The Old Man looked up from his paper as he rocked beside the Dearborn heater on that cold January day.
“Shoot away from each other.”
With the .22 in one hand and a fresh box of shells in the other, I gave him a grin.
Cousin hefted the single shot .22 rifle and didn’t answer the statement that required nothing more than what I’d given.
Mama stood in front of the sink with a damp washcloth in hand as we wound through the kitchen and out the back door.
“Sonny, you’re not letting them go out there with those rifles all by themselves, are you?”
I heard his response as we passed the table.
“Well, one of ’em’s a shotgun, and we’ve taught ’em how to shoot.”
Her voice followed us through the screen as we fled to the safety of the porch.
“Y’all watch out with those things, and don’t shoot toward the house, and stay behind one another, and don’t shoot toward the church. Watch out you don’t shoot your foot, you remember Bubba almost shot his foot off with a shotgun if I hadn’t moved the muzzle off the top of his shoe that day…”
Her admonitions faded behind us as we crossed the yard. I’d heard the Bubba story a hundred times before. It was a good cautionary tale, but I knew it from heart. A cousin on Mama’s side was trying to force another shell into an old pump shotgun when they were kids.
Mama did save his foot that day.
Cousin grumbled under his breath.
“I’m thirteen years old and hunt with Daddy all the time and she thinks we’re gonna get in trouble.”
We stopped by the burn barrel and plucked out a selection of cans and bottles. I had to defend her, a little.
“She tells us to be careful every time we go down to the pool. She can’t help herself.”
The path to our gun range angled up a slight hill, past the barn and the hollow oak tree behind it. It was there an old house once stood, but now the space was occupied by a corn crib. On the backside of that crib was the now-defunct “old road” that once led from the Sanders Creek bridge, though it ended at the pool in question.
From there, if you headed west, it became a real oil road again near the church and continued past Uncle Jack and Norma Belle’s house and Floyd Cass’ place, past Uncle Gordon and Aunt Dolores’ house, Uncle Cliff’s house, my paternal grandparents’s house (and an intersecting road leading to the bottoms) and so on for the next three quarters of a mile until it intersected a gravel road. If you turned left, you went to the metropolis of Chicota.
The old road stretched east from our gun range, and even into the 1980s you could see the faint outline of a quail-filled lane defined by old bodark posts and tall trees. The section behind the corn crib cut through a hill by generations of wagons, Tin Lizzies, Model As and farm trucks.
By the time we used it as a gun range, there was nothing but a steep clay bank on one side, and a slightly smaller cut on the south. I crossed the lane and lined up the targets by twisting the tin can’s open ends into the soft earth, leaving a round target. The clay crumbled enough that we could make small ledges for the bottles.
Once I was back, Cousin plugged a hole in the middle of the can with the .22. I busted two of the bottles with the little shotgun and we paused.
Cousin reloaded the rifle.
“This is boring.”
“Let’s back up.”
The next time we shot was from behind the barn, a distance of probably 75 yards. We fired again, popping targets. Then we shot from one knee, standing, leaning against the barn and laying on the ground to shoot through the tall, dead grass.
I found some broken crockery half buried in the dirt beside the old house place. Those tiny, colorful chips in the clay bank made better targets and increased our marksmanship. A dove flew past, and I cut down on him with the .410, only to see the unmolested bird fly on.
We switched and I moved to the left, half sitting on a slight washout and firing like the old buffalo hunters I’d read about. It was slightly challenging, but fun.
As we paused to reload, I brought up the future.
“When we’re all grown up, I want to shoot at one of those fancy gun ranges they have in the city. I heard they have tables where you can rest the rifle, and put boxes of shells beside you.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to shoot in the city?”
“Naw, it looks like that bank there behind them, and you know it’s exactly a hundred yards away.”
“Why’s that the magic number?”
“Because they say so.”
Presented with such obvious logic, Cousin paused.
“Can you shoot pistols there?”
“Sure ‘nough. Some of those are indoor ranges, and the targets are on tracks that slide close and then far away. Saw that on a James Bond movie.”
“Wow, I can’t wait.”
I glanced upward at the blue sky and clouds.
After laying my pistol on the carpeted shooting bench and pushing a button last week, my paper target zoomed up close so I could examine the results. Pistols crackled on both sides of me in the indoor range as other shooters practiced.
Air conditioning pulled the gunsmoke up and away. A heavier boom came through my ear plugs from the 100-yard rifle range on the other side of the building.
I thought about that day behind the barn, wishing my late Cousin was there with me. The future has arrived, but it doesn’t have the same attraction these days.