The Belgium Brownings were the originals, the icons. They were the elder sons of the Browning line, and were highly prized. Never mind the fact that the ones manufactured later differed only in minor cosmetic details. The Belgium Brownings came first, and as such they were accorded a higher status. Southerners are funny that way as well.
The one my father owned rolled off the assembly line in Liege in 1953. It likely wound its way from there to Antwerp, perhaps even traveling by some of the same trucks and rail cars that carried troops and munitions for the Battle of The Bulge. It left Antwerp in the cargo hold of a ship, wound its way across the Atlantic to a seaport on the east coast, and from there down many a rural highway and pig trail until it was unboxed and placed on the sales rack by one Gene Lutz, proprietor of Gene's Sporting Goods of Monroe, Louisiana.
It was destined to see a lot of use over the next fifteen years.
Dad and I didn't get along. Even when I was a small child, there was always… something unspoken between us, a gap between the son I was supposed to be and the father I wanted. Neither of us met the other's expectations.
Dad worked long hours at his TV repair business, coming home well after dark each day, and leaving for work well before we got up for school. He was ill-tempered, and he complained a lot. He also loved my sisters more than me.
Or at least, that's the way it seemed when I was a child. My twin sister Kim and my older sister Darlene were obviously his favorites. And just as obviously, my brother Terry and my oldest sister Sheri were not. His ambivalence towards Sheri and Terry was easy to figure out; they were another man's kids. They were the baggage my Mom carried from two previous failed marriages.
How then, to explain me? I was treated like a stepchild, yet I was his own flesh and blood. Or so I thought.
I was a grown man before the truth was revealed to me, before I had an explanation as to why Dad looked at me the way he did for so many years. I was a living reminder of another man, and my mother's infidelity. I acted nothing like him, looked nothing like him, and in the back of his mind, Dad feared that I would never be anything like him.
Still, he managed to reconcile his doubts with the responsibilities of a father. He was the best father he knew how to be, even as his emotions warred with his sense of duty to his family. And I have no doubt he loved us all, whether we be stepchildren, biological children, or the two of us still in doubt. If sometimes the spanking were a little harder than they should have been, or the words a littler harsher than they needed to be, then the sobs afterward were fiercer, and the hugs he gave more fervent, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I understood why.
He wasn't just trying to remind me how much he loved me. He was reminding himself, too.
I was still a toddler when I learned to read. Before I started kindergarten, I had read every volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and thirsted for more. Dad laughingly called me his little bookworm, and probably wondered all the while why I wasn't outside playing and collecting scabs and skeeter bites like a normal little boy.
Still, he fed my habit, and when I had tired of reading the encyclopedia for the umpteeth time, he introduced me to Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. I read everything he gave me, and when I had devoured one novel, I'd come back to him and ask for another. And he'd sigh and smile bemusedly, and open the bottom drawer of his bedside table, and fish another book from its mysterious depths. And sometimes, as a secret just between us men, we'd share a handful of Planter's peanuts from the jar he kept there.
It was somewhere around that time that he introduced me to other books he kept in the bottom of his sock drawer, high and out of my reach. In it, he kept a couple of weighty, dusty old tomes with brittle pages and dozens of black-and-white and sepia-toned photographs. One was a chronicle of his bomb group in World War II, and the other was an illustrated history of Browning firearms.
We'd lie there on his bed and slowly, reverently flip through the pages as he told me stories of his childhood, and the war, and of hunting trips long past.
He'd point out photos of friends he'd known in the war. Whether they were friends made of flesh and blood, or those with four lumbering radial engines and aluminum skin, Dad spoke of them both with the same fondness. I'd marvel at pictures of those old B17s, some of them with huge chunks of airplane missing, that somehow still made it home to their base in Pisa.
I'd ask him, "What made those holes in those planes, Daddy?" and he'd pause for a moment before he'd answer.
"Flak, usually. Sometimes German fighters."
"Did your plane ever get hit by flak, Daddy?"
"Not as bad as the ones in these pictures," he'd allow.
"Did you shoot down any German fighters, Daddy?"
