Sunday, January 13, 2019

“Living with Guns” by Kay Webb

Jack staggered out into the dark hallway from his bed, like he had many times before, for a pee or a cigarette or both, except this night, he was leaning on a shotgun as a cane and carried a Glock pistol in his right hand. Naked, except for his week old underwear which appeared to be losing the battle with gravity; the stretched waistband appearing too tired to hang any longer on his twisted torso. It seemed it too was feeling the heavy burden of life, losing the battle to cover his depth of despair. When drugs and alcohol failed, there was always that little key to the gun cabinet that would open the door one last time to relief and peace.

My older brother was an avid gun collector. At ten, he inherited a vintage powder keg rifle from our great uncle who was said to be a pony express rider in the American Midwest. By that time, we both had learned to shoot well, both shotguns and pistols in the large back yard of our southern Ontario home. Dad an avid rabbit hunter, was keen we would share his love of guns much to the chagrin of our Canadian mother. He would stack bales of hay acquired from neighboring dairy farmers and stack empty soup cans on the top for us to improve our accuracy. 

Jack a keen shot, once shot an apple off my head in Dad’s workshop in the basement during lunchtime from school, something we saw in a Saturday matinee Western movie. There was something heady about guns, the steely smell, the thrill of pulling the trigger, the bucking recoil, the awesome power. Lucky for me he was a good shot. That was all before he lost his well being and looks to declining health.

Our paternal grandmother lived with us since our toddler days, helping with household chores and making meals.  Our long walks home for lunch in elementary school were rewarded with stories of the wild west, and gun laden family lore, like the time she took the train from Minnesota to Louisiana and shot buffalo out of the window of the train.  

We were too young to ask what happened to the buffalo, but our weekly installment at the 25 cent local movie theatre made her stories come to life. Gram talked proudly about owning a pearl handled snub nosed derringer which she kept in her handbag when playing cards on the Mississippi riverboats. She was also a great Blackjack player, one which we could never beat. Maybe ones history can be told by guns?

Our father received his first gun while living in Louisiana, a BB gun, when he was only 8 years old. There is picture of my fair-haired father with his arm around his black neighborhood friend, a friend he accidently shot and subsequently lost one eye because of Dad. 

Our grandmother insisted from that day forward that anything he shot he would have to eat. She told us she cleaned and cooked pigeons, seagulls, ibis and even an alligator mother.  Dad kept her baby alligator as a pet and raised it until Gram’s fear of its 6 foot voracious appetite and thrashing tail threatened her 4 foot 8 inch frame. To us Gram was fearless and to be feared like an aging Annie Oakley, wild and determined.

Moving to southern Ontario when our father was in high school may have diluted some of the American gun culture in his blood, but the right to bear arms still prevailed in the family. At 18, our father enlisted to serve in the American Air Force as a rear gunner of a B52 bomber. Why should we be surprised when he was such a good shot?

Our family, living in a rural area, Dad always kept a shotgun or two in the front hall clothes closet in case of unwanted visitors. What was supposed to keep us safe became an enormous fear in my teen years for those drivers who unwittingly darkened our doorstep, asking to use a phone or help with a flat tire late at night. Little did they know they were having a conversation with a homeowner on the other side of the door was pointing a loaded shotgun at their head and was ready and able to fire?

Maybe guns are in our family’s DNA?

When I received the call that Jack had opened the cabinet and threatened to “end it all”, I knew he had the will and skill to do it. Much to his chagrin, the police confiscated his “weapons” and immediately took him to a psychiatric ward in the local hospital. He was gun-less for the first time in his life.

Being only 18 months apart, we share so much lived experience but are different in so many ways. While he drifted into the sexy allure of the adrenaline filled gun, motorcycle and drug culture, I responded to a calling to help those who needed the pieces put back together, those broken souls and bodies from a life with guns and drugs, failed marriages and medical complications that only a life doomed would have to endure.   

While medical intervention helped Jack with stabilizing his metabolic disequilibrium and pain from spinal surgery complications, it did little to address his long standing mental health disorder. Having to relinquish his firearms to the police due to a court order, he subsequently reclaimed them only to sell them.  Without guns, I wonder what energy Jack will regain to control his life.  Ever present in my mind, is what crime is being committed with his previous weapons now available on any city street.

I am person who knows the power and allure of guns and how that can change people. The skill to shoot gives one the ability to change the lives of others with very minimal investment. What saved me years ago from instant death was that my brother was an experienced accurate shooter. I now, understand the magnitude of how fragile that trust can be. We were lucky in our times that street gangs where less common, something to be feared, and something our parents worked on and  hoped the church would shield us from. Jack would have been an easy gang target, a sharp shooter, perhaps a mercenary, if he had convictions to pursue.

There is something fundamentally wrong in our society when any kid can download a 3 D printer functional pistol in a library.

I am one of the lucky ones who has learned from a life filled with guns, their power and the impact they have on society and lives. I survived, as has my elder brother to date, not without some damage, both the haunting inner daemons of an immediate solution which guns can provide and the allure of guns which so prevailed our lives.

Guns kill, what else is there to understand?

Kathryn Webb is an aspiring writer who has travelled extensively since she defiantly left home at 18 years of age to explore the world.  Her journey has led her to nursing and a 40 -year hospital career service and is now a retired Health Care Professional living in Oakville.   A competitive sailor and avid golfer, Kathryn reflects on life’s lessons through meditation, Yoga  and Tai Chi.  

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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