Can Guns Bring Back Memories?
By Randy Randall

The old man said, “The boy should have a gun of his own; one he doesn’t have to borrow when its bird season.” The younger man agreed, “I think he’s ready, Dad.” The old man continued, “Maybe we should buy him a shotgun? How about next Saturday? I’d like it to be from me.” The boy and his father pulled up in front of the old man’s house at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. The father said, “Get in the back so your grandfather can sit up front.” The old man pulled open the car door, looked inside and said, “Where you been? I thought you’d got lost. Morning’s most over.” He tossed his cane inside and slammed the car door as he heaved himself onto the seat. The young man laughed. “Not too early Dad, the sporting goods store won’t be open for another hour.” The old man scowled. “New fangled big box places. What do they think anyway? People got nothing else to do but wait around for them to open their doors? Don’t seem like they want our business.” “Oh they’ll be fine, Dad. You wait. This place has more guns ten most of us see in a lifetime.” “Well,” the old man said, “just so long as they’ve got a nice little 20 gauge double for junior here,” and he waved a thumb at his grandson sitting in the back seat. The old man twisted around a little and addressed the teenager. “What do you think?” he asked. “You’ve shot most of my guns, which ones did you like the best? You shot your first bird with that old Browning.” “Yeah, that’s right Gramps. I liked the Browning a lot.” The old man turned and faced forward again. “Yes I know. That’s a good gun. It’ll be yours someday, when I ain’t here no more, but for now you should have one all your own. I once owned a nice little Fox double. Wonder if they still make them?” The boy leaned forward in his seat. He said, “Maybe they got one that’s bored full and modified? Be a great little gun for birds.” The old man nodded, “Yeah,” he said “That’s kind of what I was thinking too.”

The giant sporting goods store was the size of an airplane hanger. Every kind of outdoor clothing or gadget was on display somewhere. Tents hung from the rafters and kayaks and canoes hung on the walls. People milled about in the aisles examining jackets and boots and outboard motors and sleeping bags. The fishing department was out back and the guns were upstairs. The man said, “Up these stairs Dad. The gun department is up top.” The old man held onto the stair railing as the three made their way up to the gun emporium. At the entrance at the top of the stairs a young man with a buzzed off haircut, an earring in one ear and wearing the store’s logo maroon tee shirt, met the men and said, “Good morning. Something I can help you fellows with?” The old man stopped to catch his breath. He glanced at the young clerk and said, “Yes, we’d like to see some double barrel shotguns. Good used ones. You got anything?” The young man thought for a second and said, “All our old guns are over here,” and he led the way to a long aisle bordered on both sides by hundreds of guns leaning in racks. “ I think we might have a few down here,” he said and he hurried toward the end of the aisle. The man and boy followed but the old man took it slow. As he shuffled along he became aware of all the old firearms lined up in rows in the gun racks. He recognized some of them. There was a 30-40 Krag. He hadn’t seen one of those since Uncle Nathan had one back in the twenties. And here was an old Enfield. When he had gone moose hunting in Canada his guide had carried a .303 Enfield. All around him were old firearms and there beside the Enfield was an M-1 Garand.

The old man’s hand reached out impulsively for the old M-1. He lifted it from the rack and held it across his chest. The stock was well worn and showed many dings and scratches. The bluing was worn off parts of the barrel and the breech but his muscles knew the heft of that weapon. He knew it weighed exactly 9.5 pounds without the bayonet and sling. He knew it held eight .30 caliber rounds and that the bullet traveled at 2800 feet per second. The barrel length was 24 inches, sir! "Four grooves, right hand twist, sir! Trigger pull seven and half pounds, sir!" He knew that this gun could kill a man at over 400 yards. He knew all this, not in his head but in his hands and his shoulder. The old man grasped the Garand by the front hand guard and let the barrel slide through his fingers until the butt of the rifle gently touched the floor beside his right foot. He stiffened a little and straightened his back. He said under his breath, “order - arms.” He felt the comfortable assurance of that old weapon resting against his thigh. The memories began to flood back into his consciousness. He began to recite the orders he thought were long forgotten. Softly he whispered to himself, “port - arms,” and he lifted the rifle smartly up across his chest. He held it there, solidly, with only a slight tremble in his hands. He knew by touch the trigger housing group, the barrel and receiver group, and the stock group. He knew those parts as if his life depended on them. At one time it did. “Right shoulder - arms,” he intoned and he deftly set the rifle on his right shoulder. “Present - arms,” he said a little louder and he quickly let the gun slide off his shoulder into his hands. He held it poker straight in front of his eyes with the barrel aimed straight up at the ceiling. He didn’t blink but stared straight ahead. Inside his balding head he began to see sights and hear sounds he thought he’d never experience again - like the flash of enemy gunfire, the sound of clanking tanks and rumbling trucks, the whine of incoming ordnance, the blare of sirens and the cries of wounded men in a ditch. The old man closed his eyes in remembrance. He could still feel the fear and hear the sounds of battle. He took a breath and regained his composure. “Inspection - arms,” he said aloud and without thinking he ported the weapon and his left hand automatically shoved the bolt back. It locked open with an audible click. The old man tipped his head and looked quickly into the empty chamber. He remembered how the ammunition came in clips of eight and how you shoved a loaded clip down into the magazine. “Port - arms,” he said quite out loud now, and he depressed the follower and let the bolt slam home not forgetting to pull his thumb out of the way. It had been eons, but he had not forgotten. His index finger automatically sought out the safety on the front of the trigger guard. “Left shoulder – arms,” he now repeated to himself, and he set the weapon on his left shoulder. “Port - arms,” he said again and he briefly held the gun to his chest. He could feel the warm wood of the stock swell under his hand. He remembered his battle sight adjustments, one click up for 200 yards. His voice spoke again, “order - arms” and once again he let the weapon slip quietly down by his side. “Parade – rest,” the old man said to himself, and he tilted the barrel of the rifle forward as he sidestepped with his left foot. If his buddies had been there he would have ordered “stack – arms,” but they weren’t. All gone. Gone on ahead of him. Some never came home.

All it took was holding that old gun and it all came back. All the years since seemed to fade away. It seemed like only yesterday he was tramping through Italy with Patton in the lead. They fought their way up into France and they pushed on into Germany. Slogging through mud, sleeping in the rain, eating cold meat out of a can; struggling to keep the rifle clean and the action free. He knew his life depended on that rifle; what Patton had called the greatest battle instrument ever devised, and now here it was standing in the rack in the back of the sporting goods store among the “old” guns. The old man’s hands were shaking now as he set the M-1 gently back on the rack. The grandson had come back and saw the wetness in the old man’s eyes. “Grandpa,” he said, there’s a Fox twenty gauge. Are you crying Gramps? Are you ok? People are watching,” he said. The old man glanced around. He became aware of the odd silence in the gun shop and the group of strangers gathered behind him and in the next aisle. Even the busy clerks had stopped their sales pitches and were staring at the old veteran. “You ok Grandpa?” the boy asked again. The old man looked at the boy and said softly, “Yes, yes, I’m alright. Just let me put this old gun away. “

Randy Randall lives in Saco. He owns and operates Marston's Marina on the Saco River.

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