"I shot at some, Son. I'm pretty sure I hit 'em. Never saw any of 'em go down. Your Uncle Jerry now, he shot down a few. He was a ball turret gunner."
"How come he shot down more planes than you, Daddy?"
"Didn't say he shot down more than me, Son. I'm just saying I never saw any of the ones I shot at go down. Your Uncle Jerry's position was on the bottom of the airplane. He could see a lot more than I could. I had to work the radios, too.
"Is Uncle Jerry a better shot than you, Daddy?"
"Well, he is if you hear him tell it," Dad would chuckle. "But we both learned from your Grandaddy, shooting the same gun. I figure I was always the better shot."
"Were you scared, Daddy?"
"Sometimes," he'd answer quietly, "but me and your uncles did real well at aerial gunnery practice. They'd drive us around, shooting skeet with shotguns from the backs of moving pickup trucks. We were a lot better at it than the boys who had never picked up a gun before. Reckon it saved our lives a time or two. We even used the same kind of shotgun we grew up shooting."
"What kind of shotgun is that, Daddy?"
"A Belgium Browning, Son. Your Grandaddy had a sixteen gauge, but I bought a twelve instead. You wanna see it?"
And so went the first time I ever held my Daddy's gun. It was a scene repeated many hundreds of times over my childhood. He never tired of telling the stories, and I never tired of hearing them.
It wasn't long before that illustrated history of Browning firearms found itself a place under my bed. When Dad was working, I'd haul it out and reverently memorize everything I could. I read all about the 1911 Colt, and the Winchester '94, and the BAR, and the machine guns he invented, and a dozen other guns that book taught me how to field strip, even though I had laid my hands on but one. And my attention kept coming back to that gun, the Belgium Browning autoloading shotgun.
The one my Daddy owned.
I was five when I got my first BB gun, a Daisy Cub. Mom thought it was a toy when she bought it, but Dad knew better. And so, when I unwrapped Mom's present Christmas morning, there was also a carton of BBs from Dad under the tree.
He taught me the rules of safe gun handling, and taught me to shoot it well. When I got older, I graduated to a Benjamin .22 pellet rifle, and then the Winchester Model 74 .22 he owned.
When he thought I was ready, I was allowed, under his watchful eye, to shoot his Smith and Wesson M&P .38 Special and the Hi Standard .22 target pistol.
Some of you may question Dad's wisdom, allowing his son to handle guns at so young an age. Dad recognized the budding gun nut in me, and he readily encouraged my interest. Some may consider that irresponsible.
But we had so little in common, Dad and I. If it weren't for guns and hunting, we'd have never talked at all. In another place, with other people, it might have been learning the proper ignition timing on a big block Chevy, or how to run a table saw and lathe. With us, it was guns and hunting, and our love for both.
With a thousand life lessons sandwiched in between.
"Riflery is a science," Dad would tell me, "and pistol shooting is an art. But shotgunning now… that's a little of both."
He went on to say that, unlike a rifle or a pistol, a shotgun has no rear sight. The rear sight is the gunner's eye, and in order to hit consistently, that eye has to be in the same place, every single time. And to accomplish that, a gunner had to practice their form until it came as naturally as breathing. The shotgun was an extension of your body, an appendage you control with a thought, just as easily as pointing your finger.
And so, he removed the rear sight of my Benjamin pellet gun, and I'd practice mounting it, over and over, every day when he came home from work.
"Keep your head up," he'd chide. "A shotgunner keeps his head up, always. The stock comes to your cheek, not your cheek to the stock. Keep your head up, and your eyes focused on the target."
"And when do I actually get to shoot something?" I'd complain. "This is boring."
"Patience," he'd tell me. "Before you know it, you'll be shooting that Belgium Browning. Did I ever tell you about the time I shot the crown out of my uncle's hat with it? We'd been skunked all day, and Uncle Les was grumbling, and he said 'Hell boy, if anything had flown within range, you prob'ly couldna hit it with that damned thing anyway,' and my buddy Bill Hartley just smiled and dared him, "Why Les, if you think that's true, why dontcha just throw your hat in the air?" and when he did…"
And then Dad would dissolve into a knee-slapping fit of laughter, tears running from his eyes as he recalled his Uncle Les mournfully picking up the remains of his fedora, nothing left of it but the band and the brim.
