I didn’t shoot my eye out. Not with a BB gun anyhow. And, not in one of the many BB gun wars we waged in the cow pasture next to the neighborhood where I grew up. (The area is now populated with houses, but back then it was a kid’s paradise, a war zone in the summer and a toboggan & ski resort in the winter). No, I messed up my eye much later in life, when a tree branch snapped back and hit me in the eye while I was clearing the riverbank in Owego. But that’s a story for another day. An old coot story. This is a kid story.
My, “didn’t” shoot my eye out tale took place after I’d paid my dues for years and waited expectantly, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, to find a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun under our Christmas tree. I’d posed for dorky Christmas cards with my sister, year after year. I’d forgone my desire for a BB gun and asked for eye safe toys: footballs, sleds, board games and electric trains. But when I turned 10, I launch my campaign for a BB gun. My friend Woody, from the next block, had access to BB rifles and BB pistols. I used him and his gun friendly parents as the centerpiece of my campaign. But, things looked glum. My mother batted aside every pitch I threw her way. “Woody has one, why can’t I?” – “Because you’ll lose an eye!” This was before the term “shoot-your-eye-out” came into vogue. You “lost” things in those days. Your eye. Your arm. Your life.
“No I won’t! Woody didn’t!” She pointed out that Woody wore glasses; his eyes were protected. Something I knew all too well. Especially after so recently doing the dishes for 25 cents every night until I’d earned three dollars to pay for the pair I’d broken in one of our backyard disagreements.
“We don’t shoot at each other. We just pretend to shoot,” I argued, lie that it was, with me sporting a tender, red-rimmed pockmark from taking one in the leg just that morning.
“We only shoot at stuff,” I said, adding to my lie. She was too smart for that. She was as concerned for the “stuff” as she was for my eye. She knew the stuff included dopey robins that remained on a branch, enduring shot after shot, squirrels that scampered back and forth making the adventure even more exciting, the glass windowpanes in Mr. Soldo’s garage, Mrs. Bowen’s tulips and the Merz’s dog. But, I had an answer for all those damaged goods. It was homemade arrows that misfired in a game of cowboys and Indians that caused all those mishaps. “A BB gun is accurate; it would never damage stuff,” was my weak-brained argument.
The whole thing was of her fault. She’s the one who dressed me in cowboy suits since before I could walk, who equipped me with two six-gun cap pistols and helped me mount a wooden rocking horse in the driveway with my faithful dog Lassie at my side. How did she not see this growing into lust for a weapon that could really fire? A BB gun!
Christmas finally came, in those waning days of Truman’s presidency. It took what seemed like years, those four weeks following Thanksgiving, when the count down started. I came down the stairs and to my glee, a three-foot long slender package with my name on it was in the back, under the tree. I saved it for last. I unwrapped the mittens knitted by my aunt in Connecticut. And, like the ones she sent every year, they were too short and would leave me with red, raw wrists when I played outside in the cold.
Next came a pair of ski pajamas, the fashion rage of the day. Then a big surprise, a radio of my own. A radio for my room, so I could listen to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Suspense and The Shadow in private. Finally came the long skinny box. I tore off the paper. The carton underneath didn’t say Daisy Air Rifle: it was unmarked. I didn’t care; I’d settle for an off brand. I pried open the lid and pulled out the weapon. A single shot, ping-pong ball rifle!
My chagrin lasted less than an hour; I found the lemonade in the lemons. I could shoot at people. I could shoot at stuff! I no longer have that eye-safe, engine of warfare from the 1950’s. But, I do have a BB gun, a Daisy Red Ryder Carbine, No. 111, Model 40. My wife, tired of my complaining, found it in an antique store and gave it to me for Christmas in 1983, the same year A Christmas Story aired and Ralphie got his. It’s a little scuffed up and the squirrels laugh out loud when I stand guard at our bird feeder, but it shoots just fine. And, I haven’t shot out my eye out!
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