Guns, Growth and Grandfathers
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
We assign meaning to objects passed down to us from those who no longer walk the earth. Simple things that would otherwise carry very little significance—a toolbox, a set of earrings, a wristwatch—come to embody the essence of loved ones. As the saying goes: No matter how much you have, you can’t take it with you. So things get left behind, passed on.
When my grandfather died, he left me his hunting rifle. It’s been eight years since he passed away and for those eight years, that old Remington 700 lived in the back of my gun safe, unloaded, unattended and untouched. The scope on it was busted and I told myself that when I got some money, I’d put a nice scope on the weapon and get it in good working shape.
Money came and went. The rifle remained in the safe, in the same condition it’d been given to me. From time to time I checked in on it, to make sure it was still there. Then one night I took the gun into the garage and placed it on my workbench; I dragged a six-pack of Budweiser and a little stereo in there too. I put on an old Dinah Washington album. I racked the bolt back and ran my hands over the smooth wooden stock. There was no pragmatism in this. It’s not like I was tinkering with the scope mount or snaking out the barrel. It was freezing cold in that garage. I don’t really like Dinah Washington’s music, and I think Budweiser tastes like salty Rhinoceros urine. But that didn’t matter. I was visiting my grandfather, the only way I could—with his choice of music and his choice of beverage.
A few beers later I wasn’t just visiting with the old man, we were partying. The Dinah Washington album was out, a Ray Charles CD was in, and the rifle lay on the workbench and I sank into memories. I eyed the gun, recalling the first time my grandfather showed it to me. I must’ve been about twelve-years old; we were in the front room of his house where he liked to hang out, watch basketball games and escape my grandmother. When he pulled the weapon from the closet, removing it from the case, I watched him slide the bolt back and look through the scope. The wood was so well kept, it looked as if it were glowing orange-brown in the lamplight of Gramps’ man cave. I wanted to hold the rifle, but he wouldn’t let me. He said I’d have to wait until I got older. He said one day it would be mine, when he passed on.
Either the garage warmed up or the Budweiser kicked in. Ray Charles finished his set and the party got quiet. I stared at the rifle and realized that it carried stories the old man never told me. My grandfather was from the South, and in his time it wasn’t really kosher for a black man to let on that he owned a gun. I wondered where the rifle had been hidden, when it wasn’t on a hunting trip. Was it tucked away somewhere next to the ancient double-barreled shotgun my great-grandmother kept close to her on nights when the Ku Klux Klan road through the Georgia countryside? Did the gun travel west with Gramps when he moved to California to marry my grandmother? Was it given to him, or did he purchase it? How many hunting trips had it been on? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions because I never had the sense to ask him. I never took the time to care. As this painful reality of compounded loss set it in, the garage started to feel cramped, the rifle ceased to be a source of comfort and I ran out of beer. When I finally went to sleep that night, it was not a peaceful rest.
A few days later I met up with one of my hunting buddies to plan our spring bear hunt. I was driving back home, compiling a list of gear in my mind when I came to a conclusion. My grandfather didn’t leave me that gun so I could stash it in the back of my gun safe, or pull it out on cold nights and have pity parties in the garage by myself. He left me the rifle so I could hunt with it. I never got to hunt with my grandfather. I wasn’t thoughtful enough to ask about his rifle or learn its story, but I could make new stories with it; stories I can tell my grandson about before I pass the heirloom to him. Stories I hope he asks me to tell.
I scrounged up what money I could. I bought a durable Bushnell Trophy XLT scope and some Burris scope rings. I sat at my workbench, cleaned my grandfather’s rifle and affixed the scope. And sitting there, watching the orange-brown glow of the wood from the lamplight of my man cave, I marveled at how an inanimate object can evoke the spirit of a person who is no longer alive.
There are other Remington 700s out there, but this one is mine. It belonged to my grandfather and I plan to hunt with it in the spring.
The old man would be proud.