Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Dad...Let me show you..."

Father and son (or daughter) walks in the woods are fond memories for many shooters with a little snow on the roof. My Dad and I spent many hours crunching through fall leaves and meandering down cornrows with shotguns in  the crook of our arms. More often than not, at the end of the day the war surplus canvas game bag we carried held nothing but our empty coffee thermos and balled-up wax paper that once wrapped our lunch sandwiches. Maybe we tossed a few wormy apples in the air for each other just work the guns and smell the powder smoke in the crisp fall air, but the walk and the talk were the big features of our gun culture "hunting" trips into the farmland north of Chicago.

The rifle range at Fox Valley was a different matter -- that was strictly business. While we had gone there often with our shotguns and .22s to blast clay targets and clink tiny steel discs at the plinking range, other trips were with the American Legion Junior Rifle Team toting our M1 .30 caliber rifles to shoot for score and qualification rankings. I had made it all the way up to NRA and military Expert as had the other members of our small  team. On one occasion, we drove the long distance from Chicago's South Side to the Algonquin, Illinois range to practice before a big military/civilian meet to be shot at Fort Sheridan. My Dad came along for the first time.

After we had all fired our qualifiers for the Army "C" course, and had been pushed around pretty good by the recoil of that heavy infantry rifle, Doc Meissner, our coach and an old Camp Perry gunny asked Dad if he wanted to shoot the M1. The last time he had fired a center fire rifle was in the Navy -- an '03 Springfield bolt action in California on a qualification range in 1940, just before he was mustered out of his second hitch. Sixteen years had gone by and when Doc handed him the rifle and a clip of 30-'06 cartridges, I could see -- even at the young and stupid age of 16 -- that he was uneasy. He hefted the long slab of wood and steel like it was an alien thing. All my life, Dad had tried to show me how to do things, with varying degrees of success. Now, I found myself stepping up and saying, "Hey Dad, let me show you..." and helping him slip into the army arm-loop sling.

I sat cross-legged next to him on the shooting mat as he worked through a bad trigger flinch, dry-fires and finally turning red flag misses down at 200 yards into hits in the black circle. Not much was ever said about that afternoon at the range, but later, in my senior year when I was invited, along with the ROTC rifle team at South Shore High School, to the Sports Lettermen's Presentation Ceremony, he came along. When we six had all received our letters to be sewn on our senior blue and aqua cardigan sweaters, He was grinning when, for the first time in my life, he applauded me.