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It was lonely being a fan of the hapless New York Mets in the early 60's. It didn't make sense to root for a team that would lose game after game in the emabarrassingly, improbale ways they did but I've always rooted for the underdog. Day after day, my little green transistor radio was plastered to my ear straining to hear Ralph Kiner through the static, trying to remain upbeat.

'You gotta' believe', was our motto and believe I always did.

I was 7 in 1962, that summer of the Mets first official year; they would go on to pile up 120 losses and my Little League team would win our world series. We were an odd pairing. I was the star pitcher and slugger rooting for the worst team in baseball. I had no allies among my friends or teamates, no one to talk to about the Mets but my Uncle Jack. He was the only other person I knew who was a Mets fan, so when we would take the long drive from Long Island to Ridgewood, Queens where he lived, I was always excited until I actually arrived.

Uncle Jack was a WWII vet, a cranky, chain smoking alchoholic who didn't like people chattering while the game was on, especially exciteable kids. I was allowed to sit near him on a foldup chair in what was the livingroom of a railroad apartment, as he sat sunken in the only other chair in the room. He was a small man with a worn face and a protruding, Roman nose that matched perfectly with the peak of his silver, flatop haircut. With one hand holding an unfiltered Camel and the other clutching a can of Piels on the armrests, he was planted in his fuzzy, upholstered chair for the duration of the game.

I don't remember him ever getting up out of that chair, except on that hot, Saturday afternoon.

Uncle Jack and I traded stats and stories of Mets games gone horribly wrong that year before the game began and he was talkative, even complimentary on my knowledge of the team. But as the innings wore on and the alchohol took its toll, he became sullen. He responded less and less to me than to what was happening on the TV, to another inevitable Mets' loss.

I didn't take the cue that it was time to stop talking. I didn't realize he had heard enough.

As the rest of the family gathered in the other half of the apartment, he moved as fast as I'd ever seen him move and in one motion got up, took my arm, opened the door into the hallway and rushed us both down the dark, rickety wooden stairway to the damp basement. Against the wall was a homemade workbench, with a small incandescent bulb strung by a frayed wire from the ceiling. There was an odd assortment of stuff everywhere; old rusted tools, pieces of dirty wood, milk crates and various Maxwell House coffee cans filled with hardware. I recognized the blue can, it was the only thing that made any sense to me, as my little kid brain was wondering why we were there and not watching the game.

Just as my eyes were becoming accustomed to the dim light, Uncle Jack took my arm again and without a word, walked us both to the concrete stairway leading up to the rear yard. The sudden transition from near dark, to the low afternoon summer light was shocking and I tripped several times negotiating the steps. I stood there blinded as I could hear him begin to talk. There he was, head down, sitting low on a milk crate, as talkative as I could ever remember.

Between his splayed legs on the concrete was a can and resting on his knees, a rifle.

Now as disappointed as I was that we weren't watching the game, was as surprised and excited I became ,when I realized that Uncle Jack was instructing me on how to load his rifle. I'd heard about BB guns but I had never seen one before, let alone shoot one. As rabid a baseball fan as I was, my boy fanatacism with anything 'war' related was it's equal.

At home I had thousands of toy soldiers, standing armies of WWII and Civil War battles set up on my bedroom floor. I built and painted models of tanks and airplanes and had every new gun toy that came on the market. If my friends and I weren't playing sports, we were playing war games. I couldn't wait to get home and brag, that I had spent the afternoon shooting a BB gun.

My uncle had built himself a target range in his small backyard. A long wooden bench stood in the weeds at the end of the yard, about 30' feet away, which meant that the back windows of the houses on the other side of the 5' cyclone fence, were within range of an errant shot. Uncle Jack crouched and fired several times into the screwed in coffee cans along the bench. A dull ping and clink could be heard after each shot, as he hit the can and the pellet dropped inside.
He was quite proud of his shooting prowess and his BB recycling system.

His mouth strained a rare, crooked smile. He handed me the rifle, put me in position and left.

So there I was, under the high first floor windows, out of eyesight but within earshot of my mom's laughter, with a loaded BB gun in my hands. The freedom of being outside, by myself, with a loaded rifle, was exhilarating. I had goosebumps as the adrenaline streamed through my veins. The gun was long and it was heavy but the cold steel felt comforting against my clammy skin; I had a grin a mile wide as I squeezed the trigger. I had no idea where that BB went as the kickback almost knocked me over. It took me a while but eventually, I got the hang of it. Ping...clink, my holes in the cans joined the hundreds of others.

I reloaded and shot some more. Ping...clink...ping...clink.

