Thursday, January 24, 2013

Growing Pains

When I was nine or ten, my father gave me a Daisy Model 25 Pump-Action BB Gun for Christmas. I thought it was probably the best gift in the world a kid could get. With it came dad’s hand written note – “Aim high at the target of life.”

Although I was not sure what the message meant, I wasted no time taking aim at other things. In the woods across from our house, this pint-sized Gene Autry blasted tin cans, bottles, pine cones and tree branches. No bad guy could ever escape my Daisy sure-shot.

Spring brought more opportunities to go exploring and now I always took along my trusty gun. On the far side of the woods stood an overgrown and abandoned orange grove. Most of the trees had withered away, but here and there were a few still-hanging oranges. They made perfect targets.

After blasting the oranges to pulp, I noticed a covey of quail pecking for food under some trees. The odd little birds were far away and I wondered if the gun could even shoot that distance. Raising it up, I took aim at the nearest quail and fired.

I hit it and watched, horrified, as the poor creature jumped into the air, then fell back. The other birds flew away to the safety of the grove. Their wounded mate, still very much alive, could only scramble about, dragging its injured wing.

I thought if I could catch it, maybe the quail could be nursed back to health. Although hurt, the bird proved to be too fast for me. Not knowing what to do, I returned home and broke the news to my father. He stopped what he was doing and sat down by me on the couch.

“That quail is injured and will be unable to take care of itself. It will starve to death if something doesn’t get it first.”

“There is only one thing to do,” he added as I stared at the floor. “You have to go back and put it out of its misery.” I jumped up, wide-eyed and trembling. “No! I can’t do it!” I shouted and ran for the door. “It’s the only way!” my father called after me.

Miserable, I paced back and forth in the yard, occasionally glancing at the woods across the road. Maybe it could fly again and rejoined its friends. Maybe it was dead.

I knew I would have to go across and find out. It would be dark soon and impossible to see a hiding quail. Grabbing the stupid BB gun, I trudged across the road to the field, all the while praying that the quail would not be there.

A rustling in the grass put that prayer to rest. The quail was still alive and still able to run. I chased after it doing my best to pump, aim and shoot on the run. We ran clear across the field, the young hunter chasing the teacher. Gradually, the bird began to slow and I saw that some of my shots had hit home.

When I finally caught up to the wounded quail, it could only run in circles. Desperate now, I pumped BB after BB into its plump body. Yet, it would not die and continued thrashing about on the ground.

Dazed out of my senses, I understood the creature could only be killed with a shot in the head. But with my shots continually missing the mark, the only thing to do was somehow pin the bird down.There were no branches, no rocks, nothing. I would have to hold the quail still myself. 

Approaching the bird, I diverted its attention with the barrel of the gun and quickly stepped on it with my shoe.The quail struggled mightily but could not get away. With tears streaming down my face, I shot it over and over until, at last, the quail stopped moving. Stepping away, I looked down at what was left, in death, an unremarkable pile of feathers.

I don’t remember much after that except when I got home, I put the gun in the closet and never used it again.