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Steve Hansen: Did I shoot my eye out? Not with homemade BB gun

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Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 12:00 am

Last week, the TBS channel ran “A Christmas Story” marathon for 24 hours. This year’s season marked the film’s 30th anniversary.

The 1983 classic movie is about a boy who wants a Daisy BB gun for Christmas. Adults in his life don’t approve because they fear the star, Ralphie, will “shoot his eye out.”

I watch this flick annually because it reminds of the time when I was 9-years-old. The street scenes, the school and the boy’s home resemble so much of where I lived in Ann Arbor, Mich. — even though the movie was actually filmed in Cleveland.

As kids, we were all in love with cowboys and westerns. They were about the good guys and their triumphs over the bad guys. We knew our imaginations could really cut loose and save the world from evil if we only had our Daisy lever-action Red Ryder BB guns at hand.

I asked my folks for one but got the same universal response from my mother — which of course was: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Even though her father was an avid hunter, she was afraid of guns. I suppose mom was somewhat like the character Amy Fowler Kane, played by Grace Kelly in “High Noon.”

I knew a real Daisy BB air rifle was not going to become a reality in my life. But fortunately, during the mid-1950s, the company came out with a similar gun — only it was for kids with moms like mine. The barrel on the original rifle was substituted for a nearly one-inch-in-diameter version, making it impossible to shoot small BBs — or at least that’s what adults thought.

Two years later on Christmas in 1955, my dream came true. There was one of these non-BB-shooting Daisy air rifles tucked under the tree. I couldn’t have been happier — well, at least until I discovered it wasn’t much fun not being able to discharge “real” ammunition.

There had to be a way to solve this problem using a kid’s ingenuity. With that goal in mind, my devious brain began to work.

“What if,” I thought, “I took some of my mother’s used wooden thread spools, honed them down just slightly on my father’s lathe and inserted them into the barrel?” The small hole in the spool center looked about right to accommodate a standard issue BB.

I went to work on the secret plan and tapped the improvised thread spools into my gun. Amazingly, they fit perfectly. Now it was time for the grand experiment to come to life.

That evening, I remember being on the floor in my bedroom — inserting a BB down the barrel, cocking the rifle and pulling the trigger.

A “pop” was heard, and at the same time, a BB bounced off all four walls of the bedroom, finally landing somewhere in the closet. The plan had worked beyond my greatest expectations!

Unfortunately, my father heard the commotion and quickly entered the room.

“Are you shooting BBs with that rifle?” he barked.

“What?” I responded “You know I can’t shoot BBs with THAT gun!”

He gave me a suspicious look, but probably concluded that since adults were so much smarter than kids, it couldn’t have happened. He did not inspect the rifle.

By this point in the piece, I’m sure you must be wondering: Did I end up, as everyone feared, “shooting my eye out?” Well, almost, but it wasn’t with a BB.

A friend of mine named Ronnie, who in his adult life became senior vice-president of a nationwide bank, was even more devious than I. He would dip the barrel of a duplicate gun into soft wet soil and shoot dirt wads. One day, during a “gun fight,” I peered around the corner and yes, you can guess what happened. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage.

What eventually happened to my homemade BB gun, I do not know. I suppose it was eventually sucked into that black hole of antimatter where most toys seem to go — covertly controlled by moms everywhere.

So, when all is said and done, were concerns about the dangers of BB guns justified?

For the answer to this question, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. Obviously, you are never going to get a straight answer out of me on that one.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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