When Dad got back home from the war, he bought his shotgun for bird hunting, a Lefever, 16-gauge, side-by-side, modified and full choke.
A French railroad car delivered my dad on Christmas Eve 1945 to the German front.
Sounding above, below, and through the clatter of the train's clanking and wheels were the Reich's "eighty-eights," big guns booming like a sporadic volley in a bass drum solo. Big guns, dug in.
As the train rolled toward Germany through the dark French night, somebody pulled out a candle to cut the dark.
Another young soldier had a Christmas card and placed it next to the candle.
The Americans huddled around the card and candle's Christmas glow, singing carols.
Songs can be more powerful than the biggest guns, for a while.
But when Dad got back home, he bought his shotgun for bird hunting, a Lefever, 16-gauge, side-by-side, modified and full choke.
New homegrown gunshots reverberated with the American way.
I think he paid around $50, used.
Now today, that doesn't sound like very much money, but at the end of WWII, $50 was a respectable week's wage.
Today, over half a century later, the average man can still buy a fine shotgun for a respectable week's wage.
Lefever was an old gun company in Syracuse, bought out 25 years earlier by Ithaca Gun Co. to improve their line of shotguns.
These two gun companies were only a little more than a few lakes (Fingerlakes) apart.
Dad always kept his guns in "the closet" locked, upstairs. And our English Setter would go nuts whenever Dad would unlock "the closet." The dog knew he was going hunting and was so happy and excited he would run around in circles, shaking his head and panting with his tongue hanging out.
As kids we watched Dad and the dog drive away.
Someday, we dreamed, we could be big enough to go.
They'd be back at night.
And they sure had been somewhere.
When Dad and the dog came back they were worn out.
The dog had to be combed out. burdocks and stick-tights, clustered the flag (long tail hair on a dog,) on the back of his legs, and snarled into big wads in his tail hair. The tip of his tail was always bloody and he flopped on the floor like a rug. And some of the nastiest burrs had to be cut out of the long hair behind his ears.
Sometimes they would bring back a pheasant or grouse and put it in the kitchen sink. My brother and I marveled at the beauty of the birds' plumage and they looked just like the pictures in the magazines.
Wondrous feathers exuded a warm birdy smell.
We had to save the tail feathers and some of the others.
That old Lefever began dropping birds over new dogs as time passed on and the old dogs went on. And each of those bird dogs would be just as happy as the next, each time the old Lefever was pulled out of the gun cabinet. Just as excited when it's gunshot rocked the valley and hollows.
One day my dad's old Lefever was set aside, replaced by a more modern Browning, an over-and-under. Other guns came and went like the dogs.
But the old Lefever can still be picked up, broken and snapped shut with a deeply familiar feel, still smells the same. Gun oil and old powder leaves an indelible, olfactory patina, laminated in our love of the shooting sports.
Raised to the shoulder now, the old shotgun has become silent and points only back to the many fine things that used to live under the sky, those that have come and gone, like itself.
Contact Oak Duke at email@example.com.