The Old Coot didn’t shoot his eye out

I didn’t shoot my eye out. Not with a BB gun anyhow. And, not in one of the many BB gun wars we waged in the cow pasture to the west of Denton Road on Binghamton’s south side. (The area is now populated with houses, but back then it was a war zone in the summer, a toboggan and ski resort in the winter.) No, I did it much later in life, when a tree branch shot back into my eye on a riverbank in Owego. But that’s a story for another day; an old coot story. This is a kid story.

My didn’t shoot my eye out story took place after I’d paid my dues for years and finally waited expectantly, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, to find a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun under the Christmas tree. I’d posed for dorky Christmas cards with my sister Madeline, year after year. I’d forgone my desire for a BB gun and asked for eye safe toys like footballs, sleds, board games and electric trains. 

But when I turned 10, in 1952, I decided it was time to launch the campaign. Woody, my friend from the next block, had access to BB rifles and BB pistols. I used him and his gun friendly parents as the centerpiece of my case. But, things looked pretty glum. My mother batted every pitch I threw her way out of the park. “Woody has one, why can’t I?” The response was, “Because you’ll lose an eye!”  This was before the term “shoot-your-eye-out” came into vogue. You lost things in those days, like your eye, your arm, or your life. 

“No I won’t, Woody didn’t,” I would exclaim. She pointed out that Woody wore glasses; his eyes were protected. Something I knew all too well. Especially after so recently doing the dishes for 25 cents every night until I’d earned three dollars to pay for the pair I’d broken in one of our backyard disagreements. 

“We don’t shoot at each other. We just pretend to shoot,” I argued, lie that it was, with me sporting a tender, red-rimmed pockmark from taking one in the leg just that morning. 

“We only shoot at stuff,” I said, adding to my lie. She was too smart for that one. She was as concerned for the “stuff” as she was for my eye. She knew the stuff included dopey robins that sat still while enduring shot after shot, squirrels that scampered back and forth making the game even more exciting, the glass window pains in Mr. Soldo’s garage, Mrs. Bowen’s tulips, and the Merz’s dog. But, I had an answer for all those damaged goods. It was home made arrows that errantly misfired in a game of cowboys and Indians. “A BB gun is accurate; it would never damage stuff, ” was my weak-brained argument.

The whole thing was of her making anyhow. She’s the one who dressed me in cowboy suits since before I could walk, who equipped me with two six-guns and helped me mount a wooden rocking horse in the driveway with my faithful dog Lassie at my side. How did she not see this growing into lust for a weapon that could really fire? A BB gun! 

Christmas finally came, in those waning days of Truman’s presidency. It took what seemed like years, those four weeks following Thanksgiving, when the count down started. But it came, and on Christmas morning, under our tree was a three-foot long, slender package with my name on it. I saved it for last. I unwrapped the mittens knitted by my aunt in Connecticut. And, like the other pairs she sent every year, they were too short and would leave me with red, raw wrists when I played outside in the snow and cold. 

Next came a pair of ski pajamas, the fashion rage of the day. Then came a big surprise, a radio of my own. A radio for my room, so Woody and I could listen to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Suspense and The Shadow in private. Finally came the long skinny box. I tore off the paper. The carton underneath didn’t say Daisy Air Rifle: it was unmarked. I didn’t care; I’d settle for an off brand. I pried open the lid and pulled out the weapon. A single shot, ping-pong ball rifle! You gave it a pump and it hurled ping-pong balls across the room. 

My chagrin lasted less than an hour; I found the lemonade in the lemons. I could shoot at people. I could shoot at stuff! I no longer have that eye-safe, engine of warfare from the 1950’s, but, I do have a BB gun, a Daisy Red Ryder Carbine, No. 111, Model 40. My wife, tired of my complaining, found it in an antique store and gave it to me for Christmas, the same year A Christmas Story aired and Ralphie got his. It’s a little scuffed up and the squirrels laugh out loud when I stand guard at our bird feeder, but it shoots just fine. And, I haven’t shot out my eye out! 

Now if I could only get the old south side warriors together, the Almy, Burtis and Spangoletti brothers, Woody, Warren and Buzzy, for one last BB-gun battle, my story would have a perfect ending. 

Be the first to comment on "The Old Coot didn’t shoot his eye out"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.