... flying backwards, flat on my backside ...
The best Christmas?
My brother and I were fortunate to be born to a family that had opportunity, drive and fortitude (as my Dad would say). He (dad) was a climber, and while he left school at age 16, when he retired he was pretty high up in Stone and Webster Service Corporation.
In other words, brother Doug and I lucked out. As long as I can remember, on Christmas morning the gifts were piled knee deep around the tree -- because that's what Pop figured Christmas was all about. Loading everyone up with goodies.
But the most memorable Christmas I had was one to top all the toys and clothing I ever got.
Dad and Mom were Southerners, both born in Florida. One grandfather, Frederick Blum, was a farmer in Pleasant Grove, outside Pensacola; the other, William Napoleon Norris, was an educated engineer -- but I never met either of those relatives. They were long gone before I came along.
But we did spend many vacations with Dad's sister, Aunt Gladys and Uncle Carl Evans.
Gladys and Carl had a big old Georgia shotgun house in Valdosta, where Uncle Carl was a mill foreman. Those shotgun houses had a hall that ran straight through the house -- which provided a modicum of ventilation in those hot, humid summers. On one side of the house were the bedrooms and bath; on the other were the living room, an ornate dining room, and the kitchen out back -- partially open for cooling.
One hot summer day in Valdosta, while looking for something to do, I climbed up on top of the huge chifferobe in my bedroom, and there was Uncle Carl's saddle gun, a beautiful early model Winchester lever action 30-30.
For a whole week I played with that gun -- I didn't think anybody would hear me in the back of the house. But they knew, and they let me alone. When it came time to head back north, I really hated to leave that rifle. But then, I was only nine years old.
That Christmas (we lived in New Jersey at that time), my Pa really surprised me. After all the other gifts were passed out, he handed me a long, neatly wrapped package that looked like it was a board. But it was, it was, Uncle Carl's saddlegun. I leaped with joy and ran about the house firing at imaginery bad guys, and buffaloes, and maybe some renegade Indians.
That summer was the first time I had a chance to really fire the Winchester. I had scoured up some old ammo from a buddy's attic, and we snuck the gun out of the house, and headed for the woods -- just beyond the Morris canal tow path.
I think Bobby Burman was with me that day. Anyway, I carefully loaded one round into the magazine, and hefted the gun to see if it would feel any different. I worked the lever action, watching closely as the single round was lifted into the breach, then pushed by the closing bolt into the chamber.
I was still ten years old, but big for my age.
With the Winchester firmly pressing against my shoulder, I aimed at the big old sycamore across the brook, and pulled the trigger.
The explosion was deafening, but it was the recoil that sent me flying backwards, flat on my backside. I saw Bobby running up the path, running like a jackrabbit.
I got away with it. Nobody but all the kids in town knew I had fired my Winchester. If Pa ever heard about it, he didn't say anything.
I still have that gun, top one on the gunrack. It's no longer serviceable because I never thought about cleaning it. I suspect that one shell was black powder -- very corrosive to the bore.
So that's it. Uncle Carl's Winchester saddlegun brought me great joy, again and again. That was a special Christmas.
December 4, 2004