I was seven years old, and my birthday had finally arrived. There were no neighbors coming over or friends from school. But I was happy. I was with my family, all five brothers, and sisters, including the new baby who was barely two months old. We always had fun together, and this time was no exception.
This was my day, my very own day, and I had opened so many gifts. Mom always made it special. But there was only one thing that I really wanted that year: a Daisy BB gun (air rifle) of my very own. And here it was, I was holding it for the first time.
Daddy, who was standing beside me in our small living room, pried the lid off the ammo and handed it to me. It was a tiny cardboard canister that contained hundreds of little metal beads. He pointed to a spot on the gun. “You just open up this slot and pour them in.”
I set the BBs down on the coffee table for a second and tried pulling the little tab to slide open the compartment. “It’s stuck!”
Daddy looked down. “Yeah, that’s ‘cause it’s new. It’ll loosen up. Here, let me help you.”
Dad grabbed the gun and squeezed the little tab with his strong, rough fingers, and carefully slid open the slot. He handed my rifle back to me. “Okay, now just pour ‘em in.”
I picked up the BB gun and started to dump them in, but I stopped quickly when they began to spill onto the floor.
My father acted quickly, “Hey! You gotta go slow to keep ‘em from spillin’.”
“Okay, Daddy. I’ll go slower.” I handed him the gun and ammo, picked up the stray BBs, and put them in the slot. Waste not, want not.
I grabbed the gun again, slowly poured in the rest of the little balls, and closed the compartment. Gosh. It was much easier to close than to open!
Next, Daddy and I went outside. It was a typical hot and humid summer day in Southeast Texas. Large Tallow trees shaded the back yard’s half acre and a thick blanket of St. Augustine grass coated the landscape. A barren picnic table stood several yards away. Beyond that was a barbed-wire fence; beyond the fence was a huge barn and a chicken coop.
But in that moment, Daddy and I were standing just outside the door facing the lawn. My dad took a moment and demonstrated how to cock the little rifle and shoot my new gun. Then he handed it to me. I pulled the cocking handle with all my might, then leveraged the gun on my shoulder and pointed it toward a tree. Next, I carefully pulled the trigger. What? …
I looked at Daddy, whining a little. “It didn’t work. I can’t squeeze it!”
My father chuckled a little. “Oh, you left the safety on.”
“What’s a safety?”
Dad quickly explained. “When you’re not usin’ it, you hafta leave this lever on ‘lock’ so you don’t accidentally shoot someone.” He went on to tell me to never ever point it at anyone because even though it was only a BB gun, I could put someone’s eye out.
My stomach turned a little with anxiety. “Okay, Daddy. I’ll never do that. I promise!”
Then he slid the safety to the open position. “Try it now.”
Once again, I cocked the little rifle, rested it on my shoulder, and pointed it toward a tree. Whiz! … I felt the BB leave the gun in a puff of air. There was even a little kickback like a real gun. Now, this was cool!
“Daddy, what should I shoot with it?”
Daddy grabbed some Old Milwaukee beer cans from the pile us kids were saving to sell for a penny a pound. He then set a half dozen of them in a row on the picnic table. “Just shoot ‘em down one at a time.”
“Alright, I think I’ll start with the one on the left.”
I cocked the gun and aimed it toward the first can. Nothing! “Daddy, it didn’t work!”
Dad chuckled again. “That’s ‘cause you hafta aim it.” Then he showed me a raised slot that was on the barrel several inches from the butt. He pointed at it. “When you aim it, close your left eye and look through this slot and try to line it up with your target.”
Ooooh. I knew I could do that! I was good at winking. I used to practice so I could look like Popeye the Sailor, my hero.
I followed his advice but was disappointed when I missed again. “It’s still not working!”
“That’s ‘cause you hafta practice. You’ll get better. You’ll see.”
Daddy went inside and left me alone for a while. I practiced and practiced and practiced. Hours passed, and after a while, I was able to shoot the cans down one at a time.
Finally, Daddy came back out, and I showed him what I could do. By then I had advanced to building pyramids with the cans. So I built one, and once again, I shot them down one at a time.
Daddy was impressed. “Wow! Annie Oakley!”
I knew who Annie Oakley was. She was a famous lady sharpshooter from the Wild West days who could do all sorts of tricks. She could even hit small targets with her rifle held backward over her shoulder, using only a tiny mirror to aim. He was comparing me to her. He must have been impressed.
From that day on, that little Daisy rifle was my favorite toy. I guess I really am Texan to the core.