To the Point for 9/22/2005

7

THE ETCHING ON THE BOTTOM of the lever reads, “9-19-69”. It was etched there by my father on the day that my brother and I got BB guns on my older brother’s 11th birthday.

It was a beauty. A Daisy brand BB gun with a line drawing of a Wildcat’s head on each side. You loaded your ammo by twisting the top of the barrel to expose a small channel that ran down the bottom of the barrel.

The filling process involved holding the gun firmly between your knees, with the butt of the gun against the ground and the barrel sticking straight up. After twisting the end of the barrel, the sharpshooter would take a pack of Daisy BBs — which back then were housed in a round package with a pull off top — and carefully pour them into the opening until you felt that you had sufficient ammunition in order to ward off any signs or fence posts that might get in your way.

But in September of 1969, I was just eight years old, and when that BB gun was handed to me, it was like the whole world opened up.

My older brother complained that he wasn’t old enough to have a BB gun when he was eight (older siblings know this argument by heart, because it’s been spoken in every home); so why should his little brother get one at eight?

That argument never worked, much to my joy, but it came up again and again; even at Christmas of 1971 when mini bikes were found under the tree.

But the BB gun was a present that I always wanted, and that I still think about today. It’s been 36 years this week that I got that gun, but the memory of it is as true as it was all those years ago.

1969 was truly a simpler time, and that probably led to the memories that I have of that gun. Today toy guns are colored with bright orange barrels so that they can’t be confused for real weapons during holdups. BB guns are now closely scrutinized by parents, as are other toys that children play with.

I don’t remember getting my BB gun and wondering who I could shoot. Instead, I hunted down the signs and posts that I mentioned earlier; along with an occasional sparrow — none of which I ever hit.

My grandparents farm became a place of great exploration with that Daisy beneath my arm. Out through the barn lot and across the cattle guard and back through fields and woods and streams; I remember wandering along looking more for things to observe than things to shoot.

The first rule of my gun — which I learned pretty quickly — was that you had to be careful when you shot at something metal. “Bounce-back” injuries were merely a symbol of manhood back then, leaving a small red dot on your arm or chest — depending on how fast you attempted to get out of the way.

It’s a real shame to me that children today don’t grow up in that same environment that we did back then. Toys and games that were the era’s most popular are now deemed to be “culturally unacceptable” by society today.

I don’t believe that playing with a BB gun or a toy gun made me susceptible to having weapons as an adult. I don’t believe playing soldier caused me to be calloused to the need for peace in our world.

Even as children, my friends and I had a clear distinction between what was “play” and what was “real”. We never clouded the line between those things, even when we were eight years old.

It is a shame that the culture in which our children grow up in now moves away from those types of games and toys in fear that we are bringing up a generation that will resort to violence as adults because of their play patterns as a child.

But this past Monday I didn’t think much about that. When I saw “9-19-05” on the calendar, my mind raced back to that day 36 years ago when I received the greatest present that a boy ever could.

I still have that gun, in fact, my daughter gets it out and we go a shoot it every now and then. I’ve taught her how to load the BBs and the proper way to aim. She’s conquered plastic milk jugs and tin cans and targets drawn on old cardboard boxes.

To her, it’s not some violent toy; it’s just a day with dad.