"Keep both eyes open," he'd instruct. "Always shoot with both eyes open. When you close one eye, you lose depth perception. You can't judge speed or distance without depth perception. Bill Hartley used to shoot with one eye closed. Did I ever tell you about the time he got hit in the face with a dead mallard hen one morning?"
And I'd smile and shake my head, even though I'd heard the story a hundred times by then. Bill Hartley aimed his shotgun just like a rifle, with one eye closed. And so, when he shot at a dark blur passing overhead one morning shortly before sunrise, he continued to track the approaching duck, unaware until it was too late how close it was. And when he raised his head, the duck struck him squarely in the face, breaking his nose. I loved hearing those Bill Hartley stories. He was Dad's lifelong hunting buddy, dead of cancer several years before I was born.
And I'd dream that, one day, I'd go hunting with Dad, too. He'd bring his Belgium Browning, and I'd carry… well, whatever shotgun I'd own one day, and maybe he'd even let me shoot the Browning, and we'd have new stories to tell.
And so the coaching went, and the stories. It wasn't long before I could mount that Benjamin and nail a can lying in the grass, as quick as thought. Once I could do that, he'd throw targets in the air, progressively smaller as my skill grew, until I could hit a Ping Pong ball nine times out of ten.
When I was twelve, I got a shotgun of my own, a youth model 20 gauge single shot. Never was I so proud as that Christmas morning in 1980. Dad showed me how to break it down and clean it, and while I did, he cleaned his Browning, too.
"Your Grandaddy's Sweet Sixteen had a plain barrel with a Cutts compensator on it," he said, "but I got mine with a hollow matte rib. That was a new thing when I bought mine. It dissipates heat better than a solid rib, gives your eyes a better reference than that plain barrel, too."
"Better than a ventilated rib, Daddy?" I asked, thinking of all the modern guns I'd seen in my growing collection of gun magazines.
"Probably not," he acknowledged. "But I think mine looks better, don't you?"
And so it did, because Daddy said so.
"It's so heavy," I exclaimed, trying to hold it up with the spindly arms of a twelve-year-old. "Why didn't you get a lightweight instead of the standard?"
"It won't be heavy when you're old enough to shoot it," he chuckled. "And the weight might make it harder to point, but it also makes it easier to swing."
He set up an old trap thrower behind the house, and turned me loose with a few boxes of shotgun shells and a case of clay pigeons. When he saw that I could break a going-away target with ease, he moved the thrower.
"Try to hit a crossing target now," he instructed. "You have to lead it a little bit. Put the bead of your gun out in front of the bird."
"How far?" I wanted to know.
"Depends on how fast the bird is traveling, and how fast you swing," he answered. "That part you have to figure out for yourself."
And I did, eventually. It took me a while, because I'd lift my head from the stock, seeking the instant gratification of seeing that clay dissolve into a cloud of dust. And I'd miss every time.
"You're stopping your swing," he pointed out. "You have to keep your head on the stock and follow through. If you don't learn to follow through, you'll never learn to hit anything."
I was a grown man before I recognized that for the metaphor it was.
My teenage years with Dad held far less pleasant memories for us both. We fought constantly, and many a screaming match and hurtful word passed between us. And sometimes, there were even blows.
Yet for all the anger between us, there was always a détente in effect while we were hunting or shooting, an armistice agreement whenever we met on the neutral ground of the woods.
You know, kinda like in Highlander, when it was forbidden to fight on Holy Ground, except that our church was a cathedral of flooded pin oaks, or the quiet chapel of a deer stand overlooking a pre-dawn clearcut. On those days, we were Father and Son once again.
I still remember the first duck hunting trip with Dad, slogging for what seemed like miles through frigid water, carefully feeling for solid footing amid the submerged snags and roots. My twelve-year-old legs were rubbery by the time Dad and Terry finally threw out the decoys.