In the corner of the yard was an evergreen shrub, dark green with red berries throughout. It was the same shrub we had at home, the one I always used as my hiding place in our war games, always thick with sparrows. A flock arrived as I was reloading, it sounded like hundreds of them were suddenly in and around that bush and in the silence, a few landed along the edges of the cans. Eventually, only one sparrow remained and it just happened to be on the can in the center.

I watched it, down the long barrel of the gun, do what sparrows normally do in the afternoon sun, it chirped, preened and fluttered its' grey wings. I raised the rifle a little, aimed it purposely at the sparrow and squeezed the trigger. There was no ping....or clink. The sound was not what I expected to hear, honestly I don't know what I expected. I can tell you that the sound and sight of what I saw, immediately hallowed out my stomach, and I could feel the blood draining from my face. I could feel my mouth open involuntarily and I remember very slowly getting to my feet, barely holding on to the barrel of the gun as I stood there, breathless, almost paralyzed.

Whatever feelings I had, I couldn't put a word to them then, all I knew was how overwhelmingly, profoundly........WRONG it felt. I walked through the weeds, dragging the rifle behind me. I guess I was hoping that what I saw, didn't really happen or that maybe the sparrow was still alive. It wasn't, I found it among many other bird carcasses scattered behind that bench. I stood there whispering, over and over and over as tears welled in my eyes, 'I'm sorry', hoping that might make it right or at least make me feel better.

It didn't.

By then, my mom spied me from the window and all hell broke loose. She of course realized what I had done, before she got there and I got clobbered a few times. Then she turned her wrath on Uncle Jack. We left after a very ugly confrontation and never visited that apartment again, but not before my mom scooped up the bird and placed it in a brown paper bag. She made me dig a grave the next day, place the sparrow in a small, cardboard match box and bury it in our backyard. My mom was an animal rights advocate and made sure I had respect, for all living creatures. I learned a hard lesson that day and kept it a secret for years.

It was the last time I saw Uncle Jack before he died a few years later. My mom never forgave him for giving me that gun and he never forgave her, for wrapping that rifle around the wrought iron railing in his backyard, before she left.

I was just a 7 year old kid, but shooting that sparrow and the shame and guilt I felt afterward, forever altered my outlook on guns.
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These days, I am devoted to my wife and 12 year old daughter. I have written about them often, here at the Kos. Although I am a gentle soul, I have a fierce determination and commitment to their well being and safety. I don't and never will own a gun.

I just don't believe that a gun, determines or defines my dedication to that commitment.
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peace.

Originally posted to dear occupant on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:32 PM PST.

Also republished by House of LIGHTS.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

    by dear occupant on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:32:32 PM PST

  •  'This is our first task -- caring for our children (9+ / 0-)

    It’s our first job.  
     If we don’t get that right,
     we don’t get anything right.  
     That’s how, as a society,
     we will be judged.

    These Tragedies Must End.'
     .
     .
     .

    Please.

    America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

    by dear occupant on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:36:04 PM PST

  •  I had a similar experience (9+ / 0-)

    in my late teens. but it was not a sparrow. It was a rabbit. The older men I was with congratulated me but I felt horrible and instantly felt the weight of what I had done. I'm an old man now, but that moment is with me still. If you can kill a conscious, self-aware creature with no remorse you are missing a crucial ingredient of being fully human.

    Some days it's not even worth chewing through the restraints!

    by SpotTheCat on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:48:22 PM PST

  •  you are spot on, SpotThe Cat. (8+ / 0-)

    'If you can kill a conscious, self-aware creature with no remorse you are missing a crucial ingredient of being fully human.'

    thanks for the validation.

    America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

    by dear occupant on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:51:57 PM PST

  •  T&R, saving for later (8+ / 0-)

    When I have a screen larger than my phone and time to fully digest your words, for they are always worthy.  It does my heart good to see you posting again, Dear O.

    The Girl Who Loved Stories
    I’m a feminist because the message is still "don’t get raped" not "don’t rape"

    by Avilyn on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 05:09:08 PM PST

  •  Another diary from you, dear dear occupant, (7+ / 0-)

    brings light to my season of darkness.

    (February used to be my worst month, but now December is.)

    I have merely skimmed your diary. Will return later when I can give it the time/space it deserves.

    { welcome back {{{ dear occupant }}} welcome back }

    ps - Have you seen the Advent Canticles? ... I think you might like them.

  •  Thank you for this story. (6+ / 0-)

    It's time for this madness to stop.

    Glad you're back.  I've missed your wonderful stories.

