“Drive!” the old man yelled, reaching inside the pickup cab to grab his weather-beaten .22 from the back window gun rack.
He prattles something urgent sounding in Czech, before leaping the side-rail of the truck bed, Duke-boy style, and taking his place hunkered over the cab.
“Hang on,” the old man tells me, shoots me one of those great stiff-lipped smirks of his, his blue eyes glittering like diamonds. He and Mom both had the greatest eyes on the planet whenever they were up to no good. Most days you saw him out walking across the farm, he was hunched forward and limped when he walked. After all, he was pushing sixty about then, I do believe, and while they were building that house, just four or five years back, he’d fallen out of that tree, compound fracture on his leg and arthritis slowly gnawing away at his back. That very second, however, that moment right then, he could have been no more than nineteen again.
In fact, the old man had swagger written all over him and he was just standing there, not a care in the world, because he knew, without a doubt, he was about to do something most folks only ever read about. Even then, more often than not, somebody somewhere embellished something along the way. I wasn’t yet seven, riding with Mom every day to Catholic school in the next town, so the thought of her driving didn’t scare me in the least. But I doubled down on my grip, just the same, because the old man told me to. He stood up by the cab, just as loose as could be, his back slouched against it. He could’ve been grabbing drinks someplace, were it not for the hay swirling up in his face; Mom either ground enough gears on that old three-on-the-tree, Sixty-Five Chevy that we were going have hell getting it to stop again later. Or maybe, just maybe, she finally found that damn gear. I normally drove for Friday evening feedings, even though I had to so standing, and still, I couldn’t hardly see over the dash.
Mom usually dropped me off with Grandpa in Shiner at the place where he worked. Then she’d finish her own ride home at that school I attended and where she also worked. As the truck steadily picked up speed across that gopher pocked pasture, it started having some dire effects on me. I was about 55 pounds then, that’s with combat boots on, a parka, and of course, soaking wet. Grandpa though is still standing there cool as a clam, that old beat up .22 rifle hanging loosey-goosey, right by his hip. He sees me getting bounced back pretty hard back there.
I bob my face up and down just as hard as I can, so he can see its my answer my not my neck giving out. But I hadn’t had that much fun at the farm…
Well, ever, at least up to then…
Grandma, our resident safety alarm, would’ve raised sixteen kinds of hell. As if he’d heard me Grandpa leans forward, shouts out some new directions. Mom uses her whole body on the big steering wheel. She’s used to driving these massive luxury land yachts everywhere we go. Ford LTD, Lincoln Towncar, Mercury Grand Marquis. They may have needed a city block to turn around, but they practically drove for you. At least, that’s what the salesmen always used to say about them anyway. I liked them because I could stretch out, arms, legs, everything, as far as I could go, and I’d damn near be in Junior High before I could reach both doors at the same time.
I’m sure we were probably doing every bit of twenty, maybe twenty-five, across that bumpy-ass field, but I felt like we were about to blast back in time, break the sound barrier or something. Still, Grandpa’s just relaxed as he can be, loose as last month’s pantyhose, though his baggy workpants were starting to flap in the breeze. He stood there, unperturbed, that old khaki cap of his set backwards on his head like he was ready to catch a few innings of Mickey Mantle’s curve balls for the Yankees. All at once he spins, leans his weight on the cab, sighting down that old .22 at whatever caught his attention in the first place.
I look where he’s pointing that gun in the air, and all I see is bird way up in the sky.
I didn’t know it then, but Grandpa would one day teach me to shoot, using that very gun, the Ferncamp gun, I always heard it called. I always thought that the Ferncamp name was a type of gun, like a thirty-thirty or an Uzi or Kalashnikov. Grandpa told me its story at about the same time he taught me to shoot. Now Dad and Grandpa had several guns between them, most of them these gorgeous, highly polished, finely crafted works of art. They lived in fine cases, and had these massive, powerful scopes, glistening wood stocks, every part on them shiny with oil. They looked more the type of things you kept behind glass and dusted occasionally with only the softest of rags. It would be crime to even dirty them up. The only time I ever saw any of those guns brought out, ever, was once when the two of them would go together for about a week out to deer camp.
I remember shelling sack after sack of field corn, using these old iron, hand-crank tools that I bet anything predate anything ever called a world war. I worked hard, though, filling sack after sack every summer in hopes that I’d get to go, when it was just the men, doing whatever it that men do. Every year was the same though: Next year, we promise, always next year. You need to get bigger, stronger (and above all, quieter). God bless them, though, neither one ever said as much. Not to me, anyway. Sadly, when the year finally arrived that I got to go, my dad didn’t. He had to work. I remember them coming back laughing and carrying on, playing dominos every night. I spent my whole time there just bored out of my mind. I just wasn’t any good at any man stuff, I suppose.
Stay tuned for more later this week…