I stood there huddled against the base of a massive pin oak, numb hands nervously gripping the stock of my shotgun. Dad had bundled me up like a mummy, and yet I was still so very, very cold. Yet I kept my misery to myself, because to admit I was freezing would be admitting that I wasn't ready to hunt with the men. And I so wanted to be one of the men.
So I stood there and suffered, shifting my weight from one leg to the other in a vain attempt to maintain some circulation in my wooden feet. Dad and Terry called and shot at ducks I couldn't even see until they magically splashed down, seemingly from thin air.
I never even put my gun to my shoulder. And on the way out of the woods, I tripped on a root and plunged headlong into the icy water. Without a second thought, Dad dropped his precious Browning and hauled me spluttering to my feet. Holding me cradled to his chest, he knelt down and fished his gun off the bottom, handed it to Terry, and carried me the rest of the way out of the woods.
When he got me to the truck, he stripped my wet clothes off and turned the heater vents on me, rubbing my numb and frostbitten fingers and toes. And he held me there, warm under his coat, all the way home.
There were many more hunting trips to come, and none as miserable as that first hunting duck hunting trip in the flooded timber. Along the way, I graduated to Dad's side-by-side double, and finally, when I was sixteen, to the Browning.
I carried it a lot over the years to come, even after I had bought other guns of my own. And in the honest dings and scratches it accumulated along the way, I added my stories to the gun's lore.
Sitting on a narrow ridge overlooking a late November creek bottom, I could swear my sweaty hands left grooves where they gripped the stock, waiting for that rut-crazed buck that would surely be checking his scrapes there. Any minute now.
The finish was already darker there around the grip, the sweat of nervous hands adding a patina all their own. In 1971, some of that sweat had been added by Sonny, the man who swept the floors at Dad's shop. Monroe had thankfully been spared most of the violence and racial strife of the Civil Rights movement, but looting in the black section of town wasn't exactly a police priority during the Great Flood of '71. They figured they had better things to do than keep a bunch of niggers from robbing each other blind.
And so Dad loaned the Browning to Sonny, to defend his family and property should the need arise. It wasn't a very popular decision, arming a black man in the South back then, but Dad knew it was the right thing to do.
There is a small dent in the rib, about six inches from the muzzle. I put it there one morning in 1984, swinging on a running rabbit. The sapling to my right stopped my swing, but I'm happy to say I rolled the rabbit anyway.
That dent has a twin on the left side, about a foot farther back. It was there long before I was born, the result of a similar mistake made by my brother Terry.
There is a ding in the stock on the left side where Dad banged it against the side of the boat in 1955. Normally Dad was a very careful gun handler, but when an eight-foot alligator discovers, too late, that the narrow boat run does not allow him sufficient room to slide off the bank and under the boat, you will use whatever you have handy to help him get his head pointed in the right direction.
Even if it means using the butt of your brand-new shotgun.
Near the butt, the wood is a bit swollen, as stocks tend to do when exposed to too much moisture. Like, say, dropping it in the water to rescue your floundering son.
There's a dark spot directly over a dent in the other side of the stock. If you look closely, you may recognize that it looks just like the tip of an iron. I forget how the dent got there, but I well remember the embarrassment of trying to steam a dent out of the stock and leaving a burn instead.
The scratches in the bluing near the muzzle were gained on our last hunting trip, over ten years ago. Dad was pushing eighty by then, and Parkinson's disease had slowed his movements and softened his speech to a whisper. But when he concentrated, he could still hold the muzzle steady, and I wanted so very badly to get him a deer.
And so, deep into the rut in the year Mom died, I arranged to pick Dad up early one morning and spend a day hunting a friend's lease. When I got to the house, I found him waiting patiently in the kitchen, sipping coffee and filling his handwarmers with lighter fluid.
We ate breakfast at Ray's PeGe, just like we did when I was a kid, only this time I picked up the tab. And when we got to Mike's lease, I walked Dad to his stand and got him settled in.
"The feeder's just down at the end of that shooting lane, Dad," I said, pointing out front. "Most times they'll come out of the woods behind you, and cross the clearing just to your left. All the mast has been eaten by now, so they should head straight to the feeder."