    I am a work in progress. Still.

    by broths on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:07:30 PM PST

    •  hi there broths. my last diary was in early August (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      broths, 2thanks, kishik, glorificus, Avilyn

      seems like half a lifetime ago, so much has happened.

      this memory popped in my head yesterday. i thought some of us could use a diary that we all didn't end up shouting at one another. thanks as always for stopping by.

      and yes, please end the madness.

      America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

      by dear occupant on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:34:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  {{{{dear occupant}}}} (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2thanks, kishik, glorificus, Avilyn

    Powerful and direct as always, d o. So happy that you're back, even if this is a sad and poignant story. Thanks for sharing it now.

    Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:30:21 PM PST

  •  dear o.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, dear occupant, 2thanks, Avilyn

    I love reading any topic you write, but there are certain pieces you write where the cadence of your narrative falls into easy counterpoint to the rhythm of my heartbeat and my own step... And the words resonate and reverberate.  

    I've missed this feeling... The feelings i get when I read what you write and share.

    Welcome back... And I even welcome your memory of your Uncle Jack, who was part of a meaningful life's lesson.

    All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.The world is neither good or bad. It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one or the other - Lama Anagorika Govinda

    by kishik on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:29:16 PM PST

    •  sweet comment, dear sweet kishik. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kishik, Avilyn

      The story has a sweet cadence, the baseball as player and fan, the visit, the lesson imposed, the internal lesson, the aftermath, the conclusion. The flow leads to an unexpected conclusion far distant from the diary's opening, a conclusion with which I agree heartily.

    •  kishik, your comments always reassure me, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      2thanks, kishik, Avilyn

      thank you. i mentioned to someone else, that picking up writing again is not as easy as just jumping on a bike after a layoff.

      at least with me, there's a creative 'mindset' i need to be in to write as well as i think i should. i'm certainly not there yet but like my painting teacher said, 'sketch, sketch, always sketch.'

      it just felt good to get the butterflies before hitting PUBLISH again.

      America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

      by dear occupant on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 06:18:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  dear dear occupant - (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dear occupant, Avilyn

    I am sorry you got caught in the cross-fire of two abusing adults.

    It seems clear that Piels is a beer. As a child I saw many adults with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. And yock! - the smell of last night's beer bottles and overflowing ash trays in the early morning, revolting. (Had to make up a word to express my disgust.)

    But what is a railroad apartment? Had to google:

    "A railroad apartment is an apartment with a series of rooms connecting to each other in a line. A hallway typically runs the length of the apartment or flat ... "
    ... Detroit, where I grew up, had the highest per capita number of individually-owned homes in the country in the 1950s. I never saw a railroad apartment as a child, and I do not ever remember being in a railroad apartment in southeast Michigan. I am most familiar with them from television shows filmed in New York City.

    Thanks for the evocative reminiscence, dear occupant.  

    ps - Republished to House of LIGHTS because it touches on issues of abuse.

    •  railroad apartments were constructed as (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      2thanks, Avilyn

      cheap worker housing in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, surrounding 5 breweries. typically 4-6 rooms to oneside of a hallway, no doors, no privacy. entry door in the kitchen as well as the bathroom. our apartment was 5 rooms @ $69 per month. not ideal but cheap.

      i hadn't thought about this episode in a long time, it just started bubbling up to the surface over the weekend. i figured it was a gentle way to get 'back in the saddle again'. :-)

      thanx for fixing the tags, i didn't even notice they were off.

      America...where we fight over who can be allowed to have a marriage license but don't give a shit about who can have an assault rifle.

      by dear occupant on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 06:12:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  edited Tags - (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dear occupant, Avilyn

    The current version of Daily Kos (DK4) uses commas to separate tags. DK4 chopped up the long phrase into individual units. I linked the elements of the phrase with the word "and" instead of with commas, which allows the long phrase to remain intact, though altered. Omitting commas in this way is sometimes frowned on, sometimes desirable, sometimes useful, and sometimes required.

    On my computer, the tags now look like free verse:

    End gun violence

    Dedicated to the parents and teachers and first responders and loved ones and friends of Sandy Hook

    Lost innocence  Shut Down the NRA

  •  Invitation to House of LIGHTS (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dear occupant, Avilyn

    (Loving Inspiration, Giving Hope To Survivors)

    A place for survivors of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, assaults, and bullying.

    A place for the people who support them.

    A quiet place for all voices to be heard.

    A safe place where we can learn to educate, support, and protect our children and each other.

    If you would like to join House of LIGHTS, please kosmail SallyCat.
    [Please remember that joining any Daily Kos group does not automatically deliver that group's diaries to your Stream (DK inbox). To receive House of LIGHTS diaries in your Stream, you will have to Follow our group (click the heart on any of our House of Lights pages).]

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