Tuesday, December 8, 2009


When I was four I got my first cowboy cap gun and holster set for Christmas. My father and I developed a Sunday morning ritual of conducting a shoot out in the living room. He would start from the kitchen, I from my bedroom. Stealthily I moved from corner to corner and eventually hall to living room. We would sneak up on each other in true western movie fashion. It ended in a blaze of gunfire after which my father displayed a dramatic death the likes of which could never be improved upon by any TV character.

This time I was going to try a different tack and surprise him with my cunning and ingenuity. I crawled through the hallway to the doorway going into the living room and maneuvered behind the over-stuffed chair in the corner near the picture window and waited in silence for precisely the right moment.

Crouching down on my elbows, I quietly cocked my pistol in anticipation. When I saw he was unsure of my location . . . I lunged! One of my sneakers caught on the back leg of the chair and I fell face first on my gun. The sharp edge of the rigger cut the inside of my eye as the hammer pinched my eyelid in between. My mother came running into the living room wiping her hands on a dishtowel at the sound of my childhood scream. A sound only a mother can truly explain.

“I knew it”! she yelled. “Somebody was going to get hurt”! This was an oft-repeated warning that no one ever heeded.

She placed the towel over my bleeding eye and Dad quickly dressed and brought me to the hospital for repair. I returned a few hours later with a patch carefully taped over my right eye. No problem. I could be a pirate just as well as a cowboy any day.

We were always conducting different wars and battles in the neighborhood.

During the summer it was dirt clod fights. Dirt clods were amazing weapons. They produced a mortar round effect given high enough trajectory. It consisted of small pieces of pebbles bound into the sticky red clay that made up the majority of dirt in Bedford, Indiana. When the clay dried in the summer it cracked and broke into chunks the size of a hardball, just big enough for throwing. If they broke off larger they could be easily adjusted with a little light tapping. Indiana's red clay is dense enough to create sufficient velocity, but has enough air content to literally blast into pieces - spreading pebble shrapnel in all directions upon impact (the higher the lob, the greater the impact, the wider the spread of debris). The idea was to lob clods, not take direct aim at a person. Purposeful aiming was discouraged.

We divided up into sides based on; friendships, conceived neighborhood boundaries (Route 58 vs. Bailey Scales Road), knowledge, skill level, and distributed age groups so there would be no unfair advantage. Next we got into our positions – usually with each team behind a large dirt pile to provide sufficient ammo and protection. It was even better if there was a large open space between. We broke off enough clods to supply an initial barrage and then, on the count of an agreed to number, began our attacks.

It was rare that anyone was injured. During one battle I lobbed an extremely large chunk at my "enemies". Apparently one of the kids didn’t seen it coming. It landed squarely on top of his head, exploding out in a fanned manner horizontal to the ground. War is a dangerous business. Injuries are expected. He ran home immediately to cry to his mother, which resulted in a call to my mother about my recklessness. It wasn’t as if I aimed! After that I called warnings if it looked like a close call, “Look out”!

Boys have different kill genes than girls. Once they get possession of a BB gun any critter is fair game. My sister and I felt otherwise. When we realized they were shooting harmless birds we came crying to Mom about the tragedy. Her solution was simple but a brilliant form of protest. She sent us out with cooking pots and wooden spoons. We followed the boys throughout the entire neighborhood, banging on the pots wherever they went scaring away the birds and squirrels and chipmunks. We continued to do this anytime we saw them out shooting at animals. After a while they gave up.

I never set out to do evil unless it was in direct response to another.

One summer day I caught some neighborhood boys picking on my sister. They had her stingray bike by the handle bars and were jerking them around. She was in tears. I came upon the scene with my friend Mark Bell. He had just gotten a BB gun that you could pump to increase the pressure. We had been out behind the railroad bed shooting milk cartons and tin cans. I grabbed Mark's gun and told them to leave her alone or I’d shoot them. The disbursement was immediate. They quickly fled on their bicycles. I managed to hit the slowest one in the hindquarters with a well-aimed, highly pumped shot.

Before I arrived back home his mother had already phoned and provided my mother an earful regarding my behavior and the resultant welt on her sons behind. I could tell she wasn't happy when I came in the door. I'm sure she had visions of armed robbery in my future and visiting me in prison. I explained the circumstances, which seemed to allay her fears and reduced my sentence to a brief lecture on gun control.

© 2009


  1. Very nostalgic post!...Paul Howley

  2. Oh Kris! I shot you once. I'm reminded of it every time I "have a shotout" at my ranch. We had so many good times as cousins and dear friends. I miss you and Merry Christmas!


  3. Kris –

    I really enjoyed reading your post all about the fun you had growing up. It appears that we are about the same age and I can totally relate to your stories.

    I write a blog all about the memories of living life as a kid back in that awesome decade. I’ll look forward to reading your future entries.

  4. oh, that was great! i miss cowboys and indians (and being able to choose whichever i felt like being on that day), i miss pirates and king arthur's knights! and i still throw snowballs to "compensate for the duck"