"Got it," he whispered, then asked in a tremulous voice, "Are you going to be close by?"
I bit my lower lip, remembering long ago trips when I'd fearfully asked him that very thing. I gave him the same answer he always gave me. "Close enough to hear you shoot, Dad," I reassured him. "If I hear you touch one off, I'll be here in five minutes. If not, I'll be back by noon."
"See you then," he whispered. "Good luck."
I didn't see anything at all that morning, but that didn't matter to me. I'd only see deer if they made it past Dad, and his stand was the most productive one on the lease. It was the closest thing to a sure thing there is in hunting.
By 11:45, I still hadn't heard him shoot, and reluctantly I packed my gear. By noon, I was approaching Dad's stand from behind. Fresh tracks led from behind the stand, right down the shooting lane I had told Dad to watch. When I started to climb the ladder to his stand and it still didn't bring a reaction, I felt my heart quicken a little in fear.
I found him there, sleeping peacefully, the Browning propped up in the corner.
"Time to go, Dad," I whispered, shaking him gently. "Let's go grab some lunch."
"Musta closed my eyes for a little bit," he whispered apologetically. "Didn't see a thing all morning."
"Yeah well, that's why they call it hunting and not shooting, right?" I winked. "Isn't that what you always told me?" I saw no reason to mention the fresh tracks.
I backed down the ladder and Dad handed down the Browning to me before climbing down himself. He was agonizingly slow, and I fought the urge to help him. To do so would have wounded his pride terribly.
Five yards from the truck, he stumbled and went down, plugging the barrel of his Browning with mud when he fell. He skinned both his knees and slipped all the hide off the palm of his left hand.
Without a second thought, I set my rifle down and scrambled to help him to his feet. I could tell he was deeply embarassed and in terrible pain, but predictably he was more worried about the Browning than his own injuries.
"Shit, you're bleeding like a stuck pig, Dad," I blurted. "Let me get those scrapes cleaned up and we'll get you to the hospital."
"First unload my gun and unplug the barrel," he insisted. "There's nothing wrong with me more than wounded pride." The pallor of his skin and his pinched expression belied the words, but he would brook no arguments.
And so I unloaded the gun, and used a cleaning rod to push the mud out of the barrel, and hastily wiped it down before stowing it in its case. Only then would Dad allow me to pick the mud, twigs and gravel from his cuts and irrigate them with saline. He sat stoically through it all, but the sweat popped out on his forehead when I gently scrubbed at his palm before folding the skin back into place and wrapping it with gauze.
"No hospital," he ordered. "Just take me home."
We spent half the trip in silence, with me tearing my eyes from the road occasionally to steal pensive glances at him, noticing for the first time how feeble he had become. He was old and stooped, and gray, and I knew then that we had just taken our last hunting trip together.
"Tell me about Bill Hartley and the water moccasin, Dad," I begged, eager for anything to break the silence.
"Well," he chuckled, lying with his head against the seat back, eyes closed, "we were gigging frogs one night, and this water moccasin swam by. Now Uncle Les had always told us that if you were quick enough, you could grab a snake by the tail and crack him like a whip, and his head would come right off. So Bill says, 'watch this, Norman,' and he reaches out and grabs that snake by the tail…"
He retold every old hunting tale I ever heard, and we chuckled all the way to Dad's house. I helped him out of the truck, tucked him into bed, and made him take a couple ibuprofen before I left. I called a doctor friend, and had him phone in a prescription for an antibiotic, just in case.
And then I cried all the way home.
There are days when I don't think about him at all, and then there are days when all I can think about are those hunting trips together. All the anger and bitterness between us had faded by the time I was a grown man, but the memories of those hunting trips remain as vivid as a rising greenhead silhouetted against the morning sun.
And when those memories come flooding back, I take Dad's Browning out and lovingly clean it, just like I did last week. It was John M. Browning's greatest creation, in more ways than one, and it will remain in my family until I'm gone.
Yesterday was Father's Day, and I took your Browning out and shot it again, Dad.
And you'll be happy to know, I remembered to follow through.