My three previous gun-control columns have been more or less solemn and earnest, but I find that I simply can’t leave the issue until I add something a little more lighthearted—although down deep, this story is as serious as the others. It involves the first time I ever personally witnessed a Second Amendment violation, but it also has the bonus of allowing me to recount a memory of one of the few times I ever had a laugh on my father rather than the other way around. Even so, I was a bit too intimidated at the time to laugh myself. You’ll see why.
Dad’s mother was, well, memorable—perhaps not so much so as her first cousin Lucinda about whom I’ve already written, but unforgettable nonetheless. I don’t remember a time growing up when Grandma wasn’t dying of some horrible disease or other, and sadly, one of her ailments finally caught up with her two months before her ninety-fifth birthday. Smile if you will at that. I was twenty then, and in spite of all the times she’d threatened to die, I still mourned when she actually went ahead and did it. I wonder how long she’d have lived if she hadn’t smoked like a freight train all those years.
After my grandfather Sparks passed away, Grandma moved from Offutt to another community nearer Paintsville. Her new home was bordered closely by a church and three other houses, one of these belonging to the congregation’s minister (a cousin) and another to one of her nieces. In spite of this snug, comforting presence of God and kin, though, she still slept with Grandpa’s old Smith & Wesson 32-caliber “yaller jacket” under her pillow, and it was unwise to step onto her porch after dark without calling first. One night she thought she heard a prowler, got up, drew the revolver, and emptied it into her front door. Trouble was, she’d tried to sight down the barrel of the .32 as if it were a rifle—at least that’s how Dad figured it afterward—and consequently temporarily lost the hearing in her right ear. I learned how to shoot using that old gun myself, and a small cannon couldn’t have had much more of either volume or recoil.
After a relative telephoned us Dad rushed to the scene, worried about bullet holes not only in cousins’ houses but in cousins too. He had me come with him; if it wasn’t for moral support I’m not sure why. Thankfully, we found no casualties except the door and Grandma’s ear, and nobody’d even called the law—gotta love family—but Dad was mightily irked about Grandma’s carelessness with the gun and he began to try to lecture her on firearm safety. That’s when the real trouble started. Grandma was hardly ever at a loss for a reply to anything or anyone, but she absolutely could not hear out of her right ear for days afterward and about every ten words out of Dad’s mouth she’d interrupt him with a loud “HUH?” He’d increase his volume for another sentence or so, then get another “HUH?” in reply, and so after the sixth or seventh “HUH?” he was speaking as loudly as I ever heard him talk in my life, his jawline was an alarming shade of dark crimson, and his blue eyes were flashing fire. I just tried to listen and not say a word—for the most part, Dad was one of the most even-tempered men I ever knew, but when his patience was tried too far you wanted to climb a tree before asking what was wrong—and stifle my laughter at the situation he and poor old Grandma were caught in. I think some of the cousins got tickled too, and like me, were trying their best not to show it. Nobody dared look at each other. The whole thing really wasn’t funny, yet it was hilarious. I think the Germans call this kind of thing “schadenfreude,” but Teutonic title or no, it was pure eastern Kentucky.
At the end of Dad’s rebuke Grandma said “HUH?” again. At that point Dad just gave up and confiscated the pistol, I helped Grandma pack her things together, and we locked her well-ventilated door and brought her home with us. Technically, Dad thus violated Grandma’s Second Amendment rights, but looking back, I don’t think the strongest gun enthusiast in the world would have dared say a word about it to his face at the time. Like the proverbial skeleton afraid to cross the road, nobody in their right mind would’ve had the guts.