There once was a time when I was a complete and utter BB brain.
I was 8 years old when one of my school chums acquired an air rifle. It wasn’t long before he began to regale us with tales of his remarkable marksmanship, stories of hitting targets that were so distant that they had disappeared over the curve of the earth. Nothing fills a boy with jealousy and covetousness like hearing another boy brag about a newly acquired skill.
From then on, all I could think about was owning a BB gun. This fixation was fueled by stories I’d read in magazines carelessly left lying around our school library. Publications such as Boys’ Life and Outdoor Life and Manly Man Outdoor Life were rife with breathtaking descriptions of guys surviving in the wilderness with only a rifle, a pocketknife and the services of a talented ghostwriter.
Television was also a huge influence. Top TV shows from my childhood included “Bonanza,” “The Rifleman” and “Gunsmoke.” What boy didn’t want to be a rugged frontiersman like Daniel Boone or a suave, gun-toting 19th century secret agent like James West?
All of these factors fed my fixation about obtaining a BB gun. Not just any air rifle, though. I wanted a Daisy BB gun, mainly because that was the only kind that was available at Leite Hardware, our hometown hardware store.
On Saturdays when our family came to town to buy groceries, my feet would inevitably wend their way to Leite Hardware where I would inevitably find myself at the BB gun display. I would look at their Daisy air rifle and caress its polished wooden stock. I tried my best not to leave drool marks on the floor.
I begged my parents to buy a BB gun for me. They said no. With eight kids on our farm, they reasoned, adding a BB gun to the mix was simply asking for trouble. Plus, I would probably put my eye out.
In case you hadn’t noticed, my struggle to obtain an air rifle closely parallels the plotline of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which was written by the great Jean Shepherd. When I first saw that flick, I could have sworn that Shepherd had lifted some of the statements that had been uttered by my parents when I was a kid.
After eons of haranguing, my parents finally gave in and purchased the coveted Daisy. I was in farm boy heaven.
Dad showed me how to sight the rifle in, using an empty paper feed bag as a target. I shot at that sack until it resembled a screen door. If some future archeologist sweeps a metal detector past our old granary, he might find a mysterious stash of dozens of steel BBs embedded in the dirt.
I carried the Daisy everywhere I went when I was at home. The Daisy began to seem like an extra appendage; I felt like an amputee when I was forced to leave it behind when I left for school.
Carrying a BB gun while doing dairy farm chores was challenging. It was difficult to schlep a pair of 5-gallon buckets of grain with the Daisy tucked under one arm. I did this so often that I developed a callus on my elbow and my hip.
The Daisy gave me great comfort when the days grew short and evening chores involved carrying buckets in semi-darkness. Maybe somewhere out in our shadowy grove there was a hungry wolf or grizzly bear. Maybe it was noting how clumsily I walked as I lugged those buckets of grain with that BB gun tucked under my arm. Maybe it was salivating and thinking, “Suppertime!”
Never mind that there hadn’t been any wolves or bears in our area for nearly a century. The thought that I could put up a fight gave me solace, even though a large and ravenous predator would likely become more savage after being shot with a BB gun.
I used every possible opportunity to practice my marksmanship. A fluttering leaf atop of a tree or a puddle of water on the driveway were worthy targets. I thought about shooting striped gophers, but they would dive into their burrows long before I ever got close enough. Once, I patiently watched a gopher hole for hours before it dawned on me that gophers live underground. The little varmint was probably laughing at me from his living room.
Sometimes I might even take potshots at objects that passed overhead. Which is why some future archeologist might find a mysterious stash of steel BBs embedded in the soil at the lower right-hand edge of the moon.