Gun Control – For
it? Or ag’in’ it?
Granddaddy’s in his eighties. I can’t remember exactly how old, and it doesn’t really matter. He’s old. And usually wise. He’s kind of thin, unlike the rest of us who are more on the plump side. He’s partly bald, but has some white-gray hair around the bottom of his head. His nose is like a hawk’s beak, a little bit big. During the day he sits on his front porch with his feet propped up on a post.
Granddad just watches the world go by on the dirt road in front of his log house. He has really pretty blue eyes, but his eyesight isn’t so good in the daylight, let alone at night.
Night is pitch black. There are no street lights where we live. Mama and my baby sister, Lisa, stay at Granddaddy’s house with him at night in case he needs something. I’m thirteen, so I’m old enough to help my cousin, Cindy, tend to her baby while her husband is at work.
I love Cindy. She’s a few years older than me, and she has Granddaddy’s blue eyes. I have dark brown ones, like mud. We both have long, curly brown hair. She’s more like an older sister to me than just a cousin.
Cindy and I stay in her trailer a couple hundred yards from Granddaddy’s house.
That’s the longest, spookiest couple hundred yards God ever created. We’re in the woods anyway, dirt roads, dusty fields, ancient oak trees. Ancient like Granddaddy.
There’s lots of scrub brush with the occasional palmetto.
And shadows. Shadows in the daytime and inky blackness at night.
It’s night now, and Cindy and I are trying to sleep. She has three dogs in her backyard. Bo, Lady, and Duchess. Bo starts to bark, and the others join in. This is normal at first, and they do it most nights, but tonight it seems like they get louder and more frantic.
Cindy goes out to try to hush them, and as soon as she opens the door, she hears another noise. There’s a sickening whine of a rattle that doesn’t end. We both know that sound. We’ve been trained to recognize it and to back away slowly.
Cindy starts to yell. “Lori, wake up. Help me with the dogs.”
We get the dogs inside and find a flashlight. The dogs continue to bark, excited over their rattling visitor under the palmetto.
The visitor is not so happy. He’s scared, coiled up, and ready to strike out at anyone or anything.
“All I have is a pistol!” Cindy takes it out of its locked box, runs into the backyard, aims and shoots at the rattler, but misses. “Go get Granddaddy’s shotgun!”
I run through that darkness. This is one trip I make in which I don’t dawdle or shy away from the boogeymen who may be in the woods. The boogeyman under the palmetto is much scarier.
Granddaddy comes out on the porch with his gun, and so does Mama. Mama’s raising me and my sister by herself. Her hair is short and black, and she poofs it up and sprays lots of hair spray on it. Right now it’s all smushed from where she was lying on it.
Mama starts to fret. “Now, Daddy, you don’t need to go down there. Cindy can take care of it. You stay here.”
But being the man of the family, Granddaddy has to take charge. For an eighty-something year old, he can move, even barefooted in the dark.
So here we go, Granddaddy in his pants that he quickly tugged on and no shoes, brandishing his shotgun. Mama trots behind him, trying to talk sense into him, and I just try to keep up.
“Daddy, wait! You don’t have shoes on! It’s too dark!” Mama tries to reason, but Granddaddy is having none of it.
He charges into the backyard. The back porch light casts a small pool of brightness, but it doesn’t go anywhere near the palmetto where the snake is still warning us. His rattling seems even louder now.
A sudden blast of gunfire sounds like a cannon being shot, and Granddaddy yells, “Where is it? Did I hit it?” He stomps around under the palmetto, and Mama tries to pull him away without firing the gun accidentally.
Mama manages to pull Granddaddy away for a moment, and we shine the flashlight on the snake.
You know how they say snakes can’t jump? They’re lying.
That snake coils up and jumps at Granddaddy and Cindy. I swear to God, it does. It jumps at least five feet.
Mama screams and pulls at Granddaddy. “Get out of the way!”
“Where is it? Did I hit it?” Granddaddy keeps waving his gun around.
Cindy is sobbing now, trying to get between Granddaddy and the snake. “You hit it in the tail, Granddaddy. You made it mad!”
She gets her pistol and quickly aims, pulling the trigger. It just clicks. Nothing else. She’s standing there, shaking it up and down, trying to see what’s wrong. With a sudden blast it goes off, leaving a deep hole right between her feet.
Their faces go even more pale than they were before as they look at each other.
The rattler sings even louder, making us forget that Cindy nearly shot her foot off.
I shine the light on the snake, and it jumps again. It’s the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen, a rattlesnake airborne, heading toward an old man.
Mama and Cindy are both crying, trying to pull Granddaddy away, and he’s still trying to aim his shotgun, to get another bead on the snake.
Cindy holds Granddaddy back, and Mama runs inside to call a neighbor for help. The dogs are still raising an unholy racket inside the trailer.
Granddaddy keeps stomping around with Cindy holding on to him. Both of them have their guns, for all the use they’ve been.
All I can do is watch. I never learned to shoot, and I’d be afraid to take the gun from Granddaddy anyway. It’s a miracle he hasn’t shot himself or one of us by mistake. And it’s a miracle Cindy still has her feet.
It seems like forever happens in a single second when Mr. Wheeler pulls up in his pickup. He ambles into the yard with his own gun and takes a look around. He watches as the rattler jumps one more time, charging at Granddaddy. Mr. Wheeler slowly drawls, “I wondered what all the shootin’ was about.”
Mr. Wheeler takes careful aim, and a last boom of cannon gunfire fills the night. A few more rattles sound and then die out.
We stand there for a minute, watching the snake’s body writhe on the dirt by the palmetto.
Mr. Wheeler carefully picks up the snake and holds it up by the tail to see how long it is. It stretches from his hand high above his head to touch the ground. “A good six feet. Pretty big for a rattler.”
The dogs quiet now that the rattling has stopped. What is it about dogs and rattlers anyway? Natural enemies, I guess.
Mr. Wheeler takes the snake’s body and tosses it into his truck bed where it writhes a little more. Then he cranks up, and his taillights disappear, leaving us in quiet darkness again.
Mama holds on to Granddaddy. “Are you okay, Daddy? It didn’t bite you, did it?” She’s still crying.
Granddaddy holds his gun proudly. “Of course it didn’t bite me. I shot it. Didn’t kill it, but I slowed it down a good bit. I had to protect y’all.”
I shake my head and look at Cindy. We want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Our Granddaddy, mighty midnight hunter and protector in his worn out pants and bare feet.