November 12, 2003
I believe that I was eight years old when my grandfather took me to the dump for the first time. He liked to pick through the trash to find things that he could fix and sell, but it was a great place to shoot a .22 rifle.
We got out of his truck that day and he handed me a single-shot, bolt-action .22 rifle and 50 rounds in a cardboard box. "You go shoot," he said. "Just don't you shoot at me."
I plugged beer cans, a few rats and everything else I saw worth firing at down on the side of the dump. I was shooting up a storm. My grandfather finally came up behind me and asked, "Are you doing any good?" I showed him the three dead rats and the beer cans and all the rest of my targets I'd been shooting. He said, "That's not bad, but I want you to show me that you can REALLY shoot. Is that gun loaded right now?"
"No, Papaw. I just shot that beer can. It's empty."
"Pull the lever back and let me see." I did, and he told me not to load it again until he said so. He had three light bulbs in his overall pockets and he walked down to the edge of the borrow-pit and threw them as far out into the water as he could. Then, he walked back up the bank and sat down next to me. "How many bullets do you have left?" he asked.
"Papaw, I probably have at least 15 left," I replied.
"Take three and shoot those light bulbs."
I put one in the rifle and threw the bolt closed. A light bulb in the water doesn't make a big target, but I sighted on the closest one and hit it. Kaboom! and a big splash. "I got it Papaw!" I exclaimed. Boy, I was proud of myself.
"You've got two more to go," he said.
I took two more bullets and shot both of the other two light bulbs without a miss. I still remember the smell of gunsmoke and tobacco as I sat with my grandfather that day. He wasn't big on praising anybody, but he told me that "I wasn't half-bad" with that rifle. I knew what kind of flattery that was coming from him. I strutted like a Tall Dog back to the truck when he was ready to leave.
"When we get back home, you clean that rifle, you hear me? I'll tell you what to do. If you take care of it, I might let you shoot it again"
"I will, Papaw. I want to shoot it again."
I shot that rifle many times after that day. I learnd to clean it and take care of it. But I never forgot that first time and those three light bulbs floating in the water.
I was three for three, while my grandfather was watching.
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