It was summer. It was the early ‘80s, so it was a time of simplicity before I navigated the years of big, stiff Aqua Net bangs and the goofy, zip-zip sound of parachute pants in the late teen years. It meant loose schedules free of schoolbooks and plenty of that blithe feeling you can only get when you’re 12 and summer stretches before you. My sister and I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents. With our grandparents on my father’s side, we drew and painted and played the Mille Bourne card game. They encouraged our love of reading. We spent time outside and searched for glass marbles in the soil among the tomato plants in their backyard garden, believing that tiger-eye magically appeared and Grampy would feign surprise each time we unearthed one. When we weren’t gardening or doing puzzles or running in the sprinkler, they’d tell us about their families from French-speaking Canada and County Kerry, Ireland. We knew Grampy had been in World War II. He wasn’t vocal about it, and as kids, we only had a general inkling what that meant. It seemed an ancient piece of history.
One Saturday they toted us off to a family event at the Swift River Gun Club in Belchertown. Parents of today will likely read that and feel an instant curl of disgust. It’s natural, isn’t it, since we live in a time where, sadly, children make the news in gun stories alongside words like Uzi or Newtown. Back then, guns weren’t something to debate. They used to be a regular activity for regular people, who were happy to train properly in their use. They weren’t a political statement. They weren’t a symbol of doom. We were taught rules and respect not just for the adults dishing out those rules, but respect for the skill and danger that is part of learning about shooting targets. You may think the gun club to be an irrational, irresponsible place to bring your grandkids but my sister and I know it to be the opposite. We learned that respect; you knew there were rules to follow and that safety was number one. You didn’t play with guns. You didn’t touch them without supervision. You never, ever pointed one at a person even if you knew it was empty. Maybe it’s because we were always around them that we had held an innate sense of safety and regard. Maybe it’s because as we grew up, we didn’t hear about a daily shooting. Maybe it’s because WWII is part of our family’s fabric, or that hunting and fishing was in our DNA. Who knows? Guns were a healthy skill and recreational activity, not something to use as a show of power, personal control, or political clout. It was not a matter of trying to create a right-sided persona to align ourselves politically, or a matter of feeling rebellious or tough to appear left and liberal. We knew zip about political stances and barely understood the Jimmy Carter/peanut jokes that abounded. All we knew was that we loved spending time with our grandparents.
As an adult, I can’t say I’m comfortable around guns. They scare the shit out of me, but I have toyed with the idea of being properly trained and licensed. Honestly, I don’t understand this sudden extreme need to be armed because of “today’s society” and to have so many average people aligning themselves prepper-style with 14 tons of toilet paper and a stack of weaponry. There are tv shows devoted to doomsday and prepping and an us-vs-them mentality. My conflict lies in understanding the awesome tactical skillset that is shooting and learning about guns, and taking an interest in it, and seeing all the incredible people and training that is out there and trying to mash that up with a natural aversion in being associated with the ultra-paranoid preppers that seem borne from ultra-conservative Christian groups and backwoods fanatics. Can’t a girl just learn to shoot without making a